Your Gay Granddaddy Tells The Family Secrets


Place: Kimball Elementary School, Washington, D.C.

Time: September, 1950 to June, 1957

I was a chunky and nervous kid with fallen arches, bad eyesight, a severe stutter, frequent earaches, excruciating toothaches, and a substantial overbite. I cried a lot, complained, constantly sweated, and talked in class when I shouldn’t. And at recess, I played with the girls instead of the boys. In fact, the other boys made fun of me and called me names.

“What names?” my mother asked Miss Lewis, the principal of the school, during one of those frequent meetings she had with my parents.

“Well, you know, Pauline,” my father said to my mother. “Your son is a crybaby. He’s a sissy.”

Miss Lewis’s eyebrows rose so high that had her thin auburn hair been thicker, her brows would have been lost from sight.

My mother was now starting to fidget in her seat. Miss Lewis waited to see what would happen next between my parents. She didn’t have to wait long.

It was not the knock-down brawl between them that I experienced at home. After all, there were no big lamps or deadly kitchen utensils lying around Miss Lewis’s office that my mother could have picked up and thrown at my father with the full intent of killing him on the spot.

Nevertheless, Miss Lewis learned a lot that day about why I was in need of “Special Education” classes.

So a week before school was to begin in the autumn of 1956, my parents met with Miss Lewis again, and when she could interrupt the now to-be-expected parental conflagration long enough to tell them something, she informed them that my new teacher was rather “special” herself. Indeed, Miss Ryan, had achieved very high grades from all her instructors at the teacher’s college she had gone to in Alabama, and even though this would be her very first teaching experience as a certified teacher, and even though she was only 22 years old, and even though she was a Negro—in fact, the first Negro to teach at Kimball Elementary School—Miss Ryan would be a wonderful teacher for me and the other special students in the new class.

“She’s colored?” my father asked in disbelief.

“Miss Ryan sounds just fine for my Donnie.” my mother said.

Indeed, although my mother was not a sophisticated woman and in so many ways a stereotype of her time, she knew what she felt to be right when it came to people of color.

And so, when I got home from school on that first day of class with Miss Ryan as my teacher, and told my mother that I really liked my new teacher and most of the other students, she was very pleased. I told her that many of the kids in our class were new to our school, just like Miss Ryan.   

“What do you mean?” she asked me.

“You know. Some of them are colored, too.”

“That’s nice, Donnie.”

“Two girls and a boy.”


“And there’s a girl who looks Chinese. And a boy who told me that he’s the only Jewish kid in the school.”


“And then some of the kids were ones I had seen before but this is the first time we have the same teacher.”

“Oh, really.” she said.

I went on to tell her about the boy who walked with crutches, the very tall girl who slouched, the boy with thick eyeglasses, and the skinny boy who rarely spoke.

“And there is a girl like me.”

“How so?”

“She stutters, too, and like me has private lessons with Miss Oglethorpe so she can learn to speak better.”

“That’s good, Donnie.”

“But I don’t like some of the other kids. They’re the boys who’ve always made fun of me.”

I watched my mother’s face turn red, a sign to me that she was getting angry. She knew I was talking about the three bullies who, because they were athletic, good-looking white males, believed they were superior to those of us who weren’t exactly like them. Of course, I didn’t think they were so smart, just pushy and always ready for a fight.

I guess they had been marked as “troublemakers” in their previous classes.  And that was probably why they had been put into Miss Ryan’s class. Like the rest of us, including Miss Ryan, they didn’t fit into the majority.

So time flew by, and I was happy to be with other kids who were the “special” students. And Miss Ryan was a wonderful teacher who showed her kindness and patience toward each of us. Even toward the three bullies. Still, I never felt the trio of troublemakers liked her or anyone else in the class. They talked when she was trying to teach us. They said nasty things to me and to the other kids

Miss Ryan spoke to the threesome about their bad behavior and she made sure they did not sit close to each other in class. But that didn’t stop them from passing notes to one another, or from making mocking gestures or sounds.

Then one day, Miss Ryan intercepted a note they were passing among themselves. Alex was the one who had given it to Jimmy. And so she quietly but firmly demanded that Jimmy give it to her.

“Why should I?” responded Jimmy, defiantly.

“Because I asked you to, Jimmy,” Miss Ryan responded.

“Don’t give it to her!” said Alex, supporting his buddy-in-crime.

“Yeah, Jimmy, why should you?” chimed in Ronnie, the third troublemaker.

But Miss Ryan stood firm. She was angry, but she didn’t show it the way my mother would have, had she been our teacher. Miss Ryan didn’t yell or threaten. But she spoke firmly. Her eyes were fixed on Jimmy’s. I figured she would stare him down. She was only about half his size and physical strength, so I hoped he wouldn’t come after her.

“You are not the one in charge here, Jimmy. Now give me the note.”

Jimmy started to get up out of his seat. I feared that he was about to knock Miss Ryan to the ground, the way he had done with me a few times during recess. But she responded by not moving away from him, and speaking to him with a fierce strength none of us had heard coming from her before.

“Give me the note, Jimmy! Now!”

Jimmy seemed stunned into a state of indecision by her new authoritative voice.

“Now!” she demanded.

Jimmy hesitated.

“I said give me the note, Jimmy!”

Jimmy looked at his two bully friends, as if he were seeking their opinion. But neither Alex nor Ronnie looked like they were going to advise him what to do.

Anyhow, even before they could say anything to Jimmy, Miss Ryan told him, “Never mind them, Jimmy! Just give me the note!”

Left without an ally, Jimmy handed the note to her.

“And sit down!” she told him.

He did as he was told, although it was obvious from how he was looking at her that he did so reluctantly.

And so, we watched Miss Ryan unfold the note, and then read it to herself. It only took a few seconds for her to do so, but then she just stood there before us for a very long time holding the note, her eyes cast down, as if she didn’t know what to say to us, as if she were lost in her own thoughts and feelings. We waited silently, wondering how she would respond…

To be continued in part three.

Note: Don Beaudreau is a local writer who has published 10 books on AMAZON BOOKS. This selection is taken from a novel in progress. It is dedicated to his three granddaughters.

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