Sunday, October 5, 2008

School Days - Part 1

I attended Our Lady of Lourdes School in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. No pre-K, no Kindergarten, just bam, first grade, cold turkey. Our teacher was Miss Langin, an elderly woman who looked like she stepped out of a Tennessee Williams play. Poor Miss Langin, she died shortly after we finished first grade. All the kids were required to attend her funeral which was held at the funeral home directly across from the school. This was probably the first funeral any of us had attended. As we lined up to view the body, we tried to cover up our nervousness by joking around, as scared boys will do. She looked so peaceful, and unless my memory fails (stop snickering) she wore a lovely pale-blue dress. I left my first encounter with death feeling OK; Miss Langin looked better than she ever did in life.

Parochial school was a no-nonsense affair. If you misbehaved, it was dealt with swiftly by the lay teachers who taught us through grade 4, and the Franciscan Brothers who taught grades 5-8. I once had a Brother hang me from my belt in the "cloak room" (that's a coat room to those of you under 60) until he felt I had learned my lesson. Today, if you ask a kid to write: "I will not chew gum in class" 100 times, it's considered "corporal punishment". Geez, what wussies.

The worst beating I ever got was in 8th grade. Another boy and I were carrying a ceramic-like statue of the Blessed Mother balanced on a small table into the 8th grade girls' room (they were separated from the boys in those days). As we shuffled slowly into the room trying to keep the statue from falling, I craned my neck to get a look at a particular girl when I tripped over the bench seat of a desk that had been left folded down. The statue hung in mid-air for a split second before shattering into a thousand pieces. Sister Bonaventura (nuns taught the girls) had a look of horror on her face and was momentarily frozen like the rest of us. She recovered quickly though and proceeded too beat the hell out of me, all five feet of her. Having this happen in front of a class full of giggling girls was unbearable to a 13-year old. I can probably trace my one-time desire to enter the Franciscan Brotherhood to that humiliating moment. Luckily for the Franciscans, my "vocation" quickly evaporated.

There is lots more to tell about what school was like in those days, and so I hope you'll read the next post, "Part 2" of School Days. Pinky swear?


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