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v v CHAPTER 3 A Schooling W hen I was five years old, my legs and arms began to shrink, and I would fall a lot. I became very skinny. It got so bad my parents took me to St. Joseph Medical Center in the heart of Houston, Texas. After several tests, I was diagnosed with polio. In the 1950s, polio had become one of the most serious communicable diseases among children in the United States. In 1952, alone, nearly sixty thousand children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than three thousand died. In 1955, the National Health Service began widespread vaccinations. By 1979 the virus had been eliminated across the country. The Catholic nuns at St. Joseph’s Medical Center massaged my legs and arms for hours several times a day, and I was convinced that God had sent them to me as angels. I saw many kids get worse and many become well. I was blessed, and I slowly got better. Because of polio, I was behind in my studies, to the point that my younger brother Bobby started school before me. It was not until my senior year in high school that I caught up with him, and we graduated together. We moved around so often, we never finished a year in the same school until we came to Boys Ranch. When I arrived at the ranch, I was thirteen and in the fifth grade. It was embarrassing to have my younger brother a year ahead of me. My teacher was Pat Stuart, wife of Paul Stuart, the man who’d driven us to the ranch our first day. She was a petite brunette with a kind, soft voice. My desk was in the back of the classroom. Mrs. Stuart introduced me to the other boys in the class, who were much smaller and younger. I felt so awkward and out of place. A few days later, Mrs. Stuart asked each student to stand up and read out of our textbook. She started with 22 • The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch the first row of boys and went back until she reached my row. When it was my turn to read, I stood beside my desk. Everyone stared at me. I was so ashamed and embarrassed because I couldn’t read. I didn’t know how. They all laughed. I fought back tears. I was tall, skinny, and older than every boy in my class. I withdrew and became very shy. Mrs. Stuart took me to the hall, closing the classroom door behind her. “Don’t worry,” she said gently. She was compassionate. “I will teach you to read. We’ll check with Mr. Peggram so you can stay after school. I’ll help you.” She received permission for me to work on my reading comprehension after school every day. She stayed and helped me; she was dedicated. Nobody made her do it. I will never forget her for that. But the best teacher I had at that time was my brother Bobby. He understood my struggles and helped me with my spelling and reading. He also understood about survival at Boys Ranch. The teachers would distribute report cards as school dismissed, and each boy had to take his report card to his dorm parent for his signature. I had three Fs on my report card, in reading, math, and spelling. I was so disappointed because I had been trying very hard. I gave the report card to Mr. Peggram and told him I would do better. On the way to the dining hall, some of the boys told me that I would get a spanking after dinner because of my grades. I was too scared to eat. After the meal, I went back to my room, opened my schoolbooks, and pretended to study. I saw Mr. Peggram and Mr. Waldrip walk toward the bathroom, with one of the boys between them. They closed the door. In a few minutes, I heard the belt as it hit the boy. The boy was screaming and begged them to stop. Later he came out crying. When the boy left the bathroom, he would go tell the next boy that it was his turn to go to the bathroom. Every time the bathroom door opened, as I waited my turn, my heart stopped. Finally, a boy with a swollen, tear-­ stained face told me it was my turn. I walked down that long hallway and slowly...


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MARC Record
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