Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Eugene goes to School

By Fred Owens

Eugene was born in April, 1977 at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois. We lived in a nice apartment on Clyde Street at the time, but we moved out a few months later and we kept moving all through his childhood.

Why did we keep moving, you may ask? That doesn't matter. The truth is that we moved a lot and we never asked Eugene if he thought that was a good idea. The truth is he didn't like it -- being moved, having to go to a new school in the middle of the school year.

I can see him being lead into a classroom by a smiling teacher and the teacher saying, "Class, this is Eugene Owens, he just moved here from _____ and let's give him a warm welcome." I don't think he enjoyed this ritual.

But that was later. He was born in Evanston, Illinois. We quickly moved to Long Beach, Mississippi, then to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, and then up to Marblemount in the Skagit Valley in Washington State. All that doesn't count because Eugene was a toddler and moving makes little difference at that age.

Besides that, in defense of his mother and me, Eugene was surrounded by a cocoon of constant love and attention. He was swaddled and petted and played with. We were poor, but little kids don't even notice that. He slept in a suitcase one month, in a camp by a rushing stream. It was summer and it was a nice place when we stayed there.

But we moved to LaConner after our daughter Eva was born, and we attempted to stay put, and we did stay put for several years and Eugene began school. Gretchen Robinson was his kindergarten and first grade teacher. She taught him to read and he will always be grateful for that. Then he had Mrs. Good in the second grade.

In January of his third grade we moved to Austin, Texas. He went to the Zilker School. We picked that school and rented an apartment nearby because it was integrated and Eugene would not have to be bussed across town. Bussing for integration was a bad idea, in my opinion. We could see the Zilker school by looking out across the park from our apartment window. We could see Eva and Eugene skipping across the grass to school in the morning. We should have stayed there.

By now it was 1986, and Eugene was seven years old. That summer we moved to Anahuac, in east Texas -- in a country of high heat and humidity and rice fields, and gators, and all that backwoods stuff. Eugene began fourth grade in the Anahuac School -- which featured a brand new building because the price of oil was high at that time and local schools collected a tax from local oil wells and so the schools had extra money.

As you could guess, Anahuac was not such a good place for us to live, so that November we moved all the way back to the Skagit Valley, but not back to LaConner, where Eugene was well known and had many friends. No, we moved to the nearby town of Mount Vernon, and plopped him down in the middle of the school year in the fifth grade at Madison school. Mr. Lupinacci was the principal. He was a good guy and all the students and teachers embraced Eugene with warmth and friendship.

Eugene was basically doing well in his young life, happy enough, doing his schoolwork, minding his parents, playing well with other kids. He liked playing video games at the mall, but he never cared much for sports.

That was the Madison school, but then he finished grade school and went to junior high at LaVenture. Junior high is a bad concept in my opinion. I much prefer a school system that goes from kindergarten to 8th grade. Junior high is a perfect storm of awkward, atrocious pre-teens. Eugene did not do well at that school and had very few friends. I felt bad about that. He stayed home and watched TV and read books -- lots of TV and lots of books. He seemed lonely.

In January of 1991, we moved clear across the country to Cambridge, Massachusetts and Eugene finished the 8th grade at the Peabody School. He made a lot of friends there. At his 14th birthday party that year, I took him and all his friends to the midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Show -- the kids loved it, I didn't.

He graduated from Peabody and began his freshman year at Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School. That was a rough and ready urban school, almost adjoining the campus of Harvard University -- but all the Harvard kids went to fancy private schools -- the Townies went to Rindge & Latin.

It was a rough crowd and Eugene got into trouble and was expelled late in the school year, sending him to yet another school, a small private affair set up just for those kids in trouble.

After school, Eugene hung out with his low-life street friends at Harvard Square, around the entrance to the subway. I was worried about him.

This was the only time we moved for the benefit of the children. We were losing Eugene to the street life of Boston, so we moved, again in January, 1993, to the leafy, prosperous suburb of Newton, where wholesome young high school students are simply not allowed to get into trouble.

Eugene did not like being moved. For the first time, but after many abrupt moves in the past, he burst into angry tears and shouted, "I don't want to move, I don't want to move."

I felt bad about that, but we did move, and Eugene did well at Newton North High School. The kids he hung out with were pretty decent, and I was not worried about him. He graduated in 1995.

That was 20 years ago. I am still in touch with Gretchen Robinson, his first grade teacher. She married LaConner High School teacher Vince Sellen. They are retired now and they live in Anacortes. I thank her and Eugene thanks her for teaching him to read. Eugene's mother helped a lot with that too.

Now Eugene is 38, with a masters degree in library science, and a position as a librarian in the Los Angeles Public Library. He lives with his girlfriend Erica Rawlings in a nice apartment in the Highland Park neighborhood near downtown.

He loves his girlfriend, he likes his job and he likes where he lives. I just saw him over Thanksgiving.

Good Cheer.
Merry Christmas everyone. Drive safe. Keep warm. Spend more time with your dog, or your cat, or your horses.

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Fred Owens
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