Chapter 9

Grammar School

Entering 9th Grade

The summer passed on and that fall I went to grammar school.  Attached to grammar school was No. 2 school for the smaller children.  At that time grammar school was something like high school is now.  Few expected to get that far and in fact, when you graduated from grammar school you were issued a diploma stating the fact.

 The Teachers

The principal of the school was Miss Laura Merry.  Her sister, Grace Merry, was the school nurse.  Another sister, Mrs. Helena Murphy, also taught at grammar school.  Two other teachers were Miss Belgard, who later taught at George Hall Elementary School, and Mr. Blake, who later became the principal of O.F.A.  Our home-room covered nearly the entire top floor.  One other small classroom was on the top floor with the rest of them on the first floor.  I can recall few names in this school, except for the ones who had come from eighth grade at Washington.  This is probably because the class was so large.

Shop Class

All the boys were required to take shop, which was located in the basement.  This class was taught my Mr. Fenner.  About the only thing I remember about him was his ability to rotate his scalp.  He had a straw hat which had tassels suspended from the brim.  Occasionally he would put the hat on and rotate his scalp, to our vast amusement.

 Sports

We had our own football team, and they would play other grammar schools around the county.  Our star player was Frank Brenno, later called “Muffer.”  I have no idea why he was called this, and I would not venture a guess.  He was the son of Billy Brenno, and I guess he inherited his toughness from his father.  He later became a serious contender for the heavyweight boxing division, but being married at the time and having troubles at home, he retired.  To my knowledge he never fought in the ring again.  I, of course, avoided sports.  Neither then or ever could I become interested in any sport, with the exception of boxing.

I Build Another Shack

The winter passed uneventfully.  Since we had a mild winter I decided, sometime in March, to build myself a shack.  The lumber was easily obtainable, since the roof on the roundhouse was being repaired.  I brought the lumber home on a cart I had.  I used the side of our house for one wall, and as I had a lot of two by fours, I really think I did an excellent job.

 Dad Returns for a Visit

My father came home again at this time.  Since he was a fugitive, we had to be very careful that we mentioned to no one that he was home.  Frank Latour, who lived downstairs in our house, used to sweep sidewalks for the merchants downtown.  If he swept in front of a baker, they paid him off with a bag of stale pastry.  Feeling sorry of us, he generally walked in our door and gave it to my mother.  On this particular day we did not hear him approach.  As he opened the door, my father leaped behind it.  As he opened it, all my father could think to do was leap out and shout “Boo!”  It was the first time I had ever seem my father at a loss for words.  We all had a good laugh out of it, because Mr. Latour would be the last one to mention Dad’s presence to anyone, and we thought my father’s actions hilarious.

 I Catch Pneumonia

By this time my shack was completed.  Nothing would do but I spend at least one night in it.  The weather continued mild, so I talked my sister Berenice into sleeping out in it.  As it happened, the weather turned very cold that night and I woke up in the morning chilled to the bone.  My sister had more covers than I did and was not too badly off.

The next day when I went to the station to get my papers I was feeling terrible.  The day after that I was too sick to get out of bed.  My father, whether it was a lucky guess or not, diagnosed it as pleural pneumonia, or a combination of pleurisy and pneumonia.  When the doctor was called, he gave the same diagnosis.  As I was running a high fever, the doctor suggested that I be taken to the hospital.  Shortly after, the police came with the Black Maria, and I was carried out on a stretcher.  Sick as I was, this was a great moment for me since I was the center of attention of the entire neighborhood.  My father, of course, hid himself since he was well known to the police and was understandably reluctant to renew old acquaintances.

 Into the Hospital

I was put into a private room at the Hepburn Hospital in a wing which has been torn down for many years.  At that time there was little anyone could do for pneumonia, and the added complications of pleurisy rendered my chances for recovery very slim.  The natural course for pneumonia then was to allow the fever to get higher and higher.  If it reached a certain point, you were dead.  If, however, it broke short of this point, you were practically assured of recovery.  As my fever rose, I lost all contact with reality.  I could neither see nor hear, but as I sunk deeper into blackness, I could feel my mother’s hand gripping mine.  As I became unconscious, it was the last thing I remembered.  Some time later, I have no idea how long, I woke up.  Wide awake would be more appropriate.  There was my mother, holding my hand, but my bed was saturated with sweat.  I had little idea how much my mother loved me until I spoke to her, and saw the look of relief on her face when she realized that the fever had broken and it was only a matter of time until my recovery. 

Recovery

As a sickness of this type encompassed quite some time until recovery, I spent at least a week in my private room until I was deemed fit to be transferred to the ward.  During this time, I was no more immune to bodily processes than anyone else.  When I called for a bed pan or a urinal, the nurses would leave them with me until I was finished.  There was one elderly nurse who insisted upon treating me like a child.  She would bring in the urinal, pull aside the sheets, and after positioning  the urinal correctly, would tell me to go ahead.  While I was very weak, this might have served some purpose, but I was a red-blooded American boy who was recovering rapidly.  It was inevitable that nature would take its course, to our mutual embarrassment.  One day she brought in the urinal at my request, and this day, proving particularly inept, she fiddled around so much positioning it that in spite of the greatest exercising of all my will, I acquired an erection.  Since the vigor of youth was more than a match for the weight of the urinal, it became necessary for me to sit up in bed to expedite the business at hand.  My red-faced nurse, mumbling “perhaps you had better do it yourself” fled the room.  Never again did she attempt to assist me.

 The Hospital Ward

After a week or so in my private room I was finally considered well enough to put out in he ward.  This old ward contained about twenty beds.  I was carried from my room by John George.  He worked at the hospital as an orderly, and in his free time was a partner in the barber shop with Bill Peary.  These two barbers cut my hair until John died and Bill retired, many years later.

I was placed next to a boy named Charles Stark.  He had been accidentally shot in the spine by an older boy, William Breen, about two years before.  Charlie was a year older than me, and I knew him before he had been shot.  It distressed me a great deal when the nurses would give him a bath and I could see that his lower limbs were atrophied.

I would be less than candid if I were not to admit that I was the favorite patient on the ward.  Although I was enjoying myself, my happiness was somewhat dimmed by the thought that poor Charlie Stark could have used and appreciated the attention that I was receiving.  There were three student nurses in the ward; Elsa Hall from Canton, Miss Fix, a beautiful dark-haired girl, and Miss Hurley, a beautiful red-head from Alexandria Bay.  I promptly fell in love with both Miss Hurley and Miss Fox.  Perhaps because the information leaked, maybe from me, Miss Fox brought me a pad and some pencils and asked me to fill it with poems.

 Poetry

I filled Miss Fox’s notebook with some twenty or thirty poems.  When I left the hospital I took the notebook with me, promising her that I would fill the rest of it with poetry and return it to her.  My Aunt Leona, my father’s sister, was at home when I left the hospital and asked to borrow it.  She took it back to Utica with her and never returned it.  When she died some years later, it was lost to me.  Of all the poems I wrote for her, I can remember one stanza;

You all have heard of the Belle of Shannon.

This is a tale of the Belle of Canton.

A fair young maiden, not too tall,

Who was known by the name of Elsa Hall.

Several people asked me to write a poem for Charlie Stark, but I felt that I could not do justice to his tragic condition, a and it might cause his anguish.  Therefore I declined.  Charlie died a couple of months after I left the hospital.

 Back to School

I returned to grammar school immediately after I was discharged from the hospital.  As luck would have it, when I reported to Miss Murphy’s English class, she asked the class to recite a poem that we had been studying before I became sick.  They were unable to do so, so I volunteered and recited it in its entirety.  It so happened that I liked the poem and had memorized it.  Mrs. Murphy immediately erupted in praise for me, telling the class that I had attempted to keep up with my lessons, which was not so, and comparing me with the crestfallen class, an act which expanded my head considerably.

Fist Fight

Miss Merry, the principal, thought me too weak to walk home, and ordered my old friend Gerald, or Joe, Cunningham to ride me home on his handlebars.  Gerald was not too happy with this, and all the way home kept hollering at me to stop breathing in his face.  Under the circumstances I found it impossible for me to comply.  Even if it were, the result would be my early demise.  At any rate, I grew irritable at his repeated demands, and finally, at the south end of the Lake Street bridge, I told him to stop and let me off.  My intention was to chastise him for his discourtesy.

Although he was bigger than I, not once in the years that I had cuffed him had he ever offered to fight back.  So this time I belted him a good one alongside his head.  He belted me back with even more force and after my astonishment at his courage in finally defending himself, I let him have another.  Perhaps he thought that in my weakened condition he had nothing to fear.  This fact, however, did not occur to me.  Here was a boy I had always licked, and I was damn well going to lick him again.  After several minutes of exchanging vicious swipes, it was painfully brought home to my attention that I was having the be-Jesus knocked out of me.  Bloody, but unbowed, I stepped back and disdainfully said, “There!.  Let that be a lesson to you.”  I then told him what he could do with his ruddy bicycle and walked the rest of the way home, fervently hoping that he believed that I had got the best of it.

 Howard is Born

About this time the baby of the family was born, my brother Howard.  My mother had assured Miss Westbrook, the city nurse and an old friend, that she had not seem my father in a couple of years. However, in the light of this embarrassing development, she was forced to admit that he stopped in now and then to apologize for his neglect.  At this time the members of my family were my older brother Pete, myself, Elizabeth, Berenice, Gladys, Robert, Dorothy, Howard, and my mother.

 Dogs

In front of our house, facing Main St., was a family named Duquette who had one daughter, Florence.  If her rigidly regimented life carried over into her adult stage, she must have wound up as a virgin and a nun.  This family also owned a tan German Shepherd dog, quite large, with one blue eye and one brown.  He was extremely vicious, and whenever this dog was let out we were afraid to pass by the Duquette house to get to our own.  We generally walked around the block to avoid him.

 I Acquire a Second Dog

One day I took a walk down to the city dock with my little dog Winnie.  A yacht owner had either abandoned or forgot his dog, and since by dog was then in heat, he followed me home.  This dog was apparently a one-man dog and he spent most of his time snarling.  I have no idea of the breed.  He had the broad shoulders of a very large English Bulldog, with the short, powerful jaws of a pit bull.  My family did not think too highly of this dog, but I promised that I would be responsible for his feeding.  This was not too difficult since I merely had to go to the meat market and get an armful of free bones.  Today these same bones are called soup bones, and are fairly expensive, considering what you get.

The next morning when I got up the street in front of our house was crowded with male dogs after my bitch.  I had no idea if my new dog was trained, but just for the heck of it I sicced him on the other dogs.  To my amazement, he went off like a shot.  After mauling the other dogs, he wound up chasing a large St. Bernard belonging to the Briggs family, all the way home.  The street was kept clear of dogs from then on.

Needless to say, my thoughts turned next to the vicious German Shepherd belonging to the Duquettes.  The next time the dog was let out when old man Duquette was not around, I sent my new friend to take care of him.  He took off after this shepherd like a shot.  After a short and one-sided fight, this shepherd frantically took off for home and nearly tore the door down trying to get in.  This formerly vicious dog henceforth showed a curious disinclination to spend more time outdoors than necessary, and never again did he bother any of our family.’

At this time I was having some trouble with my older brother, Pete.  With the acquisition of this dog, he treated me with a great deal of courtesy.  It amused me when this dog crawled under the bed and snarled, and I would crawl under the bed and haul him out by the collar, while the rest of the family stood on chairs until I had led him outdoors.

 The Death of One Dog . . .

It would be hard to imagine the feeling of invincibility this dog gave me.  I wandered alone into the toughest sections of the city, unafraid of any animal or human I met.  I felt that even if the devil himself had confronted this perpetually  snarling and bad-tempered dog, he would have taken to his heels.  Unfortunately while I was at school, my little brother Robert attempted to pet the dog, and the dog attacked him.  His forehead was ripped open, requiring quite a few stitches, and my brother carries the scars to this day.  By the time I came home the dog had been shot by the police and taken away.

. . .  Then the Other

Our neighbor, Mr. Duquette, availed himself of this opportunity to tell the police that my dog, Winnie, had no license.  The police told my mother she would either have to buy a license or get rid of the dog.  She gave me a dime to go to the drugstore and buy some chloroform.  I took my little dog in the back end of Dunn’s building and put her under a tub and placed rags saturated with chloroform under the tub.  She whined something terrible, and I ran out.  Four or five hours later I came back and she was dead.  I buried her in our garden.  Never again did I allow myself to become attached to a pet.