My Dad told us this story about his schooling. “I went to school until 9th grade. Then I dropped out and went to work at Hank & Frank’s bicycle shop.” I imagined my Dad at 13 or 14 years old quitting school to help his family. He was no stranger to work. He had already had a paper route. At one time delivered laundry for his Grandmother’s laundry business, dragging a wagon around Lake Merritt as he delivered laundry to her customers.
I never had any reason to doubt my Dad’s story until his Celebration of Life last year. My Uncle and I were looking through my Dad’s old photo album when we came across this photo:
My Dad is seated, last guy on the right. The year etched in the front of the photo is 1944. My Dad was 17 years old.
We puzzled over the photo. Was it from the Oakland Tribune? If so, why was everyone in suits? Could it have been from some other group my Dad’s family belonged to–maybe one of the French organizations?
The photo was passed around. There was some back and forth between family members over the origins of the photo. His siblings knew that he never graduated from high school, so it seemed out of the question that he would have taken this photos for school in 1944. Yet, they knew my Dad wouldn’t be wearing a suit unless this was some sort of official business. One relative identified the background as the school they all went to. So, it seemed that this was a school photo, but why was my Dad in it?
A few days after the party the truth struck me. My Dad told us that he dropped out in 9th grade. He never told us he was 14 years old at the time! We all assumed that was the case but it was quite possible he was older.
My Dad was not book smart. His smarts came from his ability to work on car engines and how he was able to build things from scratch. He freely admitted he was a terrible student and did not do well in school. I knew that my Dad had been held back. It looks like it was multiple times.
I could be wrong, but I suspect that this was my Dad’s 9th grade school photo. The fact that he was 17 years old probably speaks more to his parent’s desire to keep him in school and get some sort of education rather than roaming the streets. He had other school photos in his album. This was the last one before the themes turn to cars and girls.
The other clue that I have is the previous school photo in his album. It was from 6th Grade. That photo is dated April 1941. My Dad was 14 years old in 6th grade. That’s only 3 years away from 1944.
This just goes to shows that we can hear a story many times and not asked any question that might change the details. I had heard him tell the tale so many times that it never occurred to me to ask him how old he was at the time.
Sometimes the truth does lie somewhere in between the lines. I don’t believe my Dad lied. He probably never thought it was important to point out how old he was when he dropped out.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com