Progress at School with Father’s Help
Our school and its yard was surrounded by a brick wall about two meters high and looked more like a prison than a place of learning. The huge iron gate would open fifteen minutes before school started. At eight o’clock sharp the janitor locked the gate and any late student would have to ring the bell at the main entrance, over which was chiseled in stone ‘NON SCHOLAE SED VITAE’ (NOT FOR SCHOOL BUT FOR LIFE). The janitor would then take the delinquent scholar to the vice-principal’s office, where he had to explain the reason for his tardiness. After a severe dressing down and reprimand, he would receive a slip of paper signed and stamped which allowed him to enter his classroom.
My second year at the Wesel High School turned out for me to be a very happy one. Having been placed back to the first high school grade the year before helped me overcome my deficiencies in Latin and made me feel superior in all other subjects, especially in Math. I quickly made friends with three other students. Being one year older and quite a bit taller, I took on the delightful role during recess and lunch breaks of the big, bad wolf and chased my friends, the three little piglets, all over the schoolyard. In the German comic books published under the worldwide license by the Walt Disney Company the wolf’s name was Ede. From this time on my nickname had been Ede for all those who belonged to the inner circle of my friends.
Great was my joy, when Father arrived. After two years of living only with Mother and Aunt Mieze this was a welcome change for me. What I didn’t know at the time was that my parents were drifting apart due to circumstances beyond their control. Mother having no employable skills had allowed herself to be bound completely to Aunt Mieze’s generous arrangement by taking over housekeeping duties in exchange for room and board, all expenses for herself and me. Father suffering from periodic back pains and other health issues could no longer find meaningful employment. His former administrative talents in agriculture were not in demand, especially not in the city of Wesel. Mother expected him to take up any employment. Even sweeping the streets or working for the sanitation department would have been all right in her eyes, she once confided to me. So as time went on, Father was facing a dilemma, either to continue to depend on Aunt Mieze’s charitable hospitality or to seek work completely out of line with his agricultural expertise.
But while he stayed with us, half a year or more, he did his best to create a sense of togetherness between himself and me, a kind of late bonding between father and son. He took great interest in my studies at the high school. He had heard of my difficulties in Latin and devised a motivational scheme to help me with grammar and vocabulary, which he himself had never learned. He also noticed that if I did get into trouble at school or at home it was primarily due to the fact that I, often wrapped up in my dream world, lost track of time. His plan, which I immediately embraced with great enthusiasm, was that I should earn my very first watch by studying Latin with him. For every exercise from my text-book, for every successfully completed vocabulary drill, for each translation into Latin he awarded me one point and recorded it meticulously with date and type of work into a little writing booklet. Once I had obtained the grand total of 500 points, he would give me the promised brand-new watch. When he left, I was not only the proud owner of a watch, but also more importantly my marks in Latin had soared to the second highest level one could get on the report cards. Moreover, I had accumulated so much knowledge that I was coasting along for four more high school years before slipping back to the more common satisfactory standing. It was also during Father’s short stay that he taught me how to play chess. His legacy was not only that I had developed a lasting passion for the ancient language of the Romans and the royal game of chess, but also that I harbor only the fondest memories of and feelings for my father. Little did I know that I was not going to see him again for six long years.