Friday, February 8, 2008

The Naughty Years

Erica at On the Write Path, has blogged about five things from middle school, grades 5 through 9. Well, I can’t blog about middle school because I didn’t go to middle school. I was still at St. Patrick’s, technically an elementary school. In the photograph, the graduating class of 1969 poses for a picture on the steps in front of the auditorium. In case you’re looking for me, I’m the one in the plaid skirt. Monsignor Mahoney is wearing the cassock. Father “Three Our Fathers and Three Hail Mary’s” Murray is to his left. Charlie is wearing a regular dress. MP and Mother Superior are wearing the modified habits.
Oh, and people have been remarking about my “incredible” memory. I think it’s a savant thing. Truth be told, I loved school. So, now some of the stories from the naughty years.
Fifth Grade: Sister Stellan was the art teacher for the entire school. This particular year, there was to be a Diocesan wide art fair at the end of the year. We spent the whole year preparing for the art fair. We did absotively no work at all! No math. No history. Well, we did have religion class, but we were in a parochial school so that was a given. I did an ink print of St. Michael the Archangel for the fair. I won an honorable mention. The fair was broadcast on the local PBS channel. My print was done in red ink so didn’t show up on the black and white broadcast very well. No big deal, Sister was still pleased. Me, too.
Sixth Grade: We had Sister Helen Charles. We called her Charlie. Not to her face of course! She told us personal things about herself. She told us her real name! She took her religious name from her mother and a favorite, (maybe only) brother. She told us she earned only 17 cents an hour. Our classroom faced the main street. Every time a siren sounded, we had to stand and say a “Hail, Mary.” We were up and down constantly praying, a bit like Catholic aerobics. We started French classes. If we heard a siren, we had to say the “Hail Mary” in French. Je vous salut Marie… I learned important French phrases. Ma petite soeur a avale un bouton. My little sister swallowed a button. The nuns decorated the bulletin boards in the classroom with felted paper. Only the holiest of holy girls were chosen to cut out the expensive paper. I was lefthanded and never chosen. When it came to penmanship, the nuns, bless their hearts, never forced me to switch hands. They did insist my paper be slanted in the same way a right handed person would hold the paper. The bottom left corner of the paper, had to point to the middle button on my uniform blouse. Everytime, Charlie saw me canting my paper the other way, she’d yank my paper back to the proper position. Because of this, I became a hooker. Well, not with my elbow twisted around, I cock my wrist and approach the line of writing from above the as opposed to below. A new convent was built for the nuns. We used to have recess in a tiny area behind the school, but now we played on a hard topped area next to the new convent. Hopscotch, Chinese jump rope and tag were very popular. Lot of us loved the singing group, The Monkees. I had a crush on Davy Jones. Charlie was fond of the comic strip Peanuts and Linus was her favorite. For Christmas that year, she got 48 boxes of Linus stationery made by Hallmark.
Charlie told me I was unique. I went home and looked the word up in the dictionary. In a world where we all dressed alike, talked alike, thought alike, I thought it was a very high compliment.
Seventh Grade: Sister Donatus was transferred and we got a new Mother Superior, Sister Mary Agnolita. We also got new uniforms. The ugliest grey, green plaid wool you have ever seen. And stupid green beanies for the cooler weather. The 7th and 8th grade girls got to wear a skirt and blouse instead of the jumper. My brother was dating a girl who was going to hair dresser school. She cut my hair very short, like the model Twiggy. I loved my short do and have been wearing it very short ever since. Some of our classmates had left and we got some new ones. We were down to 44 and still the largest class to go through the school. Dougie Horton got held back. I had a crush on Dougie. Green Hornet was a popular show and I had a hat like the Green Hornet’s chauffeur, Kato. Dougie called me Kato , but I didn’t mind. We also moved into a new wing that had been built. A decision to split the classes into two smaller grades instead of a huge one like mine, had been made. The addition was to accommodate the double graders coming up. We had desks that were made of formica and opened from the top. The desks and chairs were also moveable. Our desks in the old building were wood and wrought iron and bolted to the floor. We had to slide our books into an opening in the front of the desk. During recess from now through 8th grade, we were separated from our male classmates. They continued to have recess by the convent. The 7thth grade girls were shepherded across the street to play in the new church parking lot on Mulligan St. and 8 We played kick ball. Liz Raddock was one of my best friends. Her father owned the pharmacy on the corner. The nuns forbade us from going to the pharmacy. Liz used to take the daily receipts to the bank for her dad so the nuns made an exception. I used to tag along after Liz. Liz’s dad used to let us have a candy bar from the candy case. I loved Walnettos. Wanna Walnetto? Just like the dirty old man said on Laugh-In. We got a new nun, but we were such a horrible class, she had a nervous breakdown. Charlie came back to us. And OHMYGAWD she was wearing a regular dress and short veil! She had legs! And curly hair on her head. We had been convinced that nuns didn’t have feet though we did see their funny nun shoes. We also thought they were bald and that’s why they wore the wimple. Charlie sewed her own dress. It was red wool. Looked very itchy.
It was decided that we would try changing classes like they did in the public school. The nuns couldn’t handle all of us milling around in the corridor so it was decided we would stay in the classroom and the nuns would move around. We had Charlie for English, Spelling, Religion, French, Reading, Geography, and History. We had Sister Marion Patricia, nicknamed MP for math and science. New Math was the teaching method of the century. I couldn’t even get the hang of old math. The nuns weren’t that great at it either.
Report card day was a stomach twisting event. We would be lined up in alphabetical order. Boys first and then girls. I was the second to the last in my class. I can remember standing in line biting my nails and shaking. Monsignor Mahoney would hand out the report cards. There would be hell to pay if you didn’t do well, especially the conduct and effort grade. Sometimes he got physical with the boys, never the girls though we were verbally abused. He would yell at us until we were reduced to tears. Tell us how stupid we were.
The year was spent in preparation for confirmation. We had to decide what our confirmation name was going to be. We were to pick a Saint whom we admired. My brother had attended a prep school, St Sebastian’s Country Day School. I had been very taken with the story of the Roman soldier turned Christian. There was a cool statue of Sebastian at the school pierced with arrows. Nope, the nuns wouldn’t allow the name because it was a man’s name. Try again. Xavier because it was a cool name. Nope. Tarcissius. Pick a woman’s name! I couldn’t think of anything so put Marie down on my card. Wasn’t as clever as my friend, Pam. She wanted Augustine. Nope. Augstina. Good choice. I could have tried Sebastiana or Xaviera. Oh well. It’s not like the name is used beyond the confirmation ceremony. We had 50 catchechism questions that we had to memorize because the Bishop would be asking these questions. Periodically, All through school we had been told we were better than the public school children. And now we had to prove it. The day before confirmation day, no one could remember one of the last questions. It was extremely long. As punishment, we had to write out that question 50 times and deliver it to the rectory before the ceremony or we would not be allowed to be confirmed. I got the question written out 47 times. The ceremony was to be at 2pm on 1. May. My parents took me into Boston to a photographer to have a professional portrait of me done in my confirmation robes. All I could think about was I hadn’t finished writing out the questions. I begged my Dad to take what I had written to the rectory. He did. My friend Pam Robinson had written out the question all 50 times and she took the assignment over to the rectory herself. She said Monsignor took the paper, didn’t look at them and just tore them up in front of her and threw them in the wastebasket. He was a real SOB. Before we got stuck with him he was an Army chaplain. Had risen to the rank of full bird colonel. We made our confirmation and Bishop Reilly never even asked us a single question!
Eight Grade. MP was our main teacher, but we still had Charlie. We had Charlie for 3 years running! MP still did math and science and also religion. Charlie had the rest of the classes. I had nice penmanship, though not nice enough to win a penmanship medal. That lefthanded thing. I spent hours practicing penmanship. Looking at how adults wrote and picked out the cool way they made this letter or that letter. I spent many happy hours changing my handwriting so it wouldn’t look like Palmer method the nuns taught.
Some things in 7th and 8th grade are blurred together because we did them in both classes. We took turns working in the cafeteria. The girls helped the lunch ladies serve the food and the boys ran the dishwasher. We usually finished before the class came back from recess, but not enough time to join our classmates. We ended up girls and boys fooling around in the classroom. One time, Gerry Hanrahan had some how gotten Joey Haswell’s loafer off. He stuck it on the end of the window pole. The windows were something like 15 feet high so a pole with a special hook was used to open the top sash. Anyway, Gerry had the shoe on the end of the pole and opened the bottom sash and stuck the pole out and shoe out the window. The shoe fell off and Joey had to scramble to get outside, get his shoe, and get back to class without getting caught.
During the month of May, a large statue of the Virgin Mary was set on a small shrine at the front of the classroom. Each morning, two girls would process with a small, artificial floral crown that would be placed on the statues head. My partner was usually Mary Ann Sullivan, thank God she was tall because I couldn’t reach the top of the statue. Mary let me carry the crown. We all had to sing the hymn: Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today. Queen of the Angels. Queen of the May.
All through my school years, the first Friday of the month was spent at Mass. We also got Holy Days of Obligation off from school and feast days. We had to attend an 8am Mass on the Holy Day. Attendance would be taken and then we would be dismissed. March was a great month. March 17 was St. Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of the school. We had to greet the nuns on the steps after Mass with, Top o’ the mornin’ to you, Sister. And she would reply “And the rest of the day to yourself.” Then we could go home. Two days later on March 19 was St. Joseph’s day. The sisters were of the order of St. Joseph so we got their patron saint day off too. We were forbidden to go to Sussenburger’s Bakery. Have no idea why we were forbidden. The way the nuns talked, going to Sussenburger’s was like committing a mortal sin, like not going to Mass or knowingly eating meat on Friday. We went anyways. I don’t think the Sussenburger’s minded. Jelly donuts and cherry tonic (soda or pop to you Land of Here There Be Dragon Dwellers) was usually the favorite choice.
Kevin Flynn’s little brother Patrick was hit and killed by a car while riding his bicycle. We had to attend the funeral Mass. I have never seen anything so sad as when the little white casket was escorted into the church. All the eighth grade girls cried.
On Good Friday, since we would have the day off from school, two at a time, we had to sign up for an hour to sit in front of the Monstrance, a large golden vessel shaped like a sunburst that held a consecrated host. This was supposed to be an hour of adoration and devotion. A wake of sorts. We sat in the lower church and cracked jokes. Tried to make our partner laugh. Dared each other to go on the altar to kiss the feet of the statues. At that time, lay people were not allowed beyond the altar rail. It was considered a mortal sin. After sitting for our hour, we went for donuts at Sussenburger’s Bakery.
One time MP took 3 or 4 of us over to the church. She was going to lay out a new altar cloth and decorate the altar with fresh flowers. She left us in the sacristy. In the corner of the room was a large, plastic bag filled with communion wafers. The church had just got in a new delivery. We were Heathens and, we were hungry so we bore a small hole into the bag and had a snack. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, they were unblessed wafers!
By 7th and 8th grade, we became a very close knit class. That was the fault of the nuns. If one of us did something wrong, the entire class would be punished. They thought the “good” kids would gang up on the “bad one”. All it did was make us stick by one another. Us against them. With 44 of us, someone was bound to slip up. I spent nearly every day of 7th and 8th grade after school and had to walk home after completing a punishment assignment. Usually the punishment was copying spelling words, writing out the definition and using them in a sentence. One day, MP had to leave the classroom. She left the adjoining door to the 6th grade open. Of course, we started to cut up and
make lots of noise as soon as MP disappeared across the threshold. The 6th grade nun, Sister Andrew, came in and hollered at us. We had to stay after school and her punishment was we had to write out the name of the states and their capitols. Gerry Hanrahan had a pecil box with a dial on it. You turned the dial and in a small window a state name and its capitol would appear! Gerry was holding up his desk lid with his head and calling out the states and capitols like Bingo. Sister Andrew came in. The room went deathly silent. I sat next to Gerry and tried to hiss at him and get his attention to warn him Sister was on the warpath. Sister Andrew came up in front of his desk. Gerry was still calling out the states. Sister took the lid back and slammed him in the head with it. So much for Christian charity. It’s a wonder the kid didn’t end up with a concussion. Our papers were collected, torn up, and thrown away, and we had to start all over again. Another day, I missed the bus and had to walk the nearly 2 miles home. I always walked up Washington St. instead of Walnut St. just so I could go by Dougie Horton’s house.
When I was in 7th grade, pantyhose was invented. When I was in 8th grade, the mini skirt became vogue. Both were forbidden to us. We rode the bus with the public school kids and they made fun of our uniforms. To try to fit in, we would roll our skirts up real short. We wore pantyhose too. There was a low stone wall in front of the new addition. Every morning, you would see the 7th and 8th grade girls unrolling skirts to regulation length and putting knee socks or ankle socks (May and June) over the pantyhose. Friday was uniform inspection day. The girls would be escorted out into the corridor. Sometimes the nun would make us kneel on the floor as she inspected the line. Our skirts had to pool on the floor or we would be instantly dismissed and sent home with a note that the skirt had to be lengthened before we would be allowed back to the classroom. Other times, we would have to stand at attention while the nun measured with a yardstick the distance between the floor and the hem of our skirt. Our skirts were to fall to our knee cap.
The basement of the new building was called the All-Purpose Room. It was really a bomb shelter. Along one wall were stacked 55 gallon drums of water. We had recess inside when the weather was bad. The science fairs were held there. One of the nuns taught the girls Greek dancing. It was the only time I ever had gym in parochial school.
The boys were sent to the rectory while MP talked to us girls. It was our sex education class. She read a passage from the Bible, and “Adam knew Eve” with no other explanation as if we knew what it was supposed to mean. Then she read a page of begats. That was it. Never heard what talk the boys got.
The nuns tried to talk us girls into hearing the call of the vocation. The call to become a nun. All circuits are busy, please place your call at a later time.
My mother wanted me to take the entrance exam to Mother Elizabeth Seton High School. I refused. I had enough of the nuns.
Graduation. We got small pin with school shield and class year 1969. My mother bought me a lace dress which wasn’t bad, but it was the hated pink color. Patty Burke hosted a pool party at her home. I had a black two piece bathing suit with white daisies. Kevin Flynn and Dougie Horton threw me in the pool. I didn’t mind.
Ninth Grade: Finally away from the nuns and the freedom of public school. I went to Henry Wilson Jr. High School. Henry Wilson was the 18th Vice President of the US and he had a cobbler shop in town. What a culture shock public school was! We could wear what we wanted, except the girls could not wear trousers. There was a dress code. No jeans for the boys. They had to wear button down shirts or polos, no tees, and slacks with a belt. We had to wear skirts or dresses. They could be mini skirts! We were painfully behind the public school in math and science. I didn’t get put in dummy math, but in slower paced Algebra class. I didn’t mind. I had the handsome Mr. Tupper for math. He made my heart sing and for the first time, I started getting A’s in math. The first day I embarrassed myself when he called on me. I stood up on the right side of my seat to answer as I had been trained for eight years. My classmates laughed at me. Mr. Tupper kindly told me it wasn’t necessary to stand to recite. I replied “Yes, sih”, as I almost said “sister” automatically. Managed to spit out “sir”. I sat down with my cheeks burning a flaming red. Later in the year, some girls knew I had a terrible crush on him and they made me ask him for a ladies’ choice dance at the Spring Dance. He accepted and I died and went to heaven. I wore a silver lame dress with silver slippers. Mr. Tupper smelled of Old Spice aftershave. He held my hand and we danced a slow dance. Don’t remember the song. I haven’t washed my hand since!
The school would not give any of the parochial school kids credit for the 3 yrs of French we had, so I had to repeat French all over again. On the first day of class, the French teacher, Mrs. Colombo, asked who had attended parochial school. I remembered not to stand up, but just raised my hand. She said: You have already had what I am teaching this year. I will not call on your for the entire year. And she didn’t. I got an A in French.
For some reason, I was placed in an English class full of juvenile delinquents. Now, we might have been behind the public school when it came to math and science, but we were light years ahead of them when it came to English. They were just learning how to diagram sentences in 9th grade. I had learned how to do that in 3rd grade. I was the only kid in that class who turned in homework. By the time October rolled around, the teacher took me aside and said, you shouldn’t be in this class, I’m recommending you for honors. I had no clue what that meant until I found out I was being placed in the Honors English class, an advanced class. That didn’t bother me, but I was so upset to find out that Honors English met at the same time as Mr. Tupper’s math class. I was being moved! He escorted me to my new English class. I cried the whole way and he gave me a hug and said he would miss me. My new English teacher, was Miss Coss. She was just out of teacher’s college, very young and very fun. We did a lot of creative writing in her class. Since I was new to the school, I didn’t have very many friends. Most of the kids had been with each other since kindergarten. Miss Coss had to leave the classroom to go to the office. I pulled out a paperback Man from U.N.C.L.E book. A girl named Teague came up to me and said: Wow, you like U.N.C.L.E too! We became good friends and she’s my best friend 38 years later. The guidance department thought since I
had done so well in Mr. Tupper’s math class, I would probably do fine in the regular Algebra I class. The first day in the new algebra class, Miss Mahoney told me she was giving a quiz, but she wouldn’t grade mine. She just wanted to see where I was in math. A day or two later, she passed the papers back. She placed mine face down on the desk so no one would see the grade. “We have an awful lot of work to do” she whispered. I got a 50. Miss Mahoney had her brighter students tutor her slower students after class. My tutor’s name was Annmarie Piscopo. Annmarie was a new girl too having moved from Dorchester, near Boston. She was very patient with me and she helped me to manage a B for the whole year.
Another culture shock was gym class. We had to wear a navy blue, one piece, short coverall that was sleeveless. When we went outside, we had to wear a white sweatshirt over it. The sleeves were cut small and cut into your armpits. To this day, I hate wearing sleeveless things. I hated gym class. We had to do the President’s Fitness test. Didn’t do well on that one. I could Greek dance, but that wasn’t offered. It was rumored that Mrs. Casey was a pervert. We had to take showers after gym. Each girl had her own shower stall with a dressing room in front. Supposedly, Mrs. Casey would come in and stick her arm into the shower to make sure you were taking a shower. It never happened to me. Most of us never took a shower. We just dampened the towel. Towels were inspected for proper dampness.
Mr. Meagher was the history teacher. He was a good looking fella, but he creeped me out. My seat was right in front of his desk. He used to stare at my boobs. Not that I had that much to stare at. It was rumored he was a pervert too. I used to hold my history book up in front of me.
If you stuck through all of this, thank you, blogging is so much cheaper than therapy. So what about you? Want to play?


  1. While it was nice reading yours, I'm keeping all my secrets to myself, thank you.

    What I found so odd is that so many of your memories aer similar to mine. I also had a classmate, Mark Incroit, whose little brother got hit and killed by a car while riding his bike. Also, I had a crush on Mr. Hall, the first male teacher I had in public school. Wish I'd had the nerve to go to a dance, maybe he'd have danced with me--ah, the regrets....

  2. LOL, loved the blog, so many funny things!

  3. I thought I loved school too... but I can't bring half of those memories out. Kudos Chica!

  4. Man, you do have a crazy memory!

    I love the story about snacking on (unblessed) communion wafers - oy! they're awfully dry! Did you wash them down with (unblessed) communion wine? ;-)