Wobbly, the Rough-And-Tumble Story of an American Radical

By Ralph Chaplin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2. "HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO GROW
UP AND AMOUNT TO ANYTHING?"

WELL, young man, what did you learn at school today?" This was my father's invariable salutation at suppertime. I dreaded it, more and more as years went by, because many times things happened at school that he would have been happier not knowing about. It started at the very beginning.

When I first stepped into the schoolroom, the fact that I had been washed back of the ears, and wore a newly ironed necktie, may have impressed the teacher, but what it did to my classmates was another matter. In the streets and alleys there was an unwritten code that applied to boys with white blouses and clean necks. My mother didn't know that she was forcing me to violate that code. I did. So did the gang. But I wasn't able to explain it to her. She didn't know what would happen, but I did. And it happened. I returned home badly messed up and much discouraged. That was the first day. There were many others. I got off to a bad start, and the situation didn't improve much as I went along.

Many of the tough kids in the neighborhood were doing better at school than I. At least they were getting by. The girls in class were intolerable—they always knew their lessons. I hated girls. I was big for my age and awkward. I was addicted to my own way of life at home. I liked to look at books, draw pictures, listen to Dad telling stories. I liked to hear my mother play the organ and sing songs about "Mrs. Lofty" or "Sweet Alice Ben Bolt"— anything but go to school.

Another thing that made it difficult was that the teachers resented my use of the "deeze-dem-and-doze" patois of the neighborhood kids, and the neighborhood kids resented anything else. The teachers frequently reminded me that I should

-15-

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