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I went to Catholic School AND I Liked It
Back in the Day
Yes, I can say back in the day. At my age, I can pretty much say anything I want. So, back in the day I went to Catholic School. There were three schools in my neighborhood in Queens, Catholic School, Public School or Lutheran School. Actually there was a Jewish School but that was only conducted on Saturdays. I know because we used to go and hang out in the bathroom while our friends attended school. Not everyone has fond memories of Catholic School but I do.
Anyway, I started school in first grade. I believe kindergarten was eliminated the year I should have gone because of a move from the old school to the new school. Obviously I had no clue about that course of events at the time. All I knew was I got to skip kindergarten and go right to first grade! I started school when I was 5, although I turned 6 the same December. I really wanted to go to school, I couldn't wait. It didn't even bother me that I had to wear a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, navy blue pleated skirt, and a bow around my neck the size of a coffee pot! I must admit I wasn't too thrilled with the bow my mother put in my hair but I suffered through just to go to school. As I said earlier I lived in Queens so we got to walk to school. It was only four blocks and everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood so there were no worries about children being abducted or misbehaving without the all seeing eyes knowing. We also got to go home for lunch. The crossing guards at several street corners kept a close watch on all of us, not only while crossing the street but while walking along. They reported anything out of the ordinary to our mothers. That included crossing without listening to the crossing guard, fighting or dawdling!
We were taught by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, and at the time most of the nuns were in their late teens. My first day of school was a true experience both for me and for Sr. Marie Germain. We were all assigned seats in alphabetical order. As luck would have it I was near the blackboard, not the window. Early in the morning on this first day, I heard sirens outside. I wanted to see what was going on so I just got up, went to the window, and looked for the fire trucks. I was rushed back to my seat and reprimanded for leaving my seat without asking permission, oops. Strike two came when I took out my snack. My mother had packed a lovely snack for me but no one told her there are no snacks in first grade. Strike three can be blamed on my social nature. I wanted to get to know everyone and proceeded to talk to different classmates. Sister informed me talking was not allowed. You can only speak when spoken to or when answering a question. This was a rule I had difficulty with through my entire eight years of elementary school. Oh yes, and whenever you want to answer a question or have to use the lavatory (that's the bathroom to the Catholic school novice) you must raise your hand and wait for sister to answer you, even if your hand is in the air for 15 minutes.
What else went on
Going home for lunch was a treat because the pretzel lady was always waiting on the corner, both before and after lunch so you could get a pretzel on the way home or the way back to school. The pretzels were kept warm in her cart and the price of five cents made it a special treat. The fish store was another treat. Not only could you buy freshly cooked breaded fish, but you could get fresh, hot french fries in a cup shaped in a cylinder like the one used in the candy story for drinks. I think the french fries were so good because they were cooked in the same oil as the fish. This was our version of fast food. Eating fish or french fries before going home for lunch was not a good idea. Mothers frowned upon children who didn't want to eat their lunch. Remember, it was the odd mother who worked in those days so they were always there and always all knowing. Then there was the candy store. In addition to the candy you could get an egg cream or a cherry coke to go with your bagel. Not to worry, if you ate too much or drank too many egg creams Jack the owner, would tell your mother.
Catholic school in the '50's had many quirks as most people know or have heard about. Punishment was an every day discipline. For example, we had a spanking machine in our school. It was located in the principal's office. It was actually a safe but we had no clue of that. Whenever students got beyond their nun's command or were really disrupting things, they were sent to the principal's office for a visit to the spanking machine. We never thought it was odd that even in eight years no one every saw the inside of the spanking machine!
Then there was the dreaded phone call to your parents. You knew life was ending when the principal said, "I'm calling your mother!" Now you were not only in hot water in school but you were going to get it when you got home. You could hear kids pleading, please don't call my mother. This phone call extended to your father when he got home. It was a vicious punishment.
My favorite punishment was being made to stand behind the door. You have to realize when you and another student were talking to each other (I told you this was a problem for me) you would both be told to stand behind the door. I remember in one class, I think it was third grade, I was behind the door with four boys. We had some neat discussions back there while all the other kids had to sit in their seats and pay attention. Somehow, the nuns never caught on to that one.
Other rules and things we did
In addition to the three r's we were taught about social behavior, particularly how boys and girls should behave. For example, Catholic school girls should never wear patent leather shoes because someone could look into your shoes and see up your skirt! I still have difficulty imagining someone staring into my shoes to see my underpants, but remember, this is back in the day. A lady never crosses her legs or whistles...very important facts to learn.
Whenever we left the classroom we marched two by two in height order. Though this wasn't the army, it had many similarities - the uniforms, the marching... However, we were supposed to hold hands so our partner wouldn't get lost. It is hard to imagine our partner getting lost on the way to church - across the street. We did have field trips, even then. I remember twice in my eight years we went to the movies (field trips), almost eight blocks away. We marched, two by two, in height order, holding hands, all the way to the movie and all the way back. No talking while walking, we had to set a good example.
Music and Art were cursory subjects. We drew pictures and sang songs, that was it. Nothing too complicated or time consuming as we had other more important things to learn, like religion and spelling. I can still recite the first ten questions from my first grade religion book, know the Ten Commandments, and I happen to be a very good speller.
There was an elevator in our building but nobody knew it. I found out in fifth grade when one of our classmates broke his leg. For some strange reason I was asked to accompany the Sister with the key and the boy with broken leg whenever they went in the elevator. I was a favored child. I didn't have a broken anything and I still got to ride in the elevator. How glorious and special.
Every Wednesday we had release time. We got out of school two hours early because the public school kids came to learn about religion. We felt sorry for those poor public school kids. They had to go to public school then every Wednesday came for religion classes in our school while we got to go home.
We always attended Mass as a group. Every morning before school we went to Church and attended Mass. You had to sit with your class and after Mass your Sister would walk you over to the school building to begin the day. On Sunday, your parents brought you to nine o'clock Mass. You lined up in the schoolyard with your classmates and Sister walked you over to Church. After Mass you could go home with your parents without any more lining up. Girls always had their heads covered in Church. If you didn't have a hat you wore a chapel veil or a mantilla. Only the big girls were allowed to wear mantillas. Dress code was your Sunday best, no uniforms. Our Pastor ended the sermon the same way every week, saying if you didn't obey the laws of God and Church you would be damned forever into the eternal fires. He was a Msgr., Msgr. Pfiefer, a very holy and generous man that everyone loved. He had a cleaning lady at the rectory who was also the parish secretary. We always thought she was Mrs. Pfiefer.
It's not possible to put 8 years of Catholic school in one short hub. I will say I don't regret the experience and proved that by attending Catholic high school and then Catholic business school. It was a different world back then. We were taught to respect our elders whether they were teachers, nuns, parents, or Jack who owned the candy store. We knew when we were wrong and we knew we would have to pay for it. The bottom line is the values we grow up with and how our parents guide us to adulthood.
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