February, 1635, Grantville
It all started on the first day of school. Chaim was in the hallway when he heard a kid say, "Hey, Hans. Look! A Shirley Temple haircut!"
"What are you talkin' about?"
"The banana curls, just Like Shirley Temple on the T.V."
"Red, for an up-timer, you are such a dummy! Don't you know nothing? He's a Jew. Lots of Jews wear ear curls."
"Uh uh. The Abrabanels don't.
"Hey, Shirley, are you a Jew?"
Chaim ignored him.
"Hey dumb ass, you with the curls—"
Chaim didn't answer him.
"Yeah, you're right, Hans. He ain't Shirley Temple. She could talk. This guy can't. He must be Buster Keeton." Chaim heard Hans laugh.
Red continued, "That's the silliest hat I ever saw anyone wear. Are you trying to be funny? Hey, Buster, where's the propeller? Ain't beanies supposed to have propellers?"
Chaim ducked into the classroom thinking that would end it. When he was hurrying back from lunch—he lived close by so he went home instead of bringing a lunch bucket or eating in the cafeteria which wasn't kosher—he heard a loud voice, "Look here comes Buster Keeton with Shirley Temple's banana curls."
The first day of school established an ongoing pattern.
Early Winter, 1635
"Class," Mrs. McDonald, said, "today we have a special treat for you. Mister Wiley has brought his collections of arrowheads and other West Virginia Indian artifacts."
William Wiley gave a solid talk on Indians geared to a fourth grade level. Fragile items were held up for view and the durable stone projectile points were passed up and down the aisles. When he came to his favorite relic, he was ready to wrap up his twenty minute lecture before he started losing his audience.
When William was no older than the children in the class an old-timer gave him a small stone resembling a cat. He told William it was an Indian totem. William was never able to find any supportive references in literature on West Virginia's Indians to confirm it, but he had never stopped believing his primary source.
"This," he said holding it aloft, "is an Indian totem. A totem was a spirit guide. Like the belief in the Great Spirit it helped the Indians live in harmony with nature. They believed the totem would lead, help, and protect them. It was—"
"You mean like Chaim's golem," a young male voice called out. "Chaim says the rabbi in Prague made a statue that came to life and protected the Jews."
William was startled. He knew himself to be an open, accepting, tolerant man, except when it came to blatant stupidity. Like this.
His thoughts flashed back to all of the battles, some loud and sharp others quiet and lingering, he had over the years with his father, Enoch Wiley, the minister of the Free Presbyterian Church. He would have liked to think that if his Father had had a real education instead of some stupid correspondence course, he would have learned better. But he had to admit there were a lot of stupid men out there, some with doctorates in theology, taking advantage of other people's ignorance. How could anyone go through that much schooling with their eyes completely closed?
William blurted out the truth as he saw it. "It didn't happen any more than a totem actually guided the Indians." Realizing he had just put his foot in his mouth, he sought to smooth it over. "All religion is just mankind trying to explain what they don't understand. Then they use it to justify laws they make.
"Like the rule against eating pork. It's obvious to me, and it ought to be plain to anybody who will bother thinking about it, that when the Israelites were superstitious shepherds in the desert where there aren't a lot of pigs around or enough fuel to cook pork well, some of them got sick. That's when they made a rule against eating it. To enforce it, they blamed it on a deity. Now we know you have to cook pork completely so there is no reason to not eat it. But since it is a law of God, they're stuck with it."
The teacher spoke up before William could say another word. He had stopped talking about Indians and started talking about religion. The school board had decided the best way to teach American values was the same way it was done back home, by teaching American history. It did not matter if it was current events here and now or future history of a universe which no longer existed— or, at least, was no longer accessible if it did still exist. It was their history and they should be proud of it. Colonial history should teach the value of representative democracy, and the price of freedom. Indians were part of that history. Perhaps they might get a better deal in this world if what happened in the other world was not forgotten.
But religion was another matter all together. School board policy was more than firm on the topic. It was not to be discussed below the high school level, except very cautiously as history in the most gentle, general, and strictly limited terms. There was no way she was going to let the lecture end in a question and answer session with the topic now involving religion.
"Thank you, Mister Wiley. Class, just as soon as all of our guest's things are passed back to the front, you may go to recess."
The trickle of teasing avalanched on the playground.
"See, dweeb!" "Told you the golem was bull!" "Neener, neener, you and your stupid curls."
"Hey, look, it's a spring, boing, boing," Hans said as he batted the bottom of Chaim's ear-lock to an uproar of laughter and giggles. Chaim turned away, red-faced, angry and wishing for a good comeback.
As he walked away, Hans pushed him in the middle of his back. "Get lost, you little creep. Go play with the girls."
By the end of the day, Chaim decided he was never, ever coming back to school.
"You must speak to Chaim. He refused to go to school this morning," Rachael said when Yankel got home from work a little early on Tuesday
Yankel looked up from the cup of hot broth his wife set before him. It was a cold winter's day. He had just walked home from work by way of the tanner's to make sure the book bindery would get enough fine-grained leather that looked alike to bind fifty matching copies of the Siddur. He could have ridden the trolley which ran out to the school and right past the house but riding the trolley cost money and the family had better things to do with money than to spend it riding trolleys. "Is he sick? Should we take him to the doctor?"
"No," she replied. "The other boys are teasing him."
Yankel's first thought was to take a belt and teach his son a lesson. How dare he skip school? How many families back home would do anything to give their sons schooling like Grantville's if they knew it existed? This was one of the reasons for accepting the Abrabanels' invitation to come to Grantville and Chaim would not go because he was teased! It was not like he was being robbed or beaten or he might be killed or his sister might be raped. It was only teasing.
We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.
Our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.
- The Grantville Gazette Staff