It is Friday and once again time for bloggers from the Loose Bloggers Consortium to write on a specified subject. This week it is CHILDHOOD. The LBC writers are listed on the right hand side of my blog under Writers Consortium. As to my post, I will concentrate on my late childhood; my high school years spent at Holy Angels Academy from 1950 to 1954.
As I sit here with my laptop and a small dog on each side of me, memories of The Academy of the Holy Angels come rushing back. I can smell the wax of the floors, I can see the soft institutional green of the hallways, and I can feel the warmth of the sunlight on the well-polished banisters. I hear the laughter, the lightness of voices in of students on their way to class, and air heavy with ideas, dreams, and anticipation. I smile when I remember the wooden chair placed on top of the water fountain as a reminder not to drink water before early morning mass and my many attempts to complete nine first Fridays. Why mass and holy communion nine Fridays in a row was so important escapes me now.
Not all was rosy in my high school years. I was not the student my parents would have liked me to be. I was much too busy with friendships, dances, and the boys from St. Thomas Academy. I worked hard at making C grades and God forbid standing out academically. My papers were often sloppy and seldom handed in on time. The nuns would sigh, roll their eyes heavenward and tell my parents, “She has so much potential. She just won’t apply herself.”
It was at Holy Angels that my personality was most developed. Being their honed my sense of humor, established me as a class clown, and made the nuns pray for patience. As hard as I tried, life in a Catholic girl school handed me the circumstances to make others laugh and I could not resist taking advantage. I remember the morning that I was late leaving for school and barely made it to morning mass. Rushing to get dressed, I hooked only one of the two hooks on my garter belt, slipped into tan nylons and finished dressing in about three minutes and made it to school just before communion time. I slipped into a row with my class and waited my turn to go to the altar and receive the Blessed Sacrament. As I knelt waiting for the priest to bring the host to me, I heard the dreaded sound of the hook in the garter belt giving away. I received the wafer and as I turned to leave the communion rail the garter belt, headed south and the nylons crumpled over my happy hikers (brown school oxfords) Three hundred girls and a handful of nuns watched me as I reached down scooped up the garter belt and nylons, tucked them under the skirt of my uniform and crab-crawl out through the chapel door. This incident could have caused me great embarrassment, but instead it taught me that I could make 300 girls laugh and a bevy of nuns unhappy.
Thus began my career as class clown at Holy Angels. The newly formed school band and my trumpet played a close second to the garter belt laugh-a-thon. It would be a tribute to say I was less than accomplished. Truth being I had no talent, no initiative and no rhythm. What kept me going was that the entire band was made up of struggling musicians, some worse than me. We were a brave group that struggled on undaunted by our lack of talent. We earnestly practiced and were rewarded with an opportunity to perform at a school assembly. Our first three numbers went quite well and bolstered by applause, we attempted a Sousa March for our final number. About midway through, I lost my place in the music, but found it shortly and well, the show must go on. I continued playing until I realized everyone else had finished and I still had four notes. What to do! What to do! Time seemed to stand still as I deliberated the dilemma of four extra notes. I played them and they were the worst four notes every played as a solo on a trumpet. The applause was great and the laughter raucous. For weeks, I was infamous among my followers, and soon forgiven by fellow band members.
Pranks are always remembered and are certainly the spice of life. Especially, the ones that backfire. I remember the nuns specifically stating there would be no soft drinks during our annual retreat. This was the proverbial red flag for me. I cleverly smuggled in the contraband Pepsi by filling used suntan lotion bottles, The smell of tanning oil still brings back the memory of warm plastic, the lingering flavor of Coppertone, and Pepsi that had truly lost its fizzle. That drink was so bad that the nuns could not have come up with a better punishment for bringing in a soda pop during a religious time of prayer and meditation, than forcing me to drink it all.
I mentioned that I was not good at handing in assignments on time, but somewhere along the way, I learned creative excuses. One that I was particularly proud of was over a paper I had put off writing for Sister Patricia. Now Sister Patricia was not young and showing signs of forgetfulness. When she asked me to stay after class to discuss my late assignment, I smiled and gave her the most cockamamie story about handing it to her earlier in the week. I with the most convincing voice, said, “But Sister, I handed it to you when you were standing right over there by the radiator. I remember clearly that you took it immediately to your desk.” Poor sweet woman, she searched and searched, all the time muttering about her forgetfulness. In my last few years of teaching as my own forgetfulness began to set in, this blatant lie came back to haunt me when I misplaced a paper or two.
In retrospect, I realize the important life lessons did not always come from the classroom. I, who was taught to respect authority, learned to question it and I discovered clever and sometimes devious ways to circumvent what I considered unfair use of authority. My most progressive ideas for Civil Rights were brought to light at Holy Angels, not necessarily in class, but from a visiting nun that I met in a hallway. She told me that we would not have total equality until we mixed blood and became one race. A terribly progressive idea for 1954, but one that I have clung to and which I believe may well be the answer. Funny, how a chance meeting and a few words influenced my thinking and sparked my passion for Human Rights issues and how questioning authority would become such a vital part of my involvement in those rights.
There is no doubt that my time at Holy Angels molded me into the person I am today. Looking back at those high school years, I realize that my life long hobby of photography began in the darkroom at Holy Angels. My love of writing was sparked by the same Sister Patricia for whom I was such a bother. It is true, I never held a leadership position while attending there. However, I was surrounded by young women with high ideals and leadership ability, and I believe that through some magical osmosis, I found and used their example to develop my own skills and strategies when needed as I made my way through life.
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