Children’s Story – Addled Thomas

Stupid! Good-for-nothing! Clumsy oaf! If you would simply hold still and pay attention!” The enraged schoolmarm still had him by the ear. Her beet red face was just inches from his nose. He could smell the sauerkraut on her breath from lunch time. If she were any redder she would spew out the top and pop all the hairpins out of her top-heavy hairdo. Young Edison could just see it! “If those pins do commence aflyin’ I hope Paul Morton over there gets stuck right in the bum!” he thought. “It would serve him right for stealing my homemade marmalade!” Thomas’ mind was obviously not on his scolding, and this was the last straw for the poor teacher, and though her hairpins didn’t pop, Thomas’ ear did. The cross woman’s open palm met the side of his head with great force, and Thomas sank down into his seat, both ears ringing. “All this over a spilled inkwell?” he thought to himself. “Then again, Tuesday it was just a broken slate, and that wasn’t even my fault. Silly fly was buzzin’ around … Such a nuisance. Ms. Bronstein would never have noticed if it was my head the fly had landed on and Matilda had swatted it with her slate!” Perhaps it was the fiery red hair, maybe the snooty disposition; who knew; but one thing was for certain, Matilda Brown could break every one of the Ten Commandments without so much as a “Now, now, Dear” from Ms. Bronstein.

Young Thomas Edison was used to these episodes. It seemed that whenever he dared to move, he would draw enough attention to himself to induce the teacher’s wrath. Perhaps the schoolmarm just thought him plain old dumb; maybe, as Thom thought, she was too dull to be able to answer his questions; who knew. Regardless the reason, Thomas Edison had become her personal steam vent. Thomas hadn’t spoken a word until he was three years old, and Mom and Dad had assumed him to be a mute. And once he finally did start talking, it was never in sentences, only question after question packed into a body of perpetual motion. And if he were alive today … Boy, oh, boy! Children like little Thom are labeled with ADHD, ADD, retardation, and a whole bunch of other preconceived names. Although Ms. Bronstein eventually labeled him “addled and incorrigible,” Thom’s constant curiosity plagued him, demanding answers.

The sun had fallen behind the buildings of New York hours ago, and the city had bid adieu to yet another day. A dog’s bark turned suddenly to a yowl of pain as it was severely chastised by a startled stray feline. The noise echoed off the brick walls that lined the streets of downtown. A steady drizzle, or was it a heavy mist, clung to the air with a damp chill. Nothing on Main Street moved. But the neighbors in Menlo Park could see the flicker of an oil lamp still burning in the basement of the Edison home. The “wizard of Menlo Park” was at it yet again. Bent over his work table, Edison’s fingers moved nimbly over his work as he mumbled incoherently under his breath. The bugs beating their heads against the window where the lamp stood went unnoticed. The seconds ticked away the minutes.

Pop, Phwooosh! The noise awoke Mrs. Edison, who had fallen asleep in a comfy chair nearby. A puff of smoke was swirling around an unidentifiable object on the floor. She raised her head and then an eyebrow in her husband’s direction.

“Never you mind, my Dear,” said Edison with a sheepish grin. “I have only just found …”

“I know, I know,” she interrupted.

“… another way that doesn’t work.” They both finished together.

The missus laid her head back again and closed her eyes, opening one again on the sly to see if Thom would clean up his mess, and found him bent over the task. Satisfied, she closed her eyes with a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth and was soon back asleep. Thom took the dust bin over to the scrap heap which was bulging with “successful ways that didn’t work.” Nothing was ever a failure to this man. Trudging back over to the workbench, Thom picked up a pencil and thumbed through pages of tally marks, and, coming to the last page, which was almost full itself, he marked down yet another tally. Taking his hanky from the back pocket of his dusty, burned, and holey pants, he wiped the perspiration away and began again on “light experiment #846.”

Today, thanks to Thomas Edison and his relentless perseverance, we have fabulous motivational proverbs like, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” and “There are no failures; only new ways that don’t work,” and “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Oh, yeah! and we have the electric light bulb! He is responsible for the night-before-the-exam cramming sessions youngsters have at 10:30 at night running up the household electric bill! Thomas Edison holds over 1,095 United States patents, and is known as the father of inventors. He is said to have invented the business of inventing, among a myriad of other things. Starting as an “addled” boy who wouldn’t talk and, according to his teachers, could not learn, he ended as one of the largest innovative contributors to our society. People will say all sorts of things, but never let anyone say, “You can’t”!

Alicia Freedman works at Steps to Life as a part of the LandMarks team. She can be reached by e-mail at: