When we lived in the Buckeye Road Hungarian neighborhood, I didn’t do well in school. It started in Kindergarten when my friend András and I started kicking our teacher in class for being angry with us because we didn’t speak English. What in blue blazes was this English? Everyone on Buckeye Road spoke the Magyar tongue, and Harvey Rice Elementary School was in the middle of Buckeye Road. Was our teacher stupid or something?
My mother and father understood the problem. My little brother Daniel had just been born when they decided we would have to move to a white bread Anglo neighborhood, which we did in the summer of 1951. Being born in January, I had just finished the first half of first grade when—poof!—I started second grade in September at a new Catholic school, Saint Henry, where I was taught by Dominican sisters (and some lay teachers). Fortunately, by this time I had some notion of the English language, but was still thought of as being a tad slow. My teacher, Sister Frances Martin, would sneak up behind me in class, pull my ears, and call me “cabbagehead.”
In fact I was just an average student, and a bit of a disciplinary problem, until I reached fifth grade. By then, I started getting the hang of things. Unfortunately, that’s also the time my pituitary tumor started bothering me with frequent severe frontal headaches. I was now a whiz kid, but looked very young for my age.
After eighth grade, I got a tuition-free scholarship to attend Chanel High School in nearby Bedford, Ohio. The school was named after a missionary from the Marist order of priests who taught me, one St. Peter Chanel, who was martyred for his faith in Polynesia. (Coco Chanel came from the same family.) I got the idea from somewhere, though I’ve never been able to confirm it, that St. Peter Chanel was cooked and eaten by the savages he was trying to convert.
Anyhow, I was considered a whiz kid at Chanel and was always on top of the honor roll. I graduated as class valedictorian and received the Mr. Chanel award for being the best all-round student at the school, despite the fact that I was too sickly for sports. I lettered in band and academic achievement, which made me the natural enemy of those students who toiled for the letters on the sports field. So it goes.
Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I have nothing but respect for the sisters, priests, and lay teachers who taught me. I was never an abused altar boy: In fact, I was never even an altar boy. The idea of getting up at 5 am to serve Mass was not my cup of tea, though my brother did it for several years.