Autobiography of Alfred Duryee Guion – High School and The Race (14)



One day I acquired from our washerwoman a little half breed Fox terrier pup which I named Spot. He was a bright little fellow and I taught him many tricks; rollover, play dead, chase his tail, not touch the most tempting morsel held in front of him until I gave permission, bag, shake hands, speak, come to heal, stay put until I called, etc. He was quite a show off and one day I dressed him up a little jacket and pants like a monkey, with a little hat, got out an old hand organ of my father’s that played music roles, and with myself dressed as an organ grinder, called on several neighbors who did not recognize us at first and seemed to derive much amusement from the performance until Spot’s pants fell down and we were recognized.

I now attended high school which was a long walk from our house and sometimes when I started late I would have to run part of the way to get there on time. (They didn’t take children to school on buses in those days). Possibly it was this occasional spurt of running that gave me the idea, furthered by reading of the marathon runners in Greek history. Possibly the metals I had won for distance running at Sunday school picnics had encouraged the idea.

However, I was never very active in athletics and reticent about pushing myself forward, so it wasn’t until our high school talent scout, spurred by the upcoming intercity high school athletic meet to which all of the surrounding towns sent their best contestants, persuaded me to train for a mile race. From then on I ran back and forth from high school until I felt in top condition. The great day came – the biggest event of the school year – and while nervous and none to confident,

I lined up with the contestants from eight other schools in the county. BANG! went the starting gun and we were off. I don’t recall how many laps it took to equal a mile, but my strategy for the first few was to merely keep up with the majority and save my reserve powers for the final laps. This I did and finally found only one runner ahead of me. I put all I had into it but my utmost brought me in second. However there seemed to be some controversy among the judges until it was officially announced that I was the winner, the other fellow having cut a corner on one of the laps.

This caused a bitter argument between the two top schools involved, Mt. Vernon running about neck and neck in total points with its nearest competitor and on the decision of this race hung the balance and my role therefore assumed undue import. Anyway my schoolmates in their enthusiasm hoisted me on their shoulders and, being the hero of the day, escorted me all the way home.

I was understandably quite proud of the gold medal awarded me and was bitterly disappointed when wearing it as a watch fob to a dance a few days later, it was either lost or stolen. I suspected the latter because some of the folks from the rrival school were also present and in spite of the thorough search of the dance Hall that night and subsequent ads in the local paper offering a reward for its return, nothing came of it. I don’t think my name have yet been engraved on it.

Later a vague rumor reached me that the boy who had lost out was seen wearing the medal but this was never verified. To have achieved success in a field of which I never expected either by temperament or ability to shine and have nothing to prove that it wasn’t just a fantasy was deeply disappointing and to some extent illogically disgusted me with high school and everything connected with it.

Alfred Duryee Guion at the Dell Avenue house

Alfred Duryee Guion at the Dell Avenue house

Then too, I did not get top marks in all my subjects, and this hurt my pride. I was very good in English, history and German; so-so in math; and terrible in drawing; fair in biology. Also I became more and more obsessed with the idea that my duty and responsibility was to get out and earn my own keep instead of continuing to be a burden financially to my mother; thus I would sooner be able to feel I was really helping to support my mother as it was my duty to do.

I had no one with whom I felt I could discuss so personal a matter (at such times as these a boy misses not having a father to advise him), so I finally put up to my mother the idea of quitting high school and going to work. I wish now that she had firmly said, “No, finish high school first”  but instead she told me to do what I thought best.

One is sometimes asked: “What would you do differently if you had your life to do over again?” And as I look back now this decision to quit school, an idea halfheartedly opposed by my school principal (or maybe I was so convinced this was the right choice that I paid no heed to his advice), was mistake number one, and a decision I was afterwards to regret.

So I quit school in my second year and through a friend in the church started work as an office boy at four dollars a week in a small insurance company in New York. After paying for my railway commuting ticket, car fare from Grand Central to the Nassau Street offices and lunches, I don’t imagine my contribution was of material financial aid to the family but at least my conscience was satisfied and I WAS self supporting.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting the first note written by Ced as he begins a hitchhiking adventure to Chicago, North Dakota and Wisconsin. He had just lost his Mother to a long illness and felt the loss deeply. I believe he was searching for her by returning to the area where she had spent her childhood and by meeting her brothers and other relatives.

Next week I’ll be posting letters written during April of 1940. Lad is working in Venezuela amd Dan and Ced are still in Trumbull but thinking about going to Alaska to find jobs to help with the financial burden that weighs heavily on Grandpa.

Judy Guion


4 thoughts on “Autobiography of Alfred Duryee Guion – High School and The Race (14)

  1. Mrs. P says:

    It is quite interesting that many children will do whatever they can to help ease the burden of their parents. I remember getting my first job at 14 years, part-time at a fast food restaurant. My father was unemployed as a result of a big aerospace firm doing massive layoffs and was having difficulty finding work. My mother went back to work for the telephone company, a job she had before she married my father. I took all of my earnings for a year and gave them to my family. I was never asked to give up my earnings and they never requested money from me, but allowed me the honor to contribute during a time of need. It really did make one feel good about themselves, just as your father mentioned.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Mrs. P. – Grandpa was very proud of the fact that he was contributing, even though he realized later that he should have stayed in school.

      Both my Dad and Dan felt the same way after their mother died and worked in CCC Camps away from home so that they wouldn’t be eating at home and could contribute more. This is one character trait they inherited from their father feeling responsible for the well being of the whole family..

  2. jaggh53163 says:

    Gallivanta – You’re so right. My Grandfather took his responsibility very seriously and when his wife Arla passed away, the older boys, including my Father, felt the same responsibility to their family. That’s why the two oldest went to work for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), a plan sponsored by the government to make work for those who were willing and in need of a job during the early 1930’s.

  3. Gallivanta says:

    I can see from these words why it was so important for your father to offer the advice to his children that he didn’t have as a young one. What a burden he carried; feeling that he must support his mother.

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