A Teenager Who Cared
“My Gutsy Story®” Benny Wasserman
“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
For many years I told people a book by Jack London turned my life aroun¬d. It turns out the teenager who gave me that book was more important than the book itself. In the end it was this high school friend, whose faith in me changed the course of my life.
My father was fifty-two when I was born. He was a poor, Polish immigrant who could hardly speak Eng¬lish. When I was seven years old my mother committed suicide. My father physically and verbally abused me most of my childhood years. What¬ever re¬spect I had for him was out of fear.
From the time I was eight years old I had some kind of a job. Everything from sweeping floors, paper routes, working in a bakery, driving delivery trucks, and by the time I was twenty I was working in a slaughter house killing cows.
Although I’m ashamed to admit it, I was also involved in criminal activities which could have resulted in prison sentences. Fortunately my life turned around before I ever got caught. I don’t paint this picture of my youth for sympathy. I do so to show what a high school friend was dealing with when he tried to have some positive influence on me. He was dealing with a func¬tional illiterate who had no self-esteem or self-worth.
Now for the part of this story that has meant so much to me for the past forty-six years.
What is important about this story is not how much time I spent with my high school friend, but the incredible compas¬sion and faith he had in me. I had no idea at that time that another teen¬ager would become so concerned about my future. I now be¬lieve that what he did for me during the follow¬ing eight year period was just part of his benevo¬lent and charit¬able nature.
It all began when I was sixteen years old in my friend’s backyard. We had just finished playing stick-ball. I was about to get on my bike to go home, when he told me to wait a minute. He ran into his house, came back out, and handed¬ me a book to take home to read. All he said was, “see if you like it.” I said noth¬ing.
Nobody had ever loaned me a book to read. I took it home, kept it for a couple of weeks, and than returned it — unread. He never asked me if I liked it or not. If he did, I would have made something up. There was no way I was going to read a book.
During the following two years he loaned me three more books. It never occurred to me why he was loaning me these books, and I never asked. I never read any of them.
Before my friend went off to college, he asked me which college I was going to. After telling him I wasn’t going, he asked me why not. I told him because my father couldn’t afford the $75 for tuition. He than asked, “is that it?” I said, “yes.” Of course, I lied. I had no intention of going to college. I still hated school with a passion.
The following day my friend knocked on my door at home and handed me a check for $75 signed by his father. He said, “I think that should do it.” I could only shake my head in disbelief. What could I say, except thank you.
Two years later, on a college break, my friend came to visit me. He asked, “How’s school?” My face turned red as a beet. I had quit college three months after I enrolled. I told him that it just didn’t work out.
By then I was working in a slaughter house killing cows. It was 1954 and I was twenty years old. My friend suggested I join the Army for a couple of years to sort things out. So that’s what I did. Unfortunately I came out of the Army with no more vision of what I wanted to do with my life than before I went into the Army.
As a result of the training I had in the Army, and the GI Bill, I was able to attend an unaccredit¬ed trade school for Radio and Televison Repair.
At the age of twenty-four I got married. Although my friend was unable to attend the wedding, he sent us a strange wedding gift: A book! In¬scribed inside this book were the words, “To the Wasserman’s on Their Wedding Day.” That was it!
With the encouragement of my wife, it took me two years to read the book. Each time I learn¬ed the mean¬ing of a new word, and there were 747 of them, my self-esteem and self-worth took a giant leap forward. My life was never to be the same again.
Slowly but surely I became addicted to reading. My new found fascination with learning would never end. This experience was not only responsible for me becoming an aero¬space engineer for thirty-five years, but more importantly it led me to other books which were respon¬sible for allowing me to raise my children so dif¬ferently than the way I was raised. I was able to break the cycle of violence. And all of my children have advanced degrees.
Oh yes, the book was “MARTIN EDEN,” by Jack London. And that high school teen¬age friend, who never lost his faith in me, was Carl Levin, who is presently serving his sixth term as a U.S. Senator from my home state of Michigan.
BENNY WASSERMAN was born and raised in Detroit, Mich. Graduated Central High in 1952. He was in the U.S. Army 1954-56. Trade school – Radio and TV Repair 1954-1956. He got his AA degree Pierce College. Attended UCLA with a major in Sociology. Benny married in 1958, and has three sons (one physician and two attorneys). He has nine grand-children.
Benny was an Aerospace technician, Engineer, and Manager (1958-1992). He retired at age 58.
Benny Wasserman became Einstein impersonator – 1992 to present.
Published book, Presidents Were Teenagers Too in 2007. Journal writer since 1985 – 10,700 pages ( page a day) Completed autobiography Circumstances Beyond My Control.
Recently submitted parenting memoir, How Imperfect Parents Raised Perfect Children.
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