A Teachers Story Ch. 01bybmunchausen©
I want to thank HONEYWLDCAT for her invaluable help with this story. Her editing was extremely helpful and right on point. Thank you.
It was my first day of school and not wanting to be late I arrived about an hour early. My instructions were to go to the Principal's office, where we would be directed to the room the orientation would take place. When I got to the office, the secretary gave me a funny look when I asked about the orientation. She asked me my name and I told her.
She said, "Oh, yes, Mr. Fitzgibbons, the orientation will start in the auditorium and after the principal talks, you will be split up into groups for the rest of the day. Basically, that's the way it will be all week. Dr. North will meet with you individually during the week, just to get to know you. She does that with the new teachers, but the orientation doesn't start for another forty-five minutes."
I smiled, "I know I'm early but I wasn't sure how long it would take to get here, so I gave myself plenty of time. I haven't been in Baltimore very long." I explained.
"Well, welcome to Baltimore and to Grant High School. I'm sure you will like it here. We have a great Boss," she said
"Thank you and that's good to hear. I sure hope that I like it here." I said as I started for the auditorium.
Yes, at the age of twenty-eight I was starting my first REAL job. Not that I haven't worked, but...
IN THE BEGINING
I grew up in Syracuse, New York. I lived with my Mother and older sister, June. June was ten years older than me. Overall she was a great sister. She babied me and basically took over with raising me after my father died and Mom had to work.
My father died when I was three years old. I was twelve when my sister got married and moved to California. I missed her terribly. But, I would spend my summers in Berkley, California. Like my sister, I was bright and a hard worker. As a result I was pushed ahead twice in elementary school, I graduated grade school at the age of twelve.
I hated high school. "Baby Boy" was my nickname. Being so much younger than the rest of the students, I was constantly picked on and was the target for every bully and bully-wanna-be. My solution was to join the swim team and constantly work out. It sort of worked, about half way through my freshman year, no one called me "Baby Boy", at least not to my face and the bullies stayed clear of me.
But, that didn't mean I was accepted. The swim team sort of accepted me, at least when we were at practice and during swim meets, but not when we were in school. I survived and graduated in the top five percent of my class at the ripe old age of sixteen.
Shortly after graduation my mother lost her fight with cancer. After the funeral and settling her affairs, selling the house and car, I moved to California and lived with my sister, her husband Bryan, and their two year old daughter Cassy. I had been accepted into the University of California at Berkley, which wasn't far from my sister's home.
College was pretty much the same thing, but there I was "The Kid". It did get better after a while, especially when kids my age started to attend. I dated some but nothing serious. I was nineteen when I graduated, with a degree in Mathematics. After graduation I decided to see the world, and I took a trip to Europe. I had some money that my Mom left me and I had been saving my money from the various jobs I had while in school.
By staying in Youth Hostels and being frugal, I spent two months traveling around Europe.
My last stop was Paris, the City of Lights. I loved it. One day I was walking around the city taking in the sights, I stopped in front of a French Army recruiting office. As I stood there looking at the photos of the solders and the equipment, I heard someone say something to me in French. I turned and saw a guy about my age, who was speaking to me in French.
I said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand you."
He smiled and said, "Ah, you are an American." He asked, "Are you thinking of joining the Legion?'"
"The Legion? Oh, this is the French Foreign Legion. Well I guess when I was a kid I thought about it. But..."
He interrupted saying, "Well, I am very seriously considering it. I guess I am just trying to work up the courage to actually enlist."
I looked at him and laughingly said. "Well, we will never become Legionnaires by standing here."
He laughed and said, "Shall we?"
We went in and signed a five-year contract, becoming members of Légion étrangère, the French Foreign Legion. I signed under a pseudonym, "declared identity" and I officially became Henry Duval. To paraphrase Bogart, this was the start of a beautiful friendship.
To this day I have no idea what possessed me to join. It was an impulse that completely turned my life around.
I learned my new friend was Marcel Danjou. He had just received The Grand Diplome from l'Ecole Le Cordon Bleu Paris. He was an extraordinary chef, but he hated cooking. He had been following in his father's footsteps, because his parents wanted him to.
We went through our initial training together and upon graduation we both went into Parachute School. Finally, we were assigned to the 2e Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes, 2e REP (2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment) stationed on the island of Corsica. A place I fell in love with.
I did get to see the world; the Horn of Africa, Yugoslavia (as it broke up), the middle-east, south-east Asia. A lot of places you read about in the news and a bunch that you didn't.
When we were at home in Corsica, I attended l'Ecole Le Cordon Bleu du Marcel. In other words, Marcel taught me how to cook. It was amazing that this Chef, who professed that he hated cooking, would be such a great teacher. He was patient, explained everything, and never got annoyed when I screwed up. Over time, even if I say so myself, I became a rather good cook. I would never call myself a Chef, but I could more than handle myself in the kitchen.
By the time our five year contracts were up, both Marcel and I were Sous-Officiers or Sergents. We both signed another one-year contract, and did it again the next year.
However, after seven years in the Legion, I decided that it was enough. One evening, I went into Marcel's room and said, "I have something to tell you, mon ami. I'm not going to sign another contract, I think that seven years is enough and I want to go home."
Marcel laughed, "Once again you have beaten me to the punch. I was working up the courage to tell you, that I am leaving. Catherine and I have decided to get married. But, you cannot go home before you act as my best man."
Marcel had met Cathering on home leave, she was the sister of one of his childhood friends. He was nuts about her and I really wasn't surprised with this announcement. So the two youths who joined the Legion together were leaving together. To be honest, I am not sure what I would have done had Marcel decided to stay. But, that is something I don't have to worry about.
The French Government always boasted that it would help Legionnaires get back into civilian life. They really did right by me. My Superior Officer helped me get into the American University in Paris. I wanted to take some courses in education. While studying at the University, I was able to do student and substitute teaching at the American School in Paris.
After a year I received my Masters in Education and was qualified as a teacher anywhere in France and the United States. A professor I had, John Reynolds, who had also been in the Legion, arranged a meeting with a friend of his, Mr. Peter Brant who was visiting Paris. Mr. Brant just happened to be the Chancellor of the Board of Education of Baltimore, MD, USA.
In a few weeks with all the paperwork filled out I was offered a position as a High School Math Teacher with the Baltimore Board of Education. Leaving Paris and Marcel and Catherine was heart wrenching. We had been together for the last seven years. I had spent most of my home leaves with him at his parent's home outside of Amsterdam. His parents told everyone that I was their adopted son. I though of them as my parents, they were Mama and Papa to me.
When the time came, they were all at the airport watching me leave and waving to me until the plane was in the air. I cried. And that's how I ended up sitting in the auditorium in Grant High School, listening to a rather attractive principal, Dr. Genevieve North telling the new teachers about Grant HS.
After the welcome speech by the principal, we were broken into groups and spent the next week being oriented into the ways of the Baltimore Board of Ed. I was grouped with three kids just out of college. The two young women saw me as an "older" man and I am sure that I could have bedded either one of them had I wanted. But, they seemed so young and immature. I went out with the new teachers a few times that first week, but I begged off after a while. They bored me to death.
Once school started, things got better. I had a couple of classes of Sophomores and a class of Seniors. Grant was an inner city school and most of the students were rather tough and did not want to be there. It was similar to training the new recruits in the 2e REP back in Corsica. Both groups were tough as nails but the difference was that the Legionnaires wanted to be there, the students did not.
I was rather loud when I taught. Letting them know how much fun math was. I quickly gained a reputation as a hard and crazy teacher but, my students were learning. After a couple of weeks, I was called to the principal's office. I really didn't have much contact with her and was curious why I was asked to see her.
At first we talked about how I was doing and whether I was enjoying teaching. I told her that I felt guilty because I was having so much fun and getting paid for it.
She laughed and then said, "Well Mr. Fitzgibbons, I have a sort of a favor to ask you."
I was intrigued, a favor? "What is it?" I asked.
"In the short time you have been here, you have gained a reputation of getting along with the students and although they will never admit it, and you didn't hear this from me, they like you. What I would like is for you to give some tutoring to about ten freshmen, who seem to be having a little trouble adjusting to life here at Grant," she explained.
"No problem. When do you want me to meet them?" I asked.
She looked at me incredulously and said, "Just like that? No questions about the students? No questions about the problems? Just 'No problem.'"
I laughed, "To have a group of students get special treatment so early in the year, there must be a real problem. And I think that it is not only a problem with academics but also with attitude. You have most likely asked some other teachers and were turned down. So when do I meet them?"
She shook her head, laughed and said, "That's another thing, tutoring is scheduled for three thirty in the afternoon. It's after class, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, this is a volunteer position, so you won't be paid anything extra for doing it."
"Well, I don't think that I have anything planned on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next year, so I don't think there will be a problem." I said smiling.
THE WATER RATS
That afternoon I began to tutor six young men and four young women. Believe me, they were not boys or girls. The women were as tough as the men. There was a little problem that first afternoon when one of the young men showed me his knife. I inspected it and as I was inspecting it, it broke.
Then I explained to my students, in a cool, calm, quiet voice, the rules of my class. I emphasized each point with a yelp of pain from the young man who showed me his knife.
That afternoon, we came an understanding. Granted their attitudes were not any better, but they now knew what was expected from them and what they could expect from me.
The first few weeks were difficult but I slowly showed them that I cared. Eventually, they believed me. One afternoon, at the end of October, we were talking at the end of class and I learned that none of them knew how to swim. I couldn't believe it. So, I offered to teach them and found that they were really excited about it.
I approached Dr. North, asking for permission to use the pool on Saturday mornings to teach swimming. She looked at me like I was nuts and told me to talk to the Director of Athletics, Coach Rossi, but it was okay with her.
The Coach also thought I was nuts, but she said that if it was okay with North, it was okay with her. Thus, I started the Saturday morning swimming classes.
Usually the first fifteen minutes were spent screaming, shouting and splashing each other and me. But the rest of the hour they would work and within a few weeks, all of them could swim across the pool.
The Group was the target of a lot of teasing and derision because of the tutoring and especially because of swimming classes. Someone called then a bunch of water rats. The name stuck. They were now "Fitzy's Water Rats".
From time to time I would leave reports for Dr. North, giving her updates about the tutoring and about their test scores, which were slowly climbing. The semester flew by. Christmas vacation came and went. I visited my sister, June, in Oakland and spent Christmas with her and the family. I had an absolutely wonderful time. She was glad that I was back in the states.
"Now, we may have the chance to see you, without getting a passport," she laughed.
It was the Friday after we returned from Christmas vacation; I had just finished doing a long swim in the pool. I swam about 3 miles, 212 laps nonstop. I was more than a bit tired, but it was a good tired and all I wanted to do was go home, have a light meal and glass of wine.
As I was walking to the front door, Dr. North came out of her office and walked toward me. We greeted each other, asked how our respective vacations were and left the school.
Dr. North was in her mid-thirties, about 5'6" and slender. She had a tendency to wear very loose, conservative clothing, so you really couldn't tell much about her figure, other than she was not heavy.
We walked to the parking lot and we talked about the tutoring and was I worried about the semester finals, which were about to start a week from Monday. She then asked me what I had been doing in school so late. I told her about my swim, just about doing laps. Not how far.
"What will you do with the rest of your evening?" she asked
"I'll go home and have a light meal and...Oh damn!" I said.
"What's wrong?" she asked smiling.
I tried to look forlorn and laughed, "Nothing in the frig, I'll have to stop and get something. What about you?"
She laughed, "I'm going to Gitano's," looking at me like I knew what she was talking about.
"Gitano's?" I asked.
She looked at me incredulously and said, "You have been in Baltimore all of this time and you don't know Gitano's? It's only the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy and the wine list is to die for. They have any type of wine from the Mediterranean."
"It sounds great. I'll have to try it." I said.
"Want to join me? It's really not that far." she asked.
I smiled and said, "I would love to."
"Great, and now you won't have to rush to the grocery store." She laughed.
I followed her to the restaurant. I would have never found it by myself. She parked her car and waited for me to park and catch up to her. As we walked to the restaurant, I addressed her as Dr. North.
She paused and then said, "Ron, why don't you call me Jen."
I smiled and said, "Thank you, I will, Jen. But, on Monday morning I will revert to Dr. North."
She looked at me a bit surprised and laughed, "Thank you, Ron, I appreciate that."
Gitano's turned out to be a small, neat and as I soon discovered, wonderful restaurant.
The owner ran over to us as we entered, "Genevieve," he bellowed, "where have you been? We haven't seen you in ages." Then looking at me he asked, "I see you have a companion tonight."
"This is one of our new teachers, Ronald Fitzgibbons. Ron this is the GITANO," she said.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Gitano," I said.
"No, no, no," he bellowed, "the pleasure is all mine, Mr. Fitzgibbons."
"Please call me Ron."
"Thank you Ron," he answered.
We were seated at a small table next to the window, where we ordered drinks. She ordered a slow gin fizz and I ordered a Campari and soda for me. Jen picked up the wine list handed it to me and with a laugh said, "Why don't you pick the wine? After living in France, you should know your wines."
I was surprised when I looked over the wine list, pleasantly surprised. It was heavy with Tuscan wines but had a good number of wines from southern France and the west coast of Italy. There were even two wines from Corsica. Then I spotted a Chianti Classico from the San Sebastian winery. I was overjoyed. This had to be one of the best wines from Italy.
"Jen, do you like Chianti?" I asked, "There is a wonderful Chianti Classico here. I have had it before, many times and I didn't think it could be found outside of Tuscany."
"With a recommendation like that, how could I pass it up?" She answered.
Gitano returned and I told him of the wine choice. He looked at me with surprise, "You have made an excellent choice. What made you choose San Sebastian?"
"I have had it many times, in fact my friend and I often stayed in a little village not far from the winery itself," I explained.
"What was the name of the village, where you stayed?" he asked.
"It's a tiny place, not on any map other than the local ones. It's named Santa Angela. It only has one inn, the Il Duce. And it has a painting of The Il Duce hanging behind the desk. However, we would always take our dinner at a small café across the road, the Tuscan Café." I continued, "Let me tell you, the food there was out of this world. And the wine was always from San Sebastian."
As I talked Gitano's wife, Rosa, came out and when she saw Jen. She ran over to her and hugged her, saying, "Genevieve, how are you? How was your Christmas and New Year? Were you at your brothers?"
Rosa then saw me. "Who is this?" she asked.
Jen smiled, "This is Ron Fitzgibbons. He is one of my new teachers."
At this point Gitano burst out, "Rosa, you will never guess where Ron has been." He turned to me and asked, "Ron, when were you last in the Tuscan Café?"
I thought for a second and said, "It was in August. I took my friend and his new wife to Santa Angela for a week. We had been telling Catherine about Santa Angela ever since she started to date Marcel. After they got married, she wanted to go there. So since I wasn't going to be there for their first anniversary I took them there for an early anniversary present."
Rosa looked at me with wonder in her eyes. "You know Santa Angela? You have been in The TUSCANY?"
At this point Jen asked, "What is going on here? What is Santa Angela and what is The Tuscany?"
Rosa sat on a chair next to Jen and told her, "Gitano and I were born in Santa Angela. We grew up there and were married there. The Tuscany is owned by Gitano's cousin. They were taught to cook by their Grandmother."
I looked at Gitano and hit my head with my hand and said, "How could I be so blind? Jen, there is a photo above the bar in the Tuscany. Gitano and his cousin Pasquale are standing in their chef's whites with the high hats. A small lady dressed in black is between them. She has a big wooden spoon in her hand. I have been told that the spoon was used for two things; for stirring the pot and for smacking the heads of Gitano and Pasquale when they screwed up."
Gitano and Rosa laughed and Gitano said, "Grandma was the most loving woman in the world and she loved her grandsons more than anything, but when she was teaching us to cook...she was Satin herself. If we did anything wrong...WHAP...wooden spoon on the head."