We last left our oddball student at the point where he felt there was no end to the happiness albeit, poor happiness but happiness nevertheless as he made his way to his junior year at Robert College, the oldest American college still in existence outside of the United States.
In some miraculous manner, I was not fired from school but in the final months, I was beginning to hear rumbles about me, as secretly a notice of hostility of some of my schoolmates but showing great interest in my grades, as they wanted to see my report cards and asked what did I make for this and that course and I thought this very strange for truly, a harmless “idiot” who cut classes all the time but that the faculty and Dean seemed to leave me be.
A decided difference between my earlier years in the Academy, preparation to Freshman at Robert College became evident as I became aware that I now was a decided factor in an environment which to me was like a gold mine where lay the combination of “fools gold” and the genuine ore deposits of gold. I was a mustang, a student who would not choose to follow the normal requirements of the curriculum but I was leaning toward “shopping” with things of choice. I didn’t need a teacher to show me how to hammer a nail into two pieces of wood as in my childhood, back in Ismid, I had my own hammer and other tools with which I worked to make my own toys of houses, and bridges that was somewhere in my fantasy like Brigadoon that I would come to know about much later in life.
I worked for pennies to whoever would use my hands but finally I found myself facing a motion picture machine, and the rumor was that there would be silent pictures in Henrietta Washburn hall. The salesman who sold the machine to Social Services was explaining the works to a bunch of us gathered around it. I elbowed myself into that line, making myself very obvious to the “huckster” salesman who appeared really anxious to get out of there as one by one, the onlookers filed away, disinterested in the mechanics of the thing. I piled on with questions of maintenance and where we would get “films” remaining alone with the salesman and the head of Social Services but with no one interested to run the machine after it would be installed.
Of course, I would run the machine! But do I get paid for it? Yes, I would, if I would take charge of it, to run it, to maintain it, to see that I followed instructions where to pick up the films for it…Edward Radcliff, an American teacher would supervise me and my loyalty to the job as I would be paid a Turkish Lira and a half for a night’s work of showing pictures. That was equal to 75 cents American and from then on, I kept running the machine with sister Anna coming top pick up my pay for the night to take home to mother to buy vittles.
And I kept this up until the very final night of my tenure at Robert College as the next day, I picked up my bindles and headed on my way to America. But I must continue my saga of my stay, for this was in my junior year, as failure after failure in academic standards required of me but as a ball of fire of my own choices of study, I kept this juggling up as came a rumor that Varak, the head of the Robert College campus power house was looking for a helper to clean and maintain and watch two power panels…did I have time to do this? For THIS to me was the OPEN SESAME of all things. I was heading for a life’s involvement-ELECTIRICITY AND POWER!
It was heard through the campus…that big BOOM. Some neophyte part time assistant to Varak had made a mistake of the procedure in shifting of loads from one alternator to another as the one coming on the line had blown its top. True, our system of synchronization was like an ox cart but it served well with care of operating it. If I could lash up a thing to be foolproof it would be wonderful. I lashed up a few pieces of this and that, put it together and when the injured dynamo was finally steamed up, it worked. I was asked to write paper on this thingamajig and give a demonstration in my physics class. My insanity was beginning to pay off.
How I managed to juggle all this, the cinema, the power house, the occasional pennies to do some work in some American faculty house, the attending of the few choices of my subjects of mathematics and physics and chemistry but being perennially chastised by the faculty for being a lousy student otherwise, it became a matter when you are hit with a hammer too often that it no longer hurts.
I wore my clean, blue overalls all the time because I could not afford anything better. My mother kept washing my overalls so that I was always clean looking AND with a crease down my pants legs, I must let you know, I ploughed through life, not in a pell-mell fashion but in an organized chaotic manner which molded my life style, a well oiled machine of precision and efficiency which now at the age of 86, as I write this, has not changed. I feel I have mostly paid my dues to a demanding society, where in the main, I have been accepted as having been an odd ball but who appear to accept that I have done a few things of worth, though the WORLD has NEVER put shoes on this mustang. I feel thankfulness of faith in oneself as with the spiritual satisfaction of faith in myself with memories of my childhood on my father’s knee.
I had become something of a marked curiosity of many students in the senior class where I tittered and tattered with the same shenanigans as cutting classes I did not want to waste time in. You see, in “them” days the college student had no choice of playing smorgasbord with courses, you went to college and there was that post card sized schedule of classes, subjects and periods specifying all, including periods of study hall and the student went, accountable for all periods specified. It was “take it or leave it.” There was a set amount of tuition money required, uniform for each class, which the student paid. The boarding students were usually wealthy and they were entitled to lunch in the Anderson Hall eating Turkish food, well prepared and delicious with me waiting on tables wearing my starched white jacket my mother laundered.
At times these “spoiled” members of the class would accidently spill jam on my clean white jacket with the “I’m sorry,” under their breath. Although I was fed in the charity soup kitchen most of the time, the cook, my friend, would feed me from his kitchen, later. As I write this, I must mention that as I sit here, chief engineer of the Yankee Network, in comes a guy I knew so well but had not seen since college days. I knew his name, Hapopovitch and I hated him because as I waited tables, he was one of the boarding students among others who smeared jam on my jacket with the apology each time, of course. He had come to America and was told that if he could get to me, he might be led into the right track for a job. That was right…I could have, but I didn’t.
And so, I continue. Time would only tell why the special interest of a lot of people on campus in my final year…who was this buffoon in overalls, this lousy student often on the verge of being expelled out of school, now so favored of all faculty, as rumor was confirmed that I had won the coveted Washburn Scholarship reserved for the top students, seniors ready to graduate Magna Cum Laude…you must be kidding, this idiot should have been kicked out of college long ago.
That was a fact and I knew it, but as I could almost not believe my ears, I knew that I had been on the right course for myself, for as I said previously, I used Robert College as a department store where you could buy just what you needed, knowing full well that I had been near quicksand all through these few years. I did not belong but was tolerated, almost in charity because a few people in the faculty and particularly the president, Dr. Caleb Frank Gates, I heard had said, “I am convinced that Abrahamian is a phenomenon hard to accept as of our given understanding of nominal behavior of students…deny the experiment in which he appears for himself would only serve to make of him something other than the possibilities I see.” I had been given a scholarship of $250 in gold with the very specific condition that I was not to be given one cent of it, but lay it in escrow for my passage to America, “where he will have a chance and opportunities to implement of what appears his concept of his goal.”
Thus, the money was now assured of my passage to America, but remained the hazards of Turkish conscription into the Army, the army from which very few Armenians made soldier, returned. I was given the opportunity of a chaperone to Greece for children sponsored by the Near East Relief and it was in Greece that I was instructed not to return to Turkey. My college, my refuge had given me the ultimate gift, my freedom to go to America. I knew that in addition to lawyers and doctors, an artist was allowed to enter the United States under special circumstances and as if it were planned, I had packed my paints and my brushes in my bindle as I left Turkey. It was these that helped me to paint a picture, in oils which tucked under my arm allowed me to immigrate and I came in, classified as artist, painter.
The ten dollars in my pocket, the yellow cab for 90 cents and 10 cents to the driver…nine bucks, my total capital as I came to this place, Saturday afternoon, August 18, 1923. I was now an American.