A Voice From Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth

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Authors: Louis Auchincloss
Tags: Literary, Biography & Autobiography
complaint about school was directed to my parents during the long hot months, and they had no reason to think that things weren't going well, except that my marks were poor. My father was a graduate of the school himself and under the same headmaster, but he would have taken me out of Groton in a moment had he suspected the truth. He was a rare thing, a jock who never reproached his son for not being one.

    My mother suspected that all was not well for me at school and spotted the redness on my tongue in September when it was time to go back to the seat of my torture. I had smeared it with Mercurochrome in an effort to make myself ill so that I could stay home. Not surprisingly, given my mother's perspicacity, it didn't work. But on this occasion, perhaps chastened by the previous year, I didn't dare confess. The redness was attributed to something I ate, and I was duly returned to Groton as a second former.
    A new problem awaited me. My Latin teacher, Fritz DeVeau, a dry, sarcastic bachelor of independent means (he spent his summers in Bar Harbor where his wit and acid realism made him popular even with my parents) filled me for some reason with a paralyzing awe. I was not doing well in Latin anyway, but I was hopeless when translating for him. He would give me a daily zero on a recitation, simply commenting: "Another goose egg, Auchincloss." It was said mockingly in the class that my marks looked like a chain across the page. This affected me in other classes, and the faculty actually began to discuss the advisability of my repeating a year. Mother came to discuss it.
    The idea of adding a whole year to my Groton sentence of six filled me with a wild terror. I would literally have preferred death. But in my desperation I conceived a plan of escape.
    "Get me dropped from 2A Latin to 2B," I begged Mother, "and I think I can make it."

    Mother, reluctant as perhaps never before to interfere (perhaps even she was cowed by Groton's hallowed halls) with the school administration, recognized the extent of my misery. She brought herself to tackle the formidable and veteran headmaster, who told her that my teachers believed I was simply lazy.
    "But what can we really lose?" she argued, attempting to advance my plan. "He seems morbidly terrified at the idea of repeating a year."
    God bless her; it worked. I knew it was a great concession, and I was resolved to make good. Like a drowning man clutching the lifesaver that had been finally tossed to him I fought my way to the shore. I entered the classroom of 2B Latin and was greeted by its master, Mr. Andrews, a stout, dumpy, funny-looking middle-aged man who had been promoted to the faculty from being the headmaster's secretary and whose face bore a huge purple birthmark. But—forgive the cliché—he had a heart of the purest gold.
    "I hear you've come down to us because you're lazy," he said. Then he winked at me.
    How I loved that man! My marks turned around.
    In the following year my grades soared from the bottom of the class to the top, and I was returned to the aegis of the once terrible DeVeau, who now appeared to have been a paper tiger and, indeed, became a friend.

    I had finally found a chink in the Groton wall through which I could crawl, if not to any great popularity, at least to the respectability of high marks. I could now afford to eliminate all hated sports from my life except for the minimum required by the school schedule. At home I continued to enjoy a game of tennis, but the only spectator sport I ever indulged in was the bull fight, on a rare visit to Spain or Mexico, and this I soon gave up as too bloody. But the unfortunate effect on my personality was that I allowed myself to consider this turning of my back on athletics as the sign of a superiority of character, and I made something of an ass of myself at Groton by not attending matches with visiting teams and scorning any manifestation of "school spirit."
    This led, at one point, to a clash with my

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