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It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but that’s how I remember the chicken scratch from the cover of Tom’s journal. Tom Ryan — he’s my big brother. He was in sixth grade at the time he started keeping it. He was ten and I was five and in first grade. Sister Jeanne Lorette made him do it, he said. Tom thought it was punishment for constantly misbehaving in her class. He would say that. I think she was just trying to help him express himself in ways more productive than his usual tough guy act.
Speaking of tough guy acts, I’ve always imagined that if he’d had the room on that composition book cover, he also would have written:
You’re still reading, aren’t you? I warned you, but you couldn’t stop, could you, you nosey-baloney? Well, it’s too late now. And don’t bother wiping your prints off the book. I have my ways. And don’t try to hide either. I’ll find you.
Go ahead, keep reading, but once you know the secrets, it will be the last thing you ever read.
Tom was big on threats. That was his modus operandi. He was under the impression that it was the only way to get anyone to do what he wanted. So he picked on us a lot, but we all knew he was a softy deep down — all talk no action — you know the type. I honestly don’t remember him doing anything really nasty to anyone, except kids who were picking on us or one of his friends. And I’m sure he felt totally justified in those cases because he was doing it for a good cause.
Of course, I can’t speak to his behavior once he moved on to high school. I saw less and less of him and the gang had, by then, disbanded. But before that, we were all part of his gang, and under his protection, whether we wanted to be or not.
Tom’s journal is long gone. It’s unfortunate in a way. It would be much better hearing his story in his own words rather than from my memory of the events that took place that year. It seems like so many years ago. But I imagine like all the other evidence he wanted “lost,” he covered it with Testors® cement and burned it when he moved on to the seventh grade. Or, maybe he buried it in the side yard. We’ll probably never know. I’m sure he’ll never tell, and I doubt Mom and Dad will be digging up the yard any time soon to find it.
That leaves you with me to piece this together. You have to keep in mind I was only in first grade at the time, so my reading skills were limited. Simple chapter books were easy, but not sixth grade Tom-ese. He used words I’d never heard of; words I found out later I was better off not knowing.
How did we get our hands on Tom’s secret journal? My other brother, Sam and I, who shared a room, found it. We used to sneak into Tom’s headquarters despite the threat of his “Keep Out or Die” sign. Or maybe it was because of that sign and the inherent danger involved in tempting fate. In any case, we’d play with the toys he never let us touch, we’d look out his window at the Ioli’s house across the street just like he did when he was preparing for a mission, and we’d rifle through his drawers looking for his secret stuff. That’s how we found it. He kept it hidden under a pile of shoes in his closet. It smelled like old shoes, too. That was cool, but the coolest thing? The journal was about us.
Tom was chronicling the adventures of his gang for Sister Jeanne Lorette. Every chance we got, we would sneak in and Sam would read it to me or I would try reading to him. We had a blast with it. The way Tom described his adventure we couldn’t believe it was about us at first, but there was no doubt after several pages that this story was our adventure as seen through his imagination. And did he ever have an imagination.
So, if you’re willing to accept it on that basis and for what’s it worth, sit back, relax, and enjoy the story of A King in A Court of Fools.
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