1 Nephi 1: 1, 3
...therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

^^That pretty much explains this blog.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where Did You Attend Elementary School? How Did You Travel from School to Home?

I didn't get to attend kindergarten, so I began my elementary schooling in first grade at St. Cecilia's School on Main Street (Lincoln Highway) at Sixth Avenue in Coatesville, PA.  The year was 1960.  I was six years old.
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?

12 comments:

GloryWords said...

I was the shy quiet girl playing alone on the playground or reading. Walked two miles. SLC. Delightful post Susan. When do I get to read some more of your novel? I've been in withdrawal since boot camp...

Anonymous said...

When do I hear about the 7th grade?
When Sister Francis was transferred.
What a memory you have!
Thanks, Mary Nagy

Susan Knight said...

Mary Nagy!!!! Please give me your email so we can catch up! A lot of us have been wondering where you are and what you are up to, you precious little thing you! ♥
Write back right away!!!
Love, Susan

Susan Knight said...

Oh, Sister Francis Maureen was 8th grade. Mary, can you remember our nun's name in 7th grade? I want to say Sister Mary Theresa or something like that. ♥

Anonymous said...

I remember the head nun took over teaching our class when Sister Francis left. The Mother, that's what they called her. Mother Theresa?
I want to know what the big scandel was. Why did they transfer her. It was so dramatic to us when she had to leave. I remember your mom drove us to her new school, was it in Chester? It was a very poor part of town.
And did I imagine it or did I hear that she left the convent soon after that. Sister Fransis was so cool. She left a mark on me.
I remember getting a letter in the mail, after nasa landed on the moon, she remembered I was interested in astronomy and she told me anything was possible if you wanted it bad enough.
Tell me more if you can remember.
Thanks, Mary Nagy

Susan Knight said...

Mary, please email me privately. Use the icon that looks like an envelope.
There are a few of us, especially (Valerie) Joanie Fuller (Harlan) would really like to get in contact with you.

I'll try to post more of my memories. A few of us, Linda Milanese and Joanie, have been emailing back and forth about Catholic school due to this blog. It's funny how some remember one thing and it's different from how you remember it. But that's the definition of a 'memoir.' A memoir is how 'you' remember it, not if it's exactly correct.

my email is tobel.knight@gmail.com.
What is your email?

How did you find me?

Susan Knight said...

From Linda Milanese Kerschner:

Hey, there, Catholic school friend!

How about lunch--in the classroom during first and second grade because there wasn't room in the all-purpose room (the basement). I never got to go out to recess because I never finished my sandwich.

I remember how we were put in order--it was from smartest to slowest based on our daily quizzes.

Thanks for remembering Miss Doolan's name--I knew we had a lay teacher in third grade but couldn't remember her name.

I don't remember ANY singing in Catholic school--and I remember one art lesson--we drew candles for Christmas, but all the lines had to be exactly the right length, and all the finished products were supposed to look alike.

Do you remember the first day of first grade? Michael Stafford wouldn't stand for Mother Superior, and she shook him until his teeth rattled. I didn't want to go back to school again, ever!

Do you ever hear from Karen Kardos? I tried to find her on Facebook, but without any luck. She and her mother were both very kind. She made it possible for us to have a Girl Scout troop.

By the way, do you have a niece in fifth grade at Caln Elementary? My godson/nephew showed me his class picture yesterday and I saw a Tobelmann, spelled exactly the way you spell your name. His mother told me that her mother was a nurse for my father when he was in the hospital right before he died.

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!

Susan said...

Hi, Linda,

Thanks for getting back to me!

I didn't realize we HAD to eat lunch in class. I remember doing it, but I don't know what I thought about why we did it. Although, I do remember going to the 'cafeteria' in the basement, too. That's where I broke my thermos.
I remember later being put from smartest to slowest. I didn't know they did that in first grade. I just remember the reading groups. I remember one time, in 6th grade (I still can't remember that nun's name--so traumatized by her) we were going to be seated according to a math test and, I couldn't believe it, but I got 100% on the test! I thought, YAY! I'm going to be first row, first chair!! But I forgot to get my test signed by a parent... I ended up last row last chair. I made so many friends there that I deliberately missed questions on tests so I could stay there. (not the best strategy, I guess---for the teacher, I mean--but I had a lot of friends at recess).
I remember singing in Catholic school. In 4th grade we had a little Casio (don't know what they were called then)--electric piano, tiny, and since I knew how to play the piano, Sr. Laurentia had me play to accompany the singing. I loved the songs we sang then--something about rain comes to mind...I think I still have a copy of it somewhere. Joanie probably remembers. She has a memory like a whip!
And I do remember singing subject songs in first and second grades.
I remember art classes (such as they were) because Friday afternoon was my only favorite time of the week. I also remember once making a decoupage from a Christmas card on wood and giving it to my mom for Christmas. 5th grade maybe? And I LOVED drawing all the maps in geography class with all the rivers and cities and the ocean around the land.
Hey, remember we had to memorize poems? Listen my children and you shall hear....
I don't remember that incident with Michael Stafford, bless his heart, but I remember another one. Poor thing. Today he would be diagnosed with ADHD. Back then he was just considered a trouble maker. I remember him always smiling, so not a bad kid, just couldn't sit in his seat (I had one like that). The Mother Superior took him into the second grade (and those students were like adults compared to us little first graders) and TIED HIM TO A CHAIR in front of all the second graders. Then she made us, by aisle, march into the second grade so we could see him sitting there in second grade. I remember she egged us on to laugh at him. How humiliating!!!! That poor kid! What ever happened to him anyway?
I don't hear from Karen, but maybe Nancy does. The last time I saw her was the 20th reunion. She had a bird refuge or a sick animal refuge in, Lancaster County???, and she didn't make much money from it. Nancy, do you know?
Yes, I loved Mrs. Kardos as our Girl Scout leader. Was it she and Mrs. Sullivan together, because I remember her as our leader, too? I know my mom was asst. leader with Mrs. Kardos at one time. I was very close to Karen in 2nd and 5th grades, but no other grade that I remember.
BTW, I do have a niece at Caln. Sarah Tobelmann, my brother John's daughter (he's not married to her mother, but is married to another now and has twin girls, too). Sarah is adorable. I love her. Her mother is a caregiver/aid but not a nurse with some Home Health organization, so it's possible she did take care of your dad. She's a very nice woman. I hope she did a good job. Her name is Susan, too.
My other siblings live in Downingtown (or Florida), so none other in C'ville S.D.
I hope we hear from Nancy and Joanie!
I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. Now it's back to work....
~Susan

P.S. wasn't Nancy Suchak so darn cute in all those photos? I wonder what she's doing now.

Susan said...

Hi Susan.
I loved Catholic School! I remember being afraid when my sister Deb started 1st grade though.I cried becauee I heard her teacher was mean. Don't remember who that was though.
I think our 6th grade nun was Sister Marita Rose. Is that right? I know we had Mother Mary Donald after Sr. Francis left, then a bunch of substitutes. My Aunt Sis used to come in once in a while (Betty March) and remember Mrs. Bowie. I'll see if Mona remembers anything. But she really doesn't like to talk much about the past.
The only teacher I ever got in trouble with was Miss McGrogan. 5th grade. I hated that woman. Do you remember her? I remember I had to stay after school one time for some reason.
I don't remember eating in the classroom though. But I used to walk home for lunch most days anyway and so I only remember eating downstairs in the cafeteria once in a while.
My Mom started working there around 1976 as the school secretary and they put her office down at the bottom of the steps. Then the "music room" became kindergarten. I'd love to go in there now and see how it looks.
I also don't remember being seated according to test scores but I guess we were. Guess that stuff didn't matter to me so I didn't pay attention. Guess that's how you and I got to be friends. You got sent to the back with the dummies! I remember Robert Derr always had the first seat and got to ring the bell. Wonder where he is? Does anyone know where Mary Nagy is? I don't do facebook so I can't look for her and don't know who might know her around here either.
Susan, remember when we were cheerleaders? Was that 8th grade? All of us were except Debbie Riley and Jean Leofsky. Don't know why. Remember we wore those itchy navy and gold sweaters? Wonder if anyone has any pictures of us in our cheerleader uniforms? That would be a hoot to see.
I'll try to think of some other things.
Joan

1st grade Sr. Andrew Cecilia
2nd grade Sr. Pius?
3rd Grade Ms. Dullin
4th grade Sr. Laurentia
5th grade Judy McGrogan
6th grade Sr. Marita Rose
7th grade ?
8th grade Sr. Francis Maureen, then subs

Susan said...

Oh, I remember the poems! I still have many of them running through my head when I'm bored standing in line or waiting for appointments. My students are always amazed when I launch into a lengthy recitation. I give extra credit to students who memorize Shakespearean sonnets, just to keep the habit of memorization alive.
It's funny how our memories function and what we do remember. I thought the reading groups were Blessed Mother, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, but Holy Ghost makes more sense. Seriously, what use does a spirit have for reading? I was busy reading when sister gave us the pre-test, didn't know my place, and was put in the lowest group (horrors!). The next day, I snuck into the Blessed Mother group, and she never caught me. I think I confessed it as a sin in my first confession. I know I felt guilty for years.
Yes, Nancy Suchak is adorable. She always had such a great smile. I remember birthday parties at her house.
I think Mrs. Sullivan was in charge of the entire scouting program in Coatesville, so she would come to some meetings, but Mrs. Kardos was the leader for our age group. Didn't Mrs. Sullivan have a son in our class who died in second or third grade? I was always amazed that she could work so closely with children after losing one of her own. It seems like there were lots of moms who persevered through adversity, and without all the support systems we have in place today.
It's hard to believe that we started first grade over 50 years ago, and I've been involved in school in some way ever since. I still love teaching, but the environment toward teachers is terribly hostile here. Our district is one of the wealthiest in the state, and our student scores in National Merit tests are at the top of the state, and we have consistently been listed in the top 100 schools in the country based on AP scores (and I teach AP Language & Composition), yet we are getting beaten up by our superintendent and school board. I started to type in some of the stories, but they are too sad and too boring for anyone outside my little world. I'd love to teach for another 10 years, but I'll be lucky if I survive the next two years.
I'm home now because today is Parent Conference Day. We start at 1 and go to 8:45. I have 139 students (90 in Advanced Placement) and 18 slots for meetings. These meetings are on a first call basis, so the parents with the fastest phones win this lottery. Each of these parents has a student who has received/earned an A, so they mainly want to hear how wonderful their children are. I understand this need, and I'm happy to meet with them. English teachers and math teachers usually have every slot filled. My husband teaches art. He has 4 or 5 parents coming in tonight, so he has a day where he can catch up on planning and grading. Over half the teachers have schedules like my husband's. I, on the other hand, will be holding meetings all day, getting up at 5 every morning the rest of the week, and calling back all the parents who wanted to talk but didn't have time. When do I have time to make those calls? Before or after school. And teachers are the bad guys in today's faltering economy, not the bankers who work in banks that are "too big to fail," not the CEO's who are collecting huge bonuses (down to an average of $96,000 this year, I read yesterday), not the politicians who are trying to dismantle public schools, the foundation of democracy.
Anyway, I'm excited that you are writing about our days at St. Cecilia's, back in a time when the world seemed simpler, when we ducked under desks to prepare for a nuclear holocaust!
Take care,
Linda (Milanese) Kerschner

Susan said...

I see Mrs. Sullivan at church on Sunday's. She still goes to St. Cecilia's and she really still looks the same. I see Kitty Reardon there too.
Val

Susan said...

Joanie,
Linda is Linda Milanese. We found each other on FaceBook. AND, she just published a children's book. Linda, please enlighten us about it. I have yet to get a copy.
I heard they just celebrated Mrs. Sullivan's birthday. How old was she? 80 or 90?
You have the teachers a little messed up.
Sister Francis was our 8th grade teacher.
We never had Sister Donald. She taught 6th grade when we were in 7th grade (we called her Sister Duck--Donald Duck?). Mother Mary Honora was the supt. (Mother Superior?) and she taught us for awhile until we had Mrs. Bowie and other subs in 8th grade.
I forget our 7th grade nun's name, but I remember she had this saying to knock us down a notch:
"I love me, I love me, I'm wild about myself. I give myself a hug and I give myself a kiss."
I didn't look in a mirror for years. I was so afraid of being vain. sad, but true...
Funny, I liked Miss McGrogan. I remember one time Debbie Mariano, Nancy Pollock and I visited her in her apt. in West Chester. I believe she served us tea. I remember the boys made fun of her because she had big hips. Sometimes she would walk down the aisles and actually hit the desks and moved them.
Joanie, what makes you think you were in the last rows? I don't remember you there. But I'm certainly not going to name names of who was.
Yeah, whatever happened to Robert Derr? I had a crush on him in first grade. He was always so good and everyone respected him because he had so much integrity. A quiet leader. A shame there were so many unlike him who were rowdy and troublemakers, esp. in 7th and 8th grades.
Linda and Nancy left us behind and went to public school, so they don't know what it was like when we went from a class of like 75 in 6th grade to a class of 21 in 7th grade.
We had our seats changed every Friday according to an arbitrary test--sometimes Math, sometimes Spelling, etc. What were they thinking?
Linda, I loved your comment about confession and I laughed out loud! Confession was useful to me because it helped me with my times tables. "Let's see...I fought with my brothers every day about 5 times a day and it's been two weeks since my last confession, so that's five times seven and...."
And I was always given the penance of "Say one Our Father, two Hail Marys and make a good Act of Contrition." Every time!
Joanie, please say hello to Mrs. Sullivan for me and tell her how highly I thought of her. And please say hi to Kitty for me!
Linda, yes, John Sullivan died of cancer when we were in first grade. He was their only boy. I remember going to his funeral Mass. The whole class was there and I remember sitting in the back, contrary to sitting in the front like we did for 9:00 Mass on Sundays. But you went to Holy Rosary, didn't you, so you didn't go to St. Cecilia's 9:00 children's Mass? I guess they did that so parents would come while they were bringing their kids. I remember Father Kiggins coming to classes on Mondays and asking those who didn't go to 9:00 Mass to stand up and he would interrogate them about why they didn't come to church. I remember one Sunday I wanted to go to 7:30 Mass with my dad and I had to stand up on Monday and tell Father why I wasn't at 9:00 Mass.
Comment on my blog if your memory is jogged any more.
Your friend (AFA, remember?),
Susan