It was rather scary to be schooled by nuns. Luckily I had a very nice first grade teacher, Sister Andrew Cecilia. She was nice to us little kids. I don't remember being abused at all by her. Considering there were about 75 kids in the classroom, that is a monumental feat (sort of).
I remember there were about six rows with 12 kids in each row--boys always in the front. We stretched from the front of the room to the way back by the cloak closet with only enough room for a little body in between all the desks. We had to watch that we didn't bump our heads when we bent down to get books out from under our seats.
For some reason, I remember the Habecker twins, Angela and RoseMarie, sitting in the last row in the last two seats. I always thought they looked alike, but they were decidedly fraternal. But who knew about fraternal twins in those days? They dressed alike--in a navy blue uniform--and wore their hair the same--in a ponytail.
On the first day of school, my best friend, Mona Trace (pronounced like Monna), and I sat next to each other in the last seats of probably the third and fourth rows. Sister pronounced her name as Mona instead of Monna, and I quickly stood up to correct and enlighten her. Likewise, Mona stood up to inform Sister of how my last name was pronounced--Tobelmann--a mouthful.
First grade had many mishaps for me. I broke my right arm in October walking my dog on a gravely side street (or maybe he was walking me?). I wasn't allowed to learn how to print with my left hand, so I spent the next six weeks playing with little cardboard letters and numbers, making up words and doing arithmetic problems. (It wasn't called Math until about sixth grade.) So, I never really learned how to print. I printed in all capital letters. I never really used lower case letters until I learned calligraphy.
Another mishap I remember is breaking my thermos bottle in my lunch kettle. I dropped my lunch kettle and, sure enough, when I took out the thermos, I shook it and you could hear the glass rattling around in the milk. I couldn't drink it, of course, but I thought my parents would be mad that I broke it. Money was always dear in my family. I remember getting off the bus and running across the front yard at 1417 Olive Street. My mom was stepping out the door when she saw me crying. I ran up to her and put my arms around her and just cried and cried. I can't imagine what she was thinking was wrong with me. I finally confessed that my thermos broke and got ready for a beating. But, I guess the crying was a good softening mechanism and the beating didn't come. It didn't always work, but it was worth a try from time to time.
I remember crying about something else that went amiss, but I can't recall what it was at this time. Maybe my lunch kettle broke. That's probably what it was.
I remember we sang songs before each different subject. There was an arithmetic song, a spelling song, a reading song, and so on. I wish I could remember them. We sang them as we put away our books from one subject and got out books for the next subject.
And, being a Catholic school, we prayed together. To hear little first graders pray is hilarious. We would say things reaaaaalllly slowly, so as to stay together. We pledged allegiance to the flag and we sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" -- all three verses. I still remember them to this day. We prayed before lunch and after lunch. Then we would greet our Sister, then turn and greet our classmates: "Good after-noooooooooon, Siiiiis-ter. Good after-nooooooooon, class-maaaate."
Whenever we heard a fire engine or ambulance go by, we would always bow our heads and say a prayer for the poor people who fell under that misfortune.
We had three reading groups: Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and the Holy Ghost reading groups, from highest to lowest respectively. I was always in the Blessed Mother reading group.
I had many religious questions in first grade. I questioned the concept of limbo and baptism of babies who died (my mother lost twins in 1958 and they weren't baptized because they were stillborn and I was told they were in limbo. I didn't think that was fair.). I also questioned the concept of the Trinity. Sister Andrew used a shamrock to illustrate three persons in one God. I got that. Like three people in one family. But then she added that Jesus and God and the Holy Ghost were all the same person and I didn't understand that at all. I don't think Sister Andrew liked me asking all those questions either. She told me to sit down (and leave room for my guardian angel).
I was smart. I made my guardian angel sit by the bar on the right of the desk so I could have all the room, rather than squeeze myself against the bar like the rest of the kids did. lol
I rode a bus to school throughout my whole school career--public and private. Since I went to Catholic school, our buses were borrowed from the public school so we had to wait until they were done with them. Consequently, my bus didn't come until 4:00 to take me home from school. Our school let out at 3:00, so we waited an hour for the bus. I could finish my homework or read a book or play with numbers and letters. Our school didn't start until 9:00 because, I guess, we had to wait for the buses in the morning to be finished transporting the 'public' kids. In my mind, if you went to Catholic school, you were a Catholic. If you went to public school, you were a public. It made sense to me.
When we moved to Scott Drive, right at the end of first grade, my ride to school was very different. We went over around Route 82 and there was a stream and houses that seemed to be built right on the stream. It was the Brandywine creek, a tributary of the Brandywine River, I think. That's where we picked up Rene Miller and Yolanda Thomas. They were the colored girls that went to our school. I thought where they lived was so beautiful. I loved that bus ride. It changed somewhat over the years.
By the time I was in eighth grade, some of the girls and I would walk to Joanie Fuller's house on Fifth Avenue, a block from school and we'd watch "Dark Shadows" while waiting for the bus to come at 4:00. Sometimes Karen Kardos and I would go to Gibneys on the corner of Main and Sixth Avenue, across the street from school, and buy a cherry Coke. I owed Karen so much money. She got an allowance and was always lending me money to buy a cherry Coke. I finally had to go to my dad and beg him for 30 cents to pay her back (a cup of Coke from the soda fountain was 5 cents). I didn't get an allowance. He yelled at me and told me not to go to Gibneys anymore, but Karen took me there anyway and didn't mind paying for my Coke. I told her I couldn't ask my dad for any more money, but she didn't care. She had such a good heart. She was a very generous person. I'm sure she still is.
Sometimes we would walk to the library in town on Main Street near Fourth Avenue to kill time until the bus came.
I haven't thought about these things in a very long time. I think over the years I've tried to forget about the horrible times at Catholic School. There was a lot of abuse in the 1960s. A lot of those nuns would be locked up for things they did to the pupils.
One time, in second grade, I purchased a new ruler for 25 cents from the 'stationery store.' I got back to my desk, which, for some reason, I sat in the second seat in the second row, and began to print my name on my ruler with my red pen. I drew some daisies on it, too.
I heard Sister Marion Pious come swishing and clomping up the aisle, but I just kept on writing my name and drawing daisies. Next thing I knew, this black shadow of a person was looming over me. I tentatively looked up to see her looking down at me.
She said, "Let me see your ruler." I moved it aside to show her. I thought she was going to admire my artwork.
She grabbed the ruler and said, "Hold out your hand." I thought she was going to give it back to me, but she proceeded to slap my hand with my ruler!
She said, "THAT's for destroying God's property!"
While my hand was smarting, my brain was furiously trying to grasp her meaning. "Wait a minute! I bought this ruler. Why is it God's property?" I thought. I never did understand. I was only seven years old.
Conveniently, a little while later I was diagnosed with an allergy to chalk dust. With my chin thrust out I walked up to Sister Marion Pious, mustering all the courage I had, and told her, "I can't clap the erasers for you anymore. I'm allergic to chalk dust." Then, with my nose in the air, I marched back to my desk. "That'll teach her," I thought. Pathetic, huh?
|The girls in my second grade class. I am in the second row, second from the right.|
In back is Sister Andrew Cecilia on the left, Father Kiggins in the middle, and Sister Marion Pious on the right.
Third grade with Miss Dulen (Doolen?) was uneventful. But I have some photos from the newspaper.
|I am in the second row on the far right|
Fourth grade I had Sister Laurencha (sp?) Laurentia? We called her the confirming nun. When she was mad at you, she would take both her hands and slap both sides of your face simultaneously, like clapping erasers.
That was the year of the British invasion and one day Jimmy DePedro came to school wearing a Beatles wig. (He normally sported a crew cut.) Consequently, he was confirmed by Sister Laurentia. It was sad, but we all laughed. Poor Jimmy. I heard later that he died of AIDS in prison.
That was also the year I expressly remember Pagan Babies.
Each year there was a competition between classes to raise money for the Pagan Babies (probably in Africa). You would bring your dimes and pennies and the first person in the row would go down the row collecting money from everyone. It could be by row or by boys verses girls.
In fourth grade we all wanted boys and we collectively bought four boy Pagan Babies and named them John, Paul, George and Ringo. (tee*hee). One year the girls named two girl babies Samantha and Tabitha, after "Bewitched." And I remember Samuel Forese always got to buy his own Pagan Baby. They cost $10!!! Everyone was jealous!
So many memories are being conjured up right now, but I've got to stop my writing.
That was a little bit about my elementary school experience, what was elementary school like for you, and how did you get there?