by Artie Richard
I remember going to Resurrection Parochial school even though it was a very long time ago. There was no kindergarten for me. The first few years were half days but later it was a full five hours a day.Those years were best described by Charles Dickens, whom Ive never met. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Imagine a pair of baggy trousers that extend just below the knee. At the end of each leg is powerful elastic. Knickers were always worn with argyle knee socks. The socks were pulled up and tucked under the elastic of the knickers. There were few sights more ugly than a sock which had escaped its elastic guardian, and they always did. But wait, theres more. Knickers were always constructed of corduroy which taken together with the baggy aspect of the garment meant that you were always heard before seen. On particularly nasty winter days high, rubber galoshes had to be worn. The top of each galosh lined up perfectly with the place just below the bottom of the knicker. If you walked back and forth to school each day, like I did, you had a red ring around each leg by 3PM. The galoshes had to be removed in the classroom even though it was a real chore to undo those clips with cold, stiff fingers. None of us would dare to leave them on because the nuns warned us that if we did we would go blind. Something about wearing rubber over your feet in a heated environment.
So there we were with our uniforms, knickers and galoshes and we would see the kids coming out of the Public School. They were dressed all different ways and, more often than not, werent even carrying any books. Sometimes they would go, as a class, to a museum or the zoo. They got out for a change of scenery. Our change of scenery was the infrequent fire drill. But the big thing was they could talk back to their teacher without going to hell.
Earlier I mentioned the nuns. We were taught by the Dominican Sisters and now, with the advantage of hindsight, I realize what wonderful, dedicated women they were but this essay is being written from the view point of a kid...who hated school...and homework...and putting galoshes on and off four times a day. Sisters of God thought they were, nonetheless the nuns would put up with zero garbage. They did not have to because they were well armed with those awful three-cornered rulers and were backed by the wrath of God. If you were really bad, like the Sadam Hussein of 4th grade, there was always the ultimate punishment -- expulsion. We were too young to figure out that expulsion would miraculously transport us to that other group I mentioned who were care free and dressed all different ways and carried no books. The trick would be to first survive the beatings that would be administered for getting thrown out of school.
Which reminds me of another thing. We are always hearing how clichés dont really hold up and how there really were no "good old days." People my age always brag about how if you got in trouble with the teacher you had bigger trouble at home. Today teachers are sometimes attacked by a parent who takes the side of the kid. Well Im here to tell you that I never saw that. It just didnt happen. My grandmother, Molly, often warned me that if I ever got left back, forget about being expelled, she would knock me down and kick me until I was dead and throw my body in the cesspool (before sewers, you know) and never give it a second thought.
It wasnt all teaching through fear though. There were perks for the kids who consistently performed well...mostly girls or boys who didnt like sports. You might get to go outside and "clap the erasers" on the side of the building. You might get the job of raising or lowering the windows. You might be the one who delivered messages from the teacher to the office. You might even be the one who checked the closets at the end of the day to make sure no one forgot anything...like galoshes.
During the entire eight years of grammar school (Is that all it was? Boy, it seemed a lot longer) two events stand out above all others. During a summer vacation we lost one of our classmates. He had drowned. I dont know the exact year but it must have been very early on. Then we lost another during eighth grade, this time a girl. She got pregnant somehow and was taken out of school by her family. Times change. Events that sent shock waves through the whole neighborhood now wouldnt even raise an eyebrow.
All in all parochial grammar school was an experience that I am certainly better off for. There is an up side to most things. In the army, I got to see the world. In grammar school I learned that I was not in control and to deal with those wicked three-cornered rulers which prepared me for the Jesuits and Fr. Kleber the Prefect of Discipline and his bullwhip and boxing gloves, but thats another story.
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Last changed: March 09, 2005