The end of the grammar school year for us came gradually and not all at once. There were tests to be taken to determine whether we moved on to the next grade. I never felt pressured taking tests in grammar school. My brain functioned pretty well then and the work came easily to me. Once this hurdle was behind us, a change came over the teachers and students alike, a sense of relief that the worst was behind us and there was only clear sailing ahead. Our teachers assigned filler work to keep us busy, and sometimes even let their guard down a bit and spoke of their personal lives. The students were fascinated by these revelations, and enjoyed them immensely. I guess we never thought of them having private lives and that they probably just slept in the coat closet waiting for us to come to school every day.
When I see how casually (and inappropriately) kids dress for school these days, it reminds me of the uncomfortable clothes we wore...white shirts and blue ties for boys, and navy blue jumpers and white blouses for girls who were consigned to the other side of our school building. As the June heat began to suffocate our classrooms, we were allowed (Lord please forgive us) to loosen, but not remove, our ties. The windows were opened with the long wooden pole used to pull them down, and the outside air carrying the promise of summer wafted in. At this point in the school year, teachers knew that mentally, kids were already done with school and eased up a bit on the gas pedal.
At lunchtime the seventh and eighth grade boys would head up Aberdeen Street to the playground to play basketball. Under the blazing sun we would remove our white shirts and ties and break into teams, one team being Shirts (keeping their undershirts on) and the other, Skins, playing bare-chested. We went at it for nearly an hour, wolfed down our lunches, and returned to class sweaty but not tired. What I wouldn't give for some of that youthful energy now. Once in a while one of the Franciscan Brothers who taught us would join the game. They always played on the Shirts side, but just seeing them remove their heavy woolen habits and strip down to their t-shirts made them somehow more human.
On the last day of school report cards were given out with instructions to have our parents sign the back and return them in September. I always got good grades in grammar school and, along with maybe two other students, was a solid candidate for the "General Excellence" medal awarded at graduation to the best overall student. Then a boy named Anthony Dana transferred to our school in seventh grade and eclipsed us all. Anthony was a tall, gangly kid who was extremely bright. He also claimed to want to enter the priesthood, and I'm sure that helped him beat all of us out for the General Excellence medal. I had to settle for the medal in English which, despite its lesser academic significance, seemed to make my parents proud.
With school behind us, that seemingly endless summer beckoned. No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks. We donned our uniforms of dungarees (what jeans were called before they changed the name and tripled the price), Keds sneakers and white t-shirts. Thus attired, we awoke each day to the promise of adventure. We left the house after a breakfast of Cheerios and milk, raced home for lunch when we thought about it, and reluctantly trudged home for dinner the third time our Moms screamed for us to "get in the house this minute." Those
Brooklyn summers were enchanted, much
the same as those remembered in his books by Mark Twain, an author who really
We will probably not perfect time travel in my lifetime, but if I could go back for a day, it would be for one of those basketball games in the park and the sheer exuberance of being that young again.
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