My mother was a clark. She died unexpectantly in September of 1979, 2 weeks before I was to start my sophomore year of college. (Bummer. Grades weren’t great that semester.) Sitting on a rather plump couch of retrospect, it becomes more clear to me just how clarklike she was. She had many a story to tell. (no, this does not qualify her as a roger. she was a clarklike female through and through).
Growing up I especially enjoyed the stories of her years teaching school on New York’s lower east side. You know, before the LES got “cool”. Traditionally a working class, immigrant community, it was not exactly the place you’d picture a young woman teaching in the early 1940’s. Already, a standout. (can you say “outsider” lol) Already not following the cultural “formula” of the day for women, she graduated from Fordham University at the age of 20. You go girl!
She liked to tell how she taught Ben Gazzara (the old time movie actor) back when Ben was “Benny”. Even then, she said he was kind of obnoxious, just a little full of himself. But there you go. Maybe that’s what got him out of the “hood” and into Hollywood. But there was someone else she spoke of rather fondly. His name was “Nibsie”. He was her Protector. My youthful imagination cast him as a young Sal Mineo.
Before I tell the story of Nibsie I need to reference an old movie entitled “Up The Down Staircase”. It was based on the 1965 novel by Bel Kaufman. Both my Mom and I decided she could have written a similar story. Only better. LOL While the movie takes place in high school, my Mom taught 6th grade. Which is what makes her stories all the more poignant. Kids back then seemed older and to hear her tell it, they were. Childhood was promise to no one.
Story? Since Mom lived across the river in Jersey City, she took the ferry and then the subway into the city. As you can imagine, she had to leave quite early in the mornings to arrive before the start of school. Conversely, as the life of a dedicated teacher would warrent, she often stayed late after school. During the winter, that meant she would often leave school at dusk.
Mom taught in a school where the students were tough, poor and of varying ethnicities. That part of the city was a major melting pot if ever there was one. Similar to a scene in the movie, Mom found herself packing up late one night and heading down the staircase. I have trouble remembering exactly why there was a group of boys still hanging around school but there was. And they were about to give Mom a bit of a hard time. Don’t get me wrong, my mother was one tough cookie. Her gaze alone could remove the clear coat from your car, but there are times when numbers matter.
As the situation escalated and she was prevented from leaving, she heard a voice from behind her. As if not far behind and perhaps in the shadows all along, Nibsie was suddenly and silently at her side. “Step aside Ms. Dowd and leave. Now. I’ll take care of this. You’ll be alright.” Mom looked at her 6th grade student standing beside her, blade in hand. Guided now only by instinct, she did as she was told. Angered and amazed, impressed and saddened, she lost something that day. But she also gained something. From that day forward, right or wrong, she had Nibsie. She had her Protector.
P.S. I’m guessing Nibsie was…a scott. You can read all about clarks, scotts and rogers and the theory of the same over at the Wakefield Doctrine.