November 22, 1963 (Part III): A tip of the hat to Mr. Norregaard


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JFK was dead, Oswald was dead, and we carried on.

We went back to school, and one week later I had one of the most important moments of what would become my career. So pull up a seat, kids, and I’ll tell you all about Mr. Norregaard, the best teacher I ever had, and what happened when I violated one of his ironclad rules.

Martin Rudolph Norregaard taught English and Social Studies to 7th and 8th Graders at Brooklyn Friends School. He was likable and funny and no-nonsense. He expected excellence – demanded it, really – and made sure you knew he would settle for nothing less.

He taught us how to write. And not just how to put words on paper, but to labor over them and make sure you got them exactly the way you wanted them.

He taught us grammar and punctuation and usage. He taught us that sentences had structure, that they were a mathematical equation of sorts. And he taught us to diagram sentences, a lesson that is pretty much gone now, and not to anyone’s benefit. He taught us how to put on paper a visual display of how every word in a sentence related to the others. Nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions . . . They all work together. Mr. Norregaard was a drill sergeant of diagramming, and if you were in the 7th or 8th Grade at BFS, you were going to learn it whether you liked it or not. Continue reading

November 22, 1963 (Part II)

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Miss Bromley’s floor was swept and clean, the school week was over and it was time to go home, a daily trip that involved walking a couple of blocks to the corner of Livingston and Smith, where I caught the Flatbush Avenue bus to the corner of Flatbush and Farragut, where I transferred to the Ocean Avenue bus, which took me to Avenue N, around the corner from my home.

And the president of the United States was dead.

It was a long daily commute, and this being Brooklyn, the only daily constant was noise. But on this afternoon, the silence was deafening.

Streets normally filled with honking horns, buses normally jammed with yakking passengers and unruly school kids — everything was eerily silent. Five years later, when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be killed, you would hear cries for violence, and you would see faces that reflected shame and anger. Thirty-eight years later, on September 11, you would hear cries for revenge, and you would see faces that reflected fear and rage.

But on November 22, 1963, the only thing you heard was nothing, and the only face you saw was one of sorrow. You could break down and cry, or you could hold it in. Either way, you felt empty inside. And, even at 13, I knew for sure that the world would never be the same. You had Pearl Harbor, Dad. I had this. Continue reading

November 22, 1963 (Part I)

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I was in Miss Bromley’s art class, which was simultaneously the best and worst 45 minutes of the school week. The best because it was the last period of the week, and the weekend began as soon as the bell rang. The worst because . . . well, because Miss Bromley. If there was a kid in the school who enjoyed the company of Miss Bromley, I’m still waiting for a hand to go up.

Miss Bromley had some sort of handicap. She dragged a leg while she walked, and we all enjoyed making fun of her because what’s the point of being 13 years old if you can’t act like an insensitive jerk? As I recall, Haynes and Ruby did the best Miss Bromley impression. The rest of us laughed. We all knew it was wrong and cruel, but hell . . . we were 13. And besides, it was Miss Bromley. Continue reading