Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dream seeds and weeds

This story is mostly true,
and never shown before.

It is a little long perhaps,
but worth the read and dream


The Greensall Shoes

"It's almost like terrorism!"

"What?” I stammered confusedly, my mind still on the mounting intrigue of the novel in my lap.

"Daddy, isn't it crazy about people putting viruses in other peoples' computers. Who would do such a thing? I mean, doing something crummy ‑- you know ‑‑ even criminal if you can make some sort of sense when you can see the result. Why would anybody do something to hurt somebody and not know if it happened or not and what the effect was? Do you know anybody like that?"

I didn't know how to handle this interruption. Do I try for a meaningful answer to one of the questions or ignore the subject and parentally discuss the use of runaway pronouns? The memory popped into my head and mouth.

"It was probably the guy who stole the Greensall shoes."


"Never mind. Just a flashback to grammar school days."

My mind wandered. "Greensall. Chester Greensall. The year he decided to be my friend. Funny, the transition from third to fourth grade is usually not a memorable one; not the subject of a novel certainly." I picked up my book and tried to ignore my daughter. Minutes later she was still standing there.


"Yes, there is a story there," I sighed resignedly. "It's not about transition, though. However, that event did have a profound effect on my early life."


Confusion. "What had I said? What had I only thought?" I put down the book and tried to bring it together. "My story will not unfold gracefully, or even sensibly," I mused, caught up by the way in which the memories tumbled down; one blurred glimpse leading to another. "I suppose some analogy about dominoes or RNA acting like skeleton keys would be apropos but "opening Fibber Magee's closet" would be closer to the truth. That analogy would be work; the time would be correct ‑‑ spring of 1954." I found myself surrounded with numerous packages of untold stories and forgotten fantasies. As I started to make sense out of my comment about the Greensall shoes I knew that I had many stories to tell, to an audience nearly grown. With conscious effort I spoke out loud.

"I'll try to stay on the subject. Start over, please."

"You didn't have computers then."


"Oh. You knew somebody crummy in grammar school."

"Well, I knew he was there."


"Let me read my book."

"Tell me. You were always in trouble, and having fun."

"That's not true at all. In those ..."

"Tell me anyway!"

"The important fact about second and third grade in Carson City relevant to the Greensall brothers was the fact that classes were held in Quonset huts set on an old playground three blocks from the main grammar school. The hot lunch program offered for 22 pennies not only a reasonable meal for a famished 9-year-old, but also a race for freedom. The lunch was served in the basement of the huge old prison‑stone building down the street. Those who got there first could eat and be on the playground with up to 40 minutes of football, marbles, or mischief remaining. Those who tarried stood in line for life! I was a skinny kid. My mother was certain it came from wolfing down my food ‑‑ or a tapeworm. No! My slender form was the result of running the 440 in under 2 minutes every school day for two years. Next year fourth grade was in the main building.

Only three people could outrun me regularly; my brother, Larry Greensall, and Chester Greensall. They all got a lot of practice running away from things. Eddy was already in fourth grade, as was Larry. Chester had to go home for lunch. The Greensalls lived two blocks from the Quonset huts and mother Greensall believed she could make a lunch for less than the subsidized hot lunch. Chester hated the arrangement because he always got in trouble at home. (He got in trouble at school too, but nobody whipped him there.)

Everyone else liked the arrangement because they all hated Chester ‑‑ except me. I didn't hate anybody. I liked the arrangement because I didn't have to beat Chester in the race for noonday freedom. Yes, I realize that coming in second, or even tenth would suffice to save me from a purgatory of staring at the back of a dirty neck. That was not the issue. Chester cheated, played dirty, threw rocks, threatened, kicked, and won. To come close to beating Chester might mean not finishing the race at all! I was taught to count my blessings. Chester's mother was one, a blessing I mean, though I never met her. Some of this plenary indulgence rubbed off on Chester.

It all changed in the fourth grade. Oh yes! The Greensall brothers didn't wear shoes. Neither did their cousin Finigan. I don't know if I could outrun Finigan; probably not. He never dropped a ball, or struck out, or got a passing grade. He didn't run to lunch. He just got in line wherever he wanted. He wasn't a bully ‑ he was just Finigan.

It all changed in the fourth grade. We moved joyously to the 'big' school. Unfortunately, the school lunch program moved to the old first grade building ‑‑ over by the Quonset huts. We all got to race; me, Larry, Chester, and the LINE. I considered taking a sack lunch. Actually, it didn't turn out as badly as I had feared. During the summer I had beaten Chester fair and square (sort of) in a race at the VFW picnic. More importantly, I had inadvertently provided Finigan with an alibi and kept him out of trouble for the one thing he hadn't been guilty of. He and a friend ....

"Daddy! What about the shoes, and the computer fiend."

"But you have to understand about the characters."

"OK, but stick to facts. What was different about the Greensalls and Finigan? What was his last name?"

"I was going to get to that. His name was F. N. Hengon III and any questions about the initials were settled in the dirt. He was defending his mother or something, but that is another story. He was not Irish as his name suggested, but the Greensalls were. Shanty Irish to be exact, although I don't even today know exactly what that means. What was different about the Greensalls was everything. I don't mean different as strange, or wrong, or even weird. Everything about them seemed in contrast to what was normally accepted. A lot of what they did made sense to a boy of 9 but obviously drove the adult world bananas. At least they were easy to gossip about. I'll try to recall some examples."

"What do you mean ‑ 'sort of?'"

"Huh! What are you talking about?"

"You said you beat Chester fair and square 'sort of.'"

"I thought you wanted to hear about the shoes."

"You said that Chester became your friend. Was that because you beat him, or because you cheated in doing it."

"I didn't cheat! There were hundreds of people watching."

"You didn't answer. You didn't tell me what F. N. stand for either and I bet you know. I don't want half a story."

"You'll get what you get. It took me many years to live it and you don't get it all in ten minutes. Be quiet!"

"They were called Poor White Trash too, but I never have met any Rich White Trash. There weren't any black people in town then either. Our Irish heroes were shabby with no shoes and patched clothes but they bathed every night. Their mommy washed them in a big tub on their back porch. She yelled ‑‑ they yelled - the current man of the house yelled. They were the cleanest kids in town but people always used words like 'dirty' when they talked about them, especially Mrs. G. I don't know if Finigan ever bathed. At least he didn't yell about it and people only said 'that woman' when they talked about her, his mother I mean. People always said those kids were ignorant and stupid but that wasn't true. I only knew Chester close up, but know the others were sharp too. See, most of us liked school all right but didn't have strong feelings about 'learn'n'. The Greensalls had the desire for 'learn'n' beat into them at home but didn't fit into school. They were unruly ruffians in the schoolyard but NEVER misbehaved in class. They learned everything the teacher presented but never did homework. Lazy? No, they weren't allowed to take books home! The dog always ate them or something. Chester always got good grades in subjects learned in the class but failed everything else. In second and third grade he got better grades when the weather was good. In forth and fifth grades he got better grades when the weather was bad."

"I read an article about that Daddy ..."

"No, you didn't smarty! Here's what happened. In the Quonset huts the heater was in the back of the room and all the ventilation in the front. The teachers always moved the better students to the front of the class. In good weather it got hot under that steel roof and it was a pleasure to sit in front and get benefit of any breeze. Chester was right up there volunteering answers and racing to the blackboard. In bad weather the front was drafty and cold. Dumb old Chester, sans shoes, sans sweater, couldn't do anything correctly and had to sit in the back by the fire.

Now, when we moved to the 'big' school some of the teacher's attitudes changed. Bare feet WERE NOT ALLOWED! Kids without shoes were forced to sit in the hall or library by these 'progressive' teachers. So, in good weather the Greensalls spent a lot of time out of the classroom and didn't learn anything. In very bad weather the brothers wore galoshes. They didn't fit at all ‑‑ huge. They were tied on with ropes to their belts and came up to their knees. They qualified as shoes, though, even in old 'Ogrin the ogre's' class. So, their grades went up! Finigan never seemed to learn anything, anytime. He proudly displayed straight F's on his report card. Foolish! He knew everything, always. They say he only passed each grade because his mother had the goods on the Principle.

Now we come to the shoe crises. Mrs. Ogrin made the mistake of sending Chester home because he had no shoes. Everybody got an education that day. All that bathtub screaming practice came in handy. Chester was screaming because he was whacked with a stick every step. Momma G. was screaming because she was MAD. For three blocks we could hear them coming. No one in the school made a sound. My vocabulary doubled in one afternoon. Strangely, the volume didn't change as it approached the school and stormed into the Principle's office. It was the same impossible loud for about an hour and a half. The result of it was that Momma G. would take care of switching anyone who broke the rules, including teachers who refused to teach and Principles without any. (I think she meant rules). Her kids wouldn't accept charity, but if shoes were essential to learning the kids would accept jobs to pay for them. Of course no one wanted these kids in their businesses. Momma went home and the kids went to class. They had won a battle of sorts but definitely lost the war. The teachers totally ignored them.

As I said, the Greensalls never acted up in class. Chester sat rigidly still except to raise his hand to answer a question. He was never called on, even when his was the only hand up. He didn't scream in the bathtub anymore. He didn't even try to run to lunch.

Larry got shoes! Mr. Wilton owned a shoe store on Main street that we all visited once a week at least. The closest thing to television was the fluoroscope that let us look at each other's feet, five or six at a time, all crammed under the sill. I'm certain I will die of either foot or eyeball cancer someday. Now, the Greensall kids weren't allowed in the store and had never seen their feet even though they were bare. Mr. Wilton hadn't seen them either, so Larry's shoes didn't fit. It didn't matter. Everybody decided to wear the shoes.

Oh, what a plan to trick the ugly Ogrin at her own game. The shoes were secreted in a gunnysack under the NW steps to the school. All the kids knew, and Bill the custodian (one of us), but no one else. Larry, Chester, and Finigan would run out between classes and put on the shoes before going to Ogrin's class, then out to the gunnysack for the next needy person. It worked out well. Ogrin thought she had won and relaxed her mental boycott. The brothers knew they had won but continued their earnest classroom ways. Larry won the school spelling bee. Chester stayed after school and did his homework even though he got a beating when he got home. There were a lot less black eyes around school. Then somebody stole the shoes!

It had to be between 9 and 10 on Thursday. The gunnysack was still there. Not a trace of shoes. Chester skipped Ogrin's 10:00 o'clock class. The next day he came to class with bare feet, but his homework was done. Ogrin ignored him. We were all dumbfounded. No one said a word of sorrow or encouragement, but I learned what empathy meant. For the rest of the week no one raised a hand in Ogrin's class, except Chester. As he was not called on no questions were answered at all. Larry's and Finigan's classes did the same. We never knew who stole the shoes."

"What happened to all of them, Daddy?"

"The brothers moved away during Easter vacation but it had nothing to do with the school problem. Larry's dad had shown up after many years and they all went to Texas where he had a big oil job."

"So, I don't know, and neither does the crud who stole the shoes. That is the senseless part."

"What about Finigan?"

"That we could see. He sort of got even for his cousins. They found out he needed glasses during one of these traveling exams they did back then. Finigan learned to read instead of memorize. He got the highest SAT score in the State when he graduated from high school. He won a good scholarship but turned it down. He inherited a fair amount of money from some uncle back east."

"Rich White Trash?"

"Could be. Just a crazy mother, probably."

"Now I want to know about how you tricked Chester and what F. N. stood for."

"Which one first?"


"I told you I don't know, but I heard how you can find out."


"It's on the Viet Nam Memorial."


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