Volume 20 Issue 14 | August 17 - 23, 2007

Remembering ‘good old school days’ that weren’t

By Geraldine Lipschutz

I have lasting memories of two of my classmates from my days at Sprague Elementary School in Brockton, Mass., where I grew up. The year was 1921 at the time of the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the trial of two anarchists who were charged with murder, eventually convicted and sentenced to death in 1927, though many were convinced of their innocence.

When the story broke it became a huge national controversy. One of my classmates was Ines Sacco, a quiet little girl, who never mingled with the other kids in our class. She came to school when the story came out and my attention was riveted on her because the Brockton Enterprise wrote about the case at great length, and I followed it avidly. Soon I began to feel for this girl, wondering how she felt with the whole city looking at her family.

The image of this child was still very vivid when I later learned that her father, Nicola Sacco, wrote several truly heartbreaking letters from jail. Ines was mentioned in his last letter when he wrote in his characteristic broken English to his wife, “Tell Ines, I love her so much, again, so much.” It is also believed the actual robbery and murders that were blamed on Sacco and Vanzetti, were perpetrated by a violent gang of Portugese immigrants. History tells us such injustice is never forgotten.

The other classmate was a black girl, the only black child in the school. I recall only too well that the teacher (we’ll call her Mrs. V.) liked to punish those who misbehaved by shaking them until their little heads bounced around. After each such episode she would wash her hands.

One day, we had a class in oral reading comprehension. The story Mrs. V. chose was a Mexican fable that takes place in God’s bakery. As the story goes, at least according to the teacher, God makes people in his own image and puts them in the oven to bake. When the first one came out brown it was underdone. The second one was overdone and came out burnt black. Both were thrown away. The “last one” finally came out just right – white, and was perfect in God’s eyes. (Yes, that’s exactly the way she narrated the story.) Then we had to write about the story. I often wondered what this little black child wrote. Did she think she was unacceptable to God?

As for Mrs. V., I used her own fastidiousness to teach her a good lesson. She came to school one day in a sparkling white skirt. I was sitting near the window where her plants were. As she watered them, the mud splattered on her white skirt, which she did not even notice. As I saw this happening, I was thinking, “Should I warn her?” Well I did not. When she realized what had happened she had more than her hands to wash.

Many years later I read that Mexican fable in D.H. Lawrence’s “The Plumed Serpent” and found it did not end the way Mrs. V. had taught us.

But I still wonder about those two classmates and how different and yet similar their circumstances were. While one was born into an anarchist family and the other with the “wrong” skin color, they both illustrated what America was like then and how America has changed during the past century.

Geraldine Lipschutz, a retired Seaport resident, worked for the New York Post and the 92nd Street Y..

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