Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kicked Out 1953

At 17 and forced to attend the Hotchkiss summer school after flunking four out of five final exams, Dad lit up a Lucky Strike and walked into his favorite teacher's room.

(George Norton Stone) looked as stricken by what I had done as by what he knew he must do. "Well, you might as well finish it," he said.

That was certainly the final straw. Dad had already been caught with an electric coffeepot in his room at the beginning of the year. At the end of the summer Dad was "asked not to return". This would be his second expellation. The first ( see would lead to his writing career. Dad finished his boarding school career at Berkshire.

In a chapter called "Kicked Out", published in Hotchkiss: A Chronicle of an American School, Dad explains why he has such fond memories of Hotchkiss and why he wanted me to attend a school from which he'd been expelled.

Hotchkiss Campus today

Externally, the Hotchkiss I attended in the early 1950s was, with the exception of young women, pretty much the same as the Hotchkiss of the late seventies and early eighties. More important, many of the same faculty members were still there, among them the two men by whom I have been most influenced throughout my schooling: George Norton Stone and Robert Hawkins.

Stone and his wife Jodie lived in a small apartment in Coy in the 1950's where they "somehow, intuitively knew a boy had had enough of pretending to be grown up".As kind as they both were to Dad on the corridor, Stone could be brutal in the classroom.

Mr Stone, 1953

"Bryan, you're an idiot in math! I suggest you complete this course, fulfill your math requirement, and never ever come near a numeral again."...My God, the number of blackboard erasers and pieces of chalk he whizzed by my ears! "If you don't pay attention, I'm going to be all over you like a tent!"

Mr Stone 1981

Stone was much kinder to me. Probably because I was even more pathetic at math.

Mr Hawkins 1953

Dad's favorite English teacher was "The Hawk" --a nickname having less to do with Robert Hawkin's name, I always thought, than his ability to swoop down on the hapless student who was unprepared.

Mr Hawkins 1981

Mr Hawkins taught me French. Again, I was helpless. I entered Hotchkiss as an immature 13 year old. Both Stone and Hawkins flunked me prep year, so I spent the summer trying to make up for a D Minus average.

In so many ways, our Hotchkiss experiences were alike.

Dad 1954

Dad writes In those days I never had a girl friend, much less a girlfriend, and I went to proms and concerts alone. But, then again, I suppose there was not much demand among the girls at Farmington or Miss Hall's for a boy who looked like he'd be most comfortable on a twig.

Senior Portrait with Bill Newman on the left, 1981

I didn't need a report card to feel like a failure at Hotchkiss. I was surrounded by more wealthy, better looking and much happier students. Or at least they seemed that way. Eventually I decided that I couldn't compete head to head so I became a class clown. Over four years, I sent out no noticeable S.O.S's to the faculty. I also somehow managed to graduate without having sent out a single college application.
What followed was a dramatic "lost year" I'll have to write about in the near future.

Class of 1981 reunion, 2006

In the meantime, this is the weekend of my 30th Hotchkiss reunion. I will spend it watching my daughter play in a soccer tournament three thousand miles from campus. Despite everything I've written, I do have memories of a very special time, a keen appreciation of education as well as some enduring friendships.
Those were Dad's greatest wishes for me.


Dad, third from left.2003

At my father's memorial service a member of The Berkshire School's faculty handed me this clipping from The Berkshire Bulletin. The headline: "He's all ours, Hotchkiss". Yes, Hotchkiss has a way of claiming succesful alumni they've expelled.

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