Marcus is back, with more letters to his big sister Eleanor this week. Most days in Amsterdam, New York, were school days, not holidays, and buried in some of his bulletins (aka the “Pathe newsreels”), were hints that things weren’t going well in algebra.
The first sign is in his letter of November 22, 1925, when he was eleven. The pet stories always came before any other news. His dog Jock had started raiding trashcans for food, while Dixie the cat disgraced himself by leaping on the dining room table at dinner to steal a piece of rabbit off a plate. After an anecdote about the Sunday school teacher, Marcus announced, “I’m getting on in school pretty good here’s my marks.” He received a gentleman’s C in English, writing, arithmetic, junior business training, printing, and textiles. No absences, no tardies, but not exactly a stellar academic record that marking period (the symbol scrawled down for his grades in spelling, history, science, and music is undecipherable and highly suspicious).
Nothing much about algebra until January 9th, 1927. It was a pretty good day, all things considered. Dixie had been given a dose of catnip after he was caught eating the house plants. “For an hour and a half,” reports Marcus delightedly, “he was an insane cat.”
Another hot tidbit was that Father had brought home three new films–two two-reelers “Castor Oil” and “Big Business” starring Our Gang and a one-reeler “Suds” featuring Stan Laurel, making Marcus the proud possessor of ten reels of film.
Then he drops the bombshell: “Miss Bartley is giving me 3 extra hours every week in algebra. No more news.”
By the 30th of January, the increased homework was paying dividends. After telling Eleanor that Dixie had discovered the catnip’s hiding place in the pantry and sat in front of the cupboard yowling until given a dose, Marcus crowed, “I passed another algebra test 85%.”
Things had really improved by mid-March. There was a long account of Jock’s returning home covered in blood with a crushed paw (he had probably gotten run over again) before Marcus gleefully announced, “I passed an Algebra test!!” (That made three for the academic year.)
On the next page, he drew himself fainting when Miss Bartley handed back another exam marked 85% with the encouraging words, “Good work.” What is going on in the paper he drew in the upper right hand corner??? It looks as if he got all five questions right…
We may never know the answer to that question, because the ice floes rushing down the creek behind the barn was a lot more interesting, when it came right down to it.