Friday, February 1, 2008

Five Things from Elementary School

Erica at On The Write Path does a Friday Five entry. This week’s entry is five memories from elementary school. I told her I’d play too.

Kindergarten: Walnut Hill Nursery School and Kindergarten. Mr. Whittaker, the owner and lead teacher’s husband, picked a bunch of us up in a beat up old station wagon. He smoked cigars and I complained loudly to Ma and Dad about Mr. Whittaker’s stinky cigars. I was a paste eater. It had such a pleasant smell and the taste was not bad either. We were given scissors to cut out some shape. Mrs. Whittaker leaped over four tables trying to get to me as she screamed NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Being left handed, the only way I could get those stupid blunt scissors to cut paper was to turn them upside down and cut towards me. She made me use my right hand to cut. I stayed all day at kindergarten because my mother worked. Mrs. Whittaker made me lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day because that’s all I would eat. I took a nap after lunch on a cot with my special blankie. I got saltine crackers and orange juice for a snack. Mr. Whittaker puffing away on his stinky cigar would take me home.

First Grade: My first year at St. Patrick’s School. We wore a maroon uniform jumper with a maroon clip on Western tie. I was a rebel because my uniform blouses had a picot edge to the Peter Pan collar instead of straight. My cousin, Denise, went to Sacred Heart in East Boston. She was two years older than me and I wore her hand me downs. Ma couldn’t see buying the plain collar blouses when Denise’s blouses were perfectly good. My first grade teacher was Sister Marie Patrice. The eighth grade boys called her “The Beak” because she had a very sharp nose. She didn’t seem to have much patience with first graders. She yelled at all 52 of us a lot. We were terrified of her. One day she scared Collette Glynn so badly, poor Collette wet herself. Sister was not happy and made Collette clean up the floor. In May we had a May Procession on 1. May to crown the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Lisa Lentini, Joey Haswell, and myself were the three tiniest kids in the whole school so we go to lead the May Procession. Lisa and I were flower girls and carried little flowered baskets. I wore a white dress with embroidered pansies. Joey wore a white suit and carried Mary’s floral crown on a white satin pillow. An 8th grade girl was chosen to crown the statue. The girl wore her mother’s white wedding gown. We held up traffic as the nuns had us leading the whole school (about 200 students) as we crossed West Central Street to the church.

Second Grade: Sister Mary Ethel was plump and always smiling. We got a new Mother Superior, Sister Mary Donatus. She was called Sister Mary Donuts behind her back. We got a new uniform too. Ma was not happy because she had spent good money to buy my uniform for first grade and it still fit! We got a very pretty green plaid with a solid green tie and green knee socks which made more sense for a school whose patron saint was Saint Patrick. We wore white ankle socks beginning May 1 to June. I still wore Denise’s hand me down blouses. During the winter months, we could wear slacks or snowpants under our uniform to school, but had to remove them in the classroom. We also got to participate in the Pope Pius X Reading program. You got a pin for reading 5 books. Another for reading 10. Then fancy certificates for 15, 20, 25. Lisa and Joey both grew over the summer. I was the shortest in the class and got to sit in the first row, first seat. Lisa sat behind me, and Joey sat on my left. (The rows went girl, boy). Because I was in the first row, first seat, I got to be the errand girl. My job was to collect the attendance and hot lunch slips from each class. There was a small wooden mailbox outside each classroom. I had to stand on tippy toe to reach. While running errands one day, Sister Mary Donatus came flying out of her office with her black veil flying behind her like a death sail. Her rosary beads cinctured around her waist clacked like a death knell. Some of the eighth grade boys (my brother included) were just outside her office pitching pennies against the statue of St. Patrick. Stephen Herd shouted in tongues which is why Sister came out of her office like a banshee. Stephen was a pretty big kid. I heard he had been in eighth grade for three years. Sister Mary Donatus was not a large woman. She was trim and maybe was 5’ 5”. With her left hand, she picked Stephen up by his necktie and collar of his shirt and bashed him against the wall. With her right hand, she slapped his face. I was so terrified I shook for days. Towards the end of the year, we got Lindy ballpoint pens with blue ink and we learned Palmer cursive. I was disappointed we didn’t get to use pen and ink. Our desks were bolted to the floor and had an inkwell. Second grade we made our first penance. We quickly learned to go to Fr. Murray. No matter what you did, penance was always 3 Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys. Father, I disobeyed my mother. 3 Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys. Father, I murdered 13 people using an axe. 3 Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys. First Communion was on March 31. It was freezing cold and rainy. We didn’t have a procession from the school to the church. We went downstairs to the lower church and took off our coats and processed to the upper church. I loved visiting the third grade nun on my errand, Sister Concepta made a fuss over me. My grandma had taught me how to count in Italian so Sister let me show off. She was always telling me how she was looking forward to having me in 3rd grade. Four of my classmates left parochial school. We were down to 48 and still the largest class to go through the school.

Third Grade: Over the summer, Sister Concepta was transferred to a school in Haverhill. (Yes, birthplace of Big Valley’s, Peter Breck). We got Miss Coomba. A lay teacher! She was a stout woman and had a maroon and black print dress with ¾ sleeves. She wore that dress as much as we wore our uniforms. We thought she looked like a crab in that dress. We found out her birthday was March 30 and we gave her a birthday party. She was so surprised.

Fourth Grade: We were now considered upper classmen and moved upstairs to the second floor. We had Sister Anita. She was the same height as me. She was also a thousand years old and made a prune look smooth skinned. (Several years later, a new neighbor moved across the street and he told me he had Sr. Anita when he was in 4th grade. He was 35 when he moved across the street) Sister Anita was also deaf as a post. We used to go stand in front of her and move our lips as if we were talking. It was a big yuck to hear her yell, “Speak up!” On April Fool’s Day, row one, my row decided at 9am we would all push our math books off our desk. 9am. Our math books hit the floor. Sister Anita wasn’t that deaf and row one had to stay after school and copy words from our spelling book, give the definition and used the word in a sentence as punishment. In the Spring, the church got a new steeple. Monsignor McHale had the entire school sit on the front lawn to watch the giant crane lift the new copper steeple into place. He said it was something we would never see again. One day, he stopped the busses at the front of the school and had the drivers bring us kids back home. He said the boiler was broken in the school and there was no heat. Later, he told us there was nothing wrong with the boiler, but it was such a nice day and he remembered when he was a kid in school how he would have loved a day off for no reason other than the sun was shining. He retired after our 4th grade year and we were sorry to see him leave.
What about you? Want to play?


  1. I'd have been quaking to if that nun had clobbered a big boy right in front of me. You still have to stand on tiptoe to reach stuff! ;)

  2. That would be nice--to have someone send you home for a pretend broken boiler. Sure wish that would happen to me now when I have to clean the school.

  3. dang... you have some memory!

  4. CJ, you have a fantastic memory. Wow, I barely remember anything about elementary school. Only thing that really stuck to me, was the nun I had in first grade. I was a whiney kid, and when she scolded me for something, I would always cry. One day when I went through my little crying spell, she was ready for me. She had placed her stool in front of the blackboard. She then walked over to my desk, took me by my hand and walked to the stool. I was then told to sit on the stool. As soon as I sat up on the stool facing all the children, she pulled out a baby bottle full of mild and made me drink the bottle in front of the class. As you can guess, that day had always been carried with me throughout my life. Also, I am left handed, Sister Mary would slap my had with a ruler and straighten my paper to write. Isn't it funny the things you remember. The baby bottle incident was truly tramatic experience. How in the world did you remember all of your teacher's name. Enjoyed your blog very much, my friend. CJ, I hope all is well with you and your family..take care..Dollydonna