How I did enjoy in after years, when I was roaming over the world, thinking of my old schoolmates! I could name over a dozen who were filling positions of trust in their own city; lawyers, surrogates, judges, and some in business for themselves, making a name and doing something, while I was no earthly use to myself or to any one else. Some people say, “Such is life; as you make your bed so you must lie.” How true it was in my case! I made my bed and had to lie on it, but I can truthfully say I did not enjoy it.
There are many men that are down and out now who had a chance to be splendid men. They are now on the Bowery “carrying the banner”—which means walking the streets without a place to call home—without food or shelter, but they could, if they looked back to their early life, see that they were making their beds then, or as the Bible reads, sowing the seed. Listen, young people, and take heed. Don’t believe the saying, “A fellow must sow his wild oats.” The truth is just this: as you sow so shall you reap. I was sowing when I was drinking out of the pail of beer, and I surely did reap the drunkard’s portion—misery.
I was a great hand at playing hookey—that is, staying away from school and not telling your parents. I would start for school in the morning, but instead of going would meet a couple of boys and we would hide our books until closing-time. If any boy was sent to my home with a note, I would see that boy and tell him if he went he knew what he would get. He knew it meant a good punching, and he would not go. I would write a note so that the boy could take it back to the teacher saying that I was sick and would be at school when I got better.
I remember how I was found out one time. We met as usual—the hookey-players, I mean—and started down to the Hackensack River to have a good day. Little did I know what would happen before the day was over. One of the boys with us went out beyond his depth and was drowned. I can still hear his cries and see his face as he sank for the last lime. We all could swim a little, and we tried our best to save him, but his time had come.
That wound up his hookey-playing, and you would think it would make me stop too; but no, I went right along sowing the seed, and planting it good and deep for the Devil.
I recollect the first time I went away from home. It happened this way: The teacher got tired of receiving notes saying I was sick, and she determined to see for herself—for I had a lady for teacher in that class—what the trouble was.
One afternoon whom should I see coming in the gate but my teacher, and now I was in a fix for fair. I knew if she saw mother it was all up with me, so I ran and met her and told her mother was out and would not be back until late. She asked me how I was getting on. I said I was better and would be at school in the morning. She said, “I am glad of that.”