17 March 2015

Bill Hofelt: 1930 - 2014

Bill Hofelt was my professor for Gothic Literature, a class I was taking because of a love of horror.  With the encouragement of my aunt, as a teenager I had devoured Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, and early Dan Simmons.  In Bill's Gothic Lit class, I reread The Shining and read Dracula for the first time.  I still have the fifteen or so pages from the first chapter of a gothic novel that was our final project.  And I remember the dream journal we were required to keep, and how I struggled for two or three weeks to keep any of those dreams intact after I woke up. 

When I first approached Bill after class to ask a question, his response was gruff and somewhat inhospitable.  That didn't stop me from talking to him, though--I loved the course material too much to do that.  Later, he told me that he'd been concerned that I was, not to put too fine a point on it, an ass-kisser.  He'd been teaching more than 25 years by that point, and he'd seen his fair share of such students and had little tolerance for them.  But the more we talked, the more we enjoyed each other's company.  When the time came for me to choose a second advisor (Juniata required a major advisor and an advisor outside the major), I didn't hesitate at all.

One summer after Bill had retired, I had a job at Juniata working on a couple of web-related topics.  In the mid-'90s, part of my summer job entailed scouring the internet (such as it was then) for interesting research in a variety of fields and sharing it with faculty around campus.  A project about mapping the flight of migrating geese sticks in my brain.  I also worked with a communication professor on, as I recall, various initiatives around her office.  Maybe that was when I took an online film course (basically an early MOOC) on film noir?

During that summer, I rented a room from Bill.  His house was two blocks from campus, and it was a lovely two blocks.  I spent a lot of free time that summer watching movies, including several with a guy even more obsessed and knowledgeable about film than I was.  At the time, it seemed a rarity that such a person existed, particularly in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  One evening, this guy (whose name escapes me) and I watched Akira.  I wasn't overly impressed with the movie, but I remember how passionately and intelligently this guy could place the movie into a broader context.

All the time I spent elsewhere watching movies that summer was not what Bill had envisioned.  One evening, probably in early June, he stopped me and essentially said that he wanted to chat more with me.  "I wouldn't have had you stay here if I didn't think we'd talk," was I think how he phrased it.  This was completely foreign to me.  In my compartmentalizing way, I had classified the place where I lived as only that--a place.  But this was Bill's home, and I was both an invited guest and his friend. 

During the remainder of the summer, Bill and I would have conversations most evenings right after dinner.  We talked about movies (of course) and about books and about his own writing, which I never got the chance to read.  We talked about his evolving religious attitudes, and it seems to me now that where I was as a Catholic served as an effective sounding board.  And he told stories of his time with his late wife, whom he loved dearly and missed achingly.  In all things, Bill had a depth of feeling, but none more so than toward his wife and his family.

During the Gothic Lit class, I asked Bill how to go about completing the dream journal if I couldn't recall what I'd dreamt.  He suggested that I repeat to myself before I went to bed, "I will remember my dream, I will remember my dream, I will remember my dream."  I complied, and within a couple of weeks, my journal entries became more consistent and then started to grow in length. 

Twenty years removed, my dreams remain vivid.

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