Built in the 1920’s, it served as an elementary school for parishioners and for those wanting their children in a parochial educational environment. The lunchroom was in the building basement/gymnasium and as children were led down flights of stairs, asbestos-wrapped pipes were visible everywhere. The halls were dark, almost foreboding, somewhat intimidating for a small child, outfitted in the required uniform of a stiff blue jumper and starchy white blouse; sweaters were allowed during the colder months but had to be blue in color. Nothing was allowed that deviated from an almost military type of dress code. Education came with intense regimentation.
The faculty was comprised of nuns. Ursuline, in fact. They were regarded as the upper echelon of nunnery, all focused on teaching children art and music…aside from the endless catechism drills and recitations. But, no matter what order any of these holy women came from, all were well-schooled in corporal punishment and they could descend upon you, without warning, leaving the sting of a ruler or long black belt strap as their calling card.
Students in attendance were mainly from Irish families. I was not one. Those of us with mixed heritage (Italian, British, German, etc.) were dealt with accordingly by our classmates. Nuns knew everyone’s family business and made it a point to include personal issues in daily prayers. I was a major beneficiary of such litanies, both to God and every virtuous person classified as a saint, mainly because my father was not Catholic. I think that by the time 8th grade came around every possible prayer had been exhausted. So did the end of my elementary tour-of-duty.
Our school janitor, a dedicated and hard-working man, had a large family with at least six, maybe eight children. One morning as we trudged into our 4th grade classroom, our teacher informed us that this man had died while sitting in his chair, reading his newspaper. She told us not to be sad and had us pray that the Angel of Death would come to each of our parents and take them to Heaven in the same way. Her point was well-taken. The next day, almost 40 parents of the 52 students in our class demanded to see the school principal after dealing with hysterical children and their outbursts the night before.
My elementary school experience took place in very different times. Authority then was never questioned. Still, as young students, we did learn and there was never a gray area of discussion on anything that took place inside school walls. Some memories were good but the bad ones still aren’t easily forgotten.
From Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop….Share a memory about your elementary school.