50th Year Reunion Part Deux
Our elementary school reunion took place on June 25, fifty years to the day from our graduation. What a day! We laughed, we cried, we shared memories and we shared family stories. Obviously it all started fifty years ago when we graduated from St. Pancras Elementary School, but no, that’s not true, it actually started one September day in 1953 when we started at St. Pancras Elementary School. Most of us did not go to Kindergarten because there was no room in the old school and the new school wasn’t ready until we started first grade. There were over 80 of us in that first grade classroom. God Bless Sister Marie Germaine! When it was time for second grade we were split into two classes of approximately 45 students each. (We seemed to grow every year. By eighth grade there were 123 of us, I mistakenly thought there were 80 but was corrected at the reunion.)
Everyone has memories of school. Everyone has shared moments from their school and with their friends from school, but none so close knit as ours. The nuns who taught us were of average nun-age with a few exceptions who were 17, 18 and 19 years old. They brought a joie de vivre that an older nun couldn’t possibly. So, the bond we shared with each other as classmates we also shared with our teaching Sisters of St. Dominic. It was not abnormal to see Sr. D playing baseball with the boys in the schoolyard. Not just hitting the ball, but running the bases as well. Or, a group of us getting together to learn how to sing Silent Night in German so we would make Sr. Cookie feel more at home. I never did know her real name but since she was the cook at the convent everyone called her Sr. Cookie.
One of our classmates lovingly took the time to comprise a booklet containing some autobiographies submitted by other classmates. Here are just a very few quotes:
“I have found that those who say you can never go back are wrong…the same chemistry that existed between people 50 years ago usually will still exist today.”
“Speaking of communism, remember when we used to pray for the conversion of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism?”
“(name withheld) suffered multiple wounds in Vietnam.”
“In fact, his brother was awarded a department medal this year by the Mayor of the City of New york for a heroic rescue in Brooklyn.”
“Retired from the Telephone Company in 1966 and started a consulting firm.”
“Neighborhoods like ours are indeed unique and the history we share is some thing to truly be treasured.”
“I also serve as a consultant to the California Air Resources Board regarding California air quality policy.”
“It has been a wonderful 50 years since we accepted our diplomas from beloved Msgr. Pfeifer however I will never forget ‘jump down turn around pick a bale of cotton’ in Sr. Mary Hope’s class.”
“I took an early retirement offer in 1994 from New York Telephone/NYNEX/Verizon … and went into private consulting.”
“(name withheld) joined the army and was one of many of the class of 1961 who served in Vietnam. He was the only one who did not return home…he was awarded a Purple Heart…”
“Saint Pancras – we were all baby boomers with devoted families, and dedicated Dominican Sisters and lay people to shape our eager minds….”
“I was at the World Trade Center in February 1993 when the terrorist bomb exploded in the sub-basement. It took almost two hours to walk down the stairs from the 55th floor.”
“The tragedy of 9/11/01 was another difficult time in my life, having during my almost 28 year career, personally known/worked with almost all the Port Authority civilian staff members and Police Officers who lost their lives that day.”
“I was drafted into the US Army on May 13th 1968, two days before (name withheld) was killed in action.”
“Our children will never experience the level of control they (the nuns) had in the classroom. My half of the class had 64 students, today they think 34 is overcrowded.”
“The Lord was taking care of me since I spent 18 months in Heidelberg Germany.”
“I am truly grateful for my Catholic School days at St. Pancras. We really learned values and excellence and learned how to sacrifice.”
“For those of us who started in the first grade who could forget growing up in alphabetical order.”
“Was named Monsignor in 1966 when I was Dean of the Lafayette Region of the Diocese….”
“This was a time when families stayed in a location for a long time; we all knew each other. It was wonderful to grow up with friends from Kindergarten to the 8th grade.”
Not only were they a marvelous group of classmates but they went on to be marvelous adults as well!
But enough about that, how was our reunion? We met in front of the school building, a bunch of 63 and 64 year old men and women and a few ‘older’ nuns who shared our joy and our reunion. It’s funny but everyone was recognizable even after all this time. Their smile or their eyes gave them away! We began with a tour of the school building. Remember, many of us had not been inside of that building for 50 years. As we entered the auditorium I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Okay everyone, on your knees with your hands over your heads and stay away from the windows!” That was the command we were given when we had practice air raid drills in that very same auditorium in the 1950s. As we left the auditorium to continue through the building, again I was heard to say, “Line up two by two in size order and be sure to hold your partner’s hand.” Everyone laughed with a warmth in their hearts for the 8 years we did just that, over and over. We proceeded through the old school building which has since been remodeled and is much safer than it was when we were there. We didn’t know back then that the nuns were afraid for our lives in that rickety building. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief when the fire department closed it as unsafe, except for us, we didn’t want to leave that building. We crowded into the new school until room could be found to accommodate the 4th, 5th and 6th graders that were just moved back there.
As we entered the new building we were immediately confronted with the principal’s office. Definitely an intimidating place in our youth. I pointed out a seat I often occupied and recalled crying, “Please don’t call my mother, she’s going to kill me.” In our day just the threat of punishment was enough to send shivers down our spine. There was even a spanking machine! Little did we know it was actually a safe and never did we realize no one was ever really sent inside the spanking machine, but the threat of the spanking machine was enough to straighten out even the toughest among us. We all laughed fondly at the memory of those days; the strictness of the principal and the kindness of the principal’s secretaries who always tried to sternly console us as we awaited our fates.
After touring the building we stood outside for a short time waiting to attend Mass. While we waited we recalled other memories and even sang a song we had sung on the day of our Confirmation day in 5th grade, having practiced for weeks on end;
“An army of youth fighting the standards of truth,
We’re fighting for Christ the Lord.
Heads lifted high
Catholic action our cry
And the Cross our only sword….”
Soon we walked across the street to Church and waited to process into Mass. It was just like the old days. We walked into church as a group and sat in the first few pews on either side. The priest celebrating this Mass was one of our classmates who announced to the congregation that we were the graduating class of 1961 and were here celebrating our 50th reunion with this Mass. I’m not sure how the congregation felt about that announcement but it brought tears to our eyes as we recalled thousands of Masses and Novenas attended in that church in a group, just as we were now.
After Mass we walked around the corner, everything is so close in Queens, to the American Legion Hall where our actual reunion took place. Now we could pick up where we left off 50 years ago. All around the room memories seemed to come to life. Every sentence began with, “remember when.” We remembered running up on the roof to watch the big fire and then being sternly reprimanded for being on the roof. Can you imagine groups of kids running and standing on the roof of a school building today? We remembered stern nuns who looked even meaner than we thought they were. We remembered buying french fries in paper cups at the fish store – best french fries ever and only ten cents to boot. Of course no one could forget the pretzel lady who evidently didn’t have a name or the crossing guards who looked after us so lovingly. Everyone remembered Sr. Maria Rosarita, a lovely nun from Puerto Rico. The only problem with Sr. Maria Rosarita was she was our third grade teacher and was here to learn to speak English. We had never met anyone from Puerto Rico before and her accent was quite a challenge to a bunch of third graders.
There were moments of sadness too as we recalled classmates who had passed away over the years. One in Viet Nam, one from aides, one from cancer, and one from a drive by shooting. The fate of the others was unknown. We remembered our fallen classmates fondly and their antics as well.
We caught up with each other. Who was married and had how many children. Who was retired and who was still working. Who lived near and who had moved how far. The four hour reunion was not long enough. Each memory brought up another by association. We were a unique bunch of kids and now we were a unique bunch of adults. The evening ended with everyone promising to return in five years for the next reunion. I end with a prayer:
God bless my classmates, their families and their friends.
God bless all who read this and their families and their friends.