As the end of the school year approached, I began to feel like the Birdman of Alcatraz waiting for the parole board's decision on whether I could go free. Usually tests were over by mid-June, and the rest of the year was just "make-work" time for kids and teachers until that final bell rang. We had to turn in our text books. God help you if there was so much as a mark on any page. You could plead that it was there when you received the book, but you'd better have a good lawyer or else you were going down. We also had to clean up the classrooms. Can you imagine telling a parent today that little Moonbeam or Phoenix (yes, these are real names) would have to scrub desks and wash blackboards!
There was a decidedly lighter air in the classroom on those last few days before summer vacation. Even child-beating teachers would only slap you half-heartedly, as if their minds were already preoccupied with escaping the fifty little demons who made their lives miserable. Lessons per se were dispensed with since report cards were a done deal. Sometimes one of the Franciscan Brothers would tell you a little about their personal life before they entered the religious order. I found these glimpses fascinating because we never thought of them as having a personal life; we just assumed they were kidnapped from their parents at an early age and raised in Nazi camps where they learned to torment young boys.
The last day of school was the best and the worst. On the one hand, you knew that this was your last day under the gun for two whole months; on the other hand the time passed painfully slowly...today's equivalent for an adult would be like being trapped in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. You could smell the summer air coming in the windows since air-conditioning was something you only experienced at the movies. On hot days, the teacher asked a lucky student to take the long wooden pole with the hook at the end, insert the hook into the latch at the top of the tall window, and pull it down a little further. I say lucky because we were such well-indoctrinated Catholic school kids that to us, being asked to pull down the window was considered a privilege to be earned.
I know today it is common for kids to take cupcakes and ice cream to school on their birthdays or for an end-of-school party. They even have pizza parties sometimes. This kind of wild revelry was far beyond our imagining. The classroom was a place of learning, not for eating treats or other frivolities. Such activities to us would have been comparable to prisoners in solitary confinement at Leavenworth being invited to Hef's Chicago mansion for a Playmate party. They did allow candy to be sold in the classroom, only because it made money for the school. A student walked up and down the aisles with boxes of chocolate-covered jelly rolls or marshmallow twists and collected a penny or two from the kids who had any money. My friends and I never did, so we just took the candy and threatened to pound the little dweeb in the schoolyard if he ever snitched.
The feeling you got on that first day of summer vacation was unlike any you have as an adult. The closest I ever came was when I called in sick to work and lay in bed watching cartoons all day. Summer in 1950s Brooklyn was special; details in posts to follow.
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