Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tommy Woods, Madelaine Pillings, and Me

I mentioned Tommy Woods several postings back. He's the odd looking kid in my first and third grade photos. He seems twisted up just looking at him. I remember Tommy not because he was my friend or an acquaintance but because he was odd. Strange. He wasn't stupid. He was in our class after all and my classes in Wenonah Elementary were the smart classes. You'd think in a town this small it would be hard to separate children based on anything but we were separated. Based on abilities. Sometimes this was obvious. I could read easier and faster than other kids my age. I might have a lot of trouble playing dodgeball but I had no problems with Dick and Jane. Other kids had problems with things that were easy for me. Schools in the fifties and sixties segregated us to make our lives easier, better. I'm still not sure if this was good or bad. It wasn't always obvious at the time, although after some years even the dullest of us could figure it out.
But Tommy Woods was always in my classes. Tommy could barely figure out how to walk and chew gum. I can't remember any examples of his intellectual prowess. I can only assume that he tested high somewhere down the pike but that the tests errered on his social abilities. That left him meat for our games. We were cruel, viscious shitheads and Tommy Woods was our prey. Even for me Tommy Woods was an idiot. He was lost in social encounters. His clothes were odd, his abilities to interact with us were non-existent, in short he was fair game for everyone. Even geeks like me. Tommy got caught in his own chair at school. He had difficulty talking. He was odd.
Madelaine Pillings was equal meat for the opposite reason. She was everything Tommy couldn't hope to be. She was bright, socially able, and knew the rules. Too well. She was, in short, a teachers pet. She would rat you out in a heartbeat. That meant she was hated with every breath we had. She was like some wicked version of a Hollywood star dumped in our laps. Like Hayley Mills or Shelley Fabares but without their cunning. She didn't know how to appease us only adults. She could pick a side and she always picked the wrong side. She assumed that since adults ruled the roost they were the ones to pay attention to. Bad pick.
We vilified her relentlessly. Her clothes, her smile, her demeanor were all fair game. We hated her. Hated her more than we hated anything or anyone. I honestly can't think of anyone who played with her or went to her house for fun. She was doomed. Doomed.
You'd think the rough tough cream puff would have an ounce of compassion for misfits like Tommy or Madelaine. You'd think that and you'd be wrong. There is a pecking order everywhere in human society and these two chowderheads were at the bottom of ours. Worse than bullies or sociopaths. Worse than kids that set cats on fire. They were neither feared nor admired. My friend Terry sent a note about Milton Webb after my last posting. He expressed his distaste for how our little world didn't allow an ounce of compassion because of it's rigid conformity. Well, Tommy and Madelaine were the bottom of that society and suffered all the pains that we could inflict in all our myriad ways.
Not that we would beat them up, or steal from them, or deprive them of food or water. Only companionship and friendship and the worlds we provided each other. They were kept apart from us with a vehemence that was surprising and viscious and real.
Ask me anything about these two children and I can at most provide you with a few anecdotes making fun of them. Even our teachers made fun of them at times.
Here in this little town, with no problems, no worries, and pleasant surroundings we found a way to punish people with a cruelty that was unshakeable and unmerciful. We were more like monsters than we could understand. I might have been Atticus Finch in my dreams but in my real life I was a nasty little bigot. Ha ha ha.
We ran through the woods defending America from German troops and invading Russians and then each day in school punished the easiest marks we could find.
And it was fun.

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