‘Gentiles Only’

Boyhood Memories of an Ordinary Bigotry

It was early morning, and bunches of school kids stood by their mailboxes in the cool autumn air, waiting for the school bus. Just one bus plied these arrow-straight country roads, picking up students at one- and two-mile intervals—students not only from all different grade levels but indeed from different schools, both public and parochial. In one tiny farm village, little more than a general store, tavern, church, and fifteen houses, the bus door opened to admit a half-dozen children. Inside, kids chattered and greeted each other, finding their usual places to sit. It was a Norman Rockwell scene in the high season of the Norman Rockwell era, 1944, though the landscape outside was not Rockwell’s New England but Wisconsin, more practical and plain than picturesque.

When the bus neared the edge of the small city that was its destination, it stopped in front of an automobile junkyard with a tiny lunchroom in front. A boy aged sixteen or so stepped aboard. He had dark curly hair—and that’s all I can remember about him, since his back was always turned toward the rest of us. He refrained from seeking a seat, and perched instead on the first step, just below the driver, who closed the door, shifted gears, and moved the bus forward routinely. The roaring sound of the engine couldn’t cover the shouts of derision that pelted the dark-haired boy. The imprecations came from the back bench, in the rear of the bus, the seat occupied by the oldest boys. Their leader, a tall and...

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About the Author

Paul J. Schaefer, a retired magazine editor, lives in Clinton Corners, New York.