Friday, October 2, 2015

My first six years of my Catholic education ...

Tuesday, Sept. 29 2015 -- Don't have but a minute to write, but this should be my introduction to this journal, which is basically me writing about my life to date in hopes of creating some sort of work for possible publication? Who the hell knows? I sure don't.

Catholic guilt as a young boy

I attended St. Joseph Elementary School on W. Stephen Foster Avenue, as did my older brother and sister. My next-older brother failed first grade at St. Joe; the classes at the time were huge -- 40 or more students in a room -- and the principal suggested sending him to Bardstown Elementary School where the class sizes were smaller. Bennie thrived in the city school system.

What was memorable of my elementary school years?

FIRST GRADE. Ms. Evans was our teacher, and we were so bad that one day she had a break-down in class -- a head-in-her-hands, all-out-sobbing breakdown. Classmate Steve Hart says she left and didn't return. I just remember some of the girls I disliked going up around her and trying to comfort Ms. Evans. I didn't really know what was wrong.

SECOND & THIRD GRADE. My second grade memories tend to blur with first and third grade. One year, we had to submit fecal samples. Yes, we had to fish our poop out of the toilet, put it in a container, and bring it to school. My most pungent memory was seeing a stack of poop containers in our classroom, and how it stunk like ... well, shit.

I don't think it was first grade, but may have been: Steve Hart sat across the aisle from me, and when we had crayons out, I was push them off the desk on the floor. I don't know why but Steve never told our teacher "Jimmie did it!" which I would have confessed to because I did. He ended the year with a box of broken up crayons.

We also were given some wooden sticks and geometric shapes. I don't remember what we used them for, my memory was knocking all of them off Steve Hart's desk and the sound the individual pieces made when the hit the terrazo floor.

I think it was second grade when I had Mrs. Edelen as my teacher. She was one of the kindest teachers I ever met. She was a distinct contrast to the nuns who served as principal and in about half the teaching positions. I remember doing well for Mrs. Edelen because I wanted her to be proud of me. She had two sisters who were also teachers I had while at St. Joe -- Mary Wimsett and Mrs. Rapier. Ms. Wimsett was also gentle and kind; Mrs. Rapier was a hot-headed redhead who scared the bejebbers out of most kids.

Was I a bad kid? Mischievous but nothing too terrible. In first grade, I remember pulling up Susan Redmon's uniform skirt to look at her pantied ass -- I also remember the loud scream she let loose and the fussing at I received from the teacher.

The most common emotion I felt in elementary school was fear, particularly grades 5, 7 and 8.

ST. JOE-MONICA. I was the kid of a father who worked at the post office and a homemaker mom, both of whom were alcoholics. We lived in a modest 900-square-foot home in a post-war subdivision full of WWII vets and their wives who were raising families. We weren't rich, but we lived in a good neighborhood.

My parents routinely left the car keys in the car, and left our back door unlocked all the time. It just wasn't necessary to lock anything.

During the end of my 4th Grade year, there was a big ruckus with the PTA; all I remember was that my father was  cussing up a storm about some decision he didn't like. He cussed a lot at decisions with which he disagreed, but this one affected me: For 5th Grade, I would be moved to the former St. Monica parish school building.

St. Monica was the black parish in town, and it was surrounded by projects on one side and poor housing on the other. The parish grade school had closed some years earlier due to low enrollment, and now St. Joe was busting as the seams. Two grades were moved to one of the two wings at St. Monica. St. Joe also used the school cafeteria, which was large.

And for 5th Grade, I would be going to a school on the far side of town in a very poor neighborhood. I'm not sure why my father objected so strongly, that neighborhood was as safe as ours in daylight hours. But to a kid in the 5th Grade, I was scared -- an emotion that would fill three of the next four grades.

St. Monica was ruled by the iron fist of Sr. Elizabeth Rose Clark. She was mean to the point of being sadistic at times. She had no tolerance for any kid who spoke back to her or defied her authority.

Her punishment was called "being jugged." I have yet to understand her frame of reference, but she used it a great deal. I was jugged more than once.

If you were jugged, your punishment was simple -- you copied pages from a dictionary from the time classes dismissed until 5 p.m. In those days, it didn't matter if you had a bus to catch or not, Sr. Elizabeth Rose kept you at school. And in those days, you had to be nearly dead to be able to make a phone call home, so my mother was left wondering what the hell happened to me.

For me, 5th grade was horrifying. Most of the teachers were mean and sadistic like Sr. Elizabeth Rose. That included Mr. Crowe, who would rap unsuspecting students on the head with his seemingly huge collegiate class ring. It also included Mr. Ken Stone, who was firm but less demonstrative. Others I feared included Sister Dorothy Gerlika and a couple other nuns whose name have been seared from my memory.

I saw Sr. Elizabeth Rose turn kids over in their desks, especially if you put your head down and weren't supposed to. She also rapped people on the head with a yard stick, book or whatever she had handy. I lived in complete fear of her.

Another "baddie" was Lois Johnson, who taught English if I recall correctly. She was very stern, though she had a very loving, soft side to those who followed the rules.

In short, 5th grade was hell. There were two grades at St. Monica, my 5th grade class and the 6th grade class ahead of us. It seemed to me we were exiled to Pluto; I knew nothing about that part of town, only that it was quite a long walk home.

My parents arranged for me to get a ride in the mornings with a teacher, Ms. Fogle. She lived around the corner from my parents on Kurtz Avenue. Later, I got a ride in the morning with the Clark family who lived on the corner of South Center Street and Kurtz. Johnny was in my class, and there were Clark kids a year ahead of me and every year after my class, I think.

So their father, Frank Clark, would have us all pile in his station wagon, along with a down-the-street neighbor, Johnny Cusick. It was quite a load of kids. He would drop a bunch off at St. Joe, then the rest of us went to St. Monica.

Frank Clark was Sister Elizabeth Rose's brother, and the one attribute they shared was their temper. He always had a cigar in the corner of his mouth, and he would get pissed at his kids and yell and scream at them, his face turning beet red and he would nearly chew that stogie in half. I was as scared of Frank as I was of his sister.

Now Frank gave us a lift to school, which save a LOT of time walking across town. He did not pick us up in the afternoon, and there was no bus service for us city kids. Asking 5th graders to walk across town on their own was a big deal, my parents believed. Walking from St. Monica north on South Third St. was scarey because some of the homes were rather run down. This was a black neighborhood, and the truth is I was scared for the four blocks I had to walk thru it.

My normal stop was the U.S. Post Office, which was where Daddy worked. I would walk to the post office and get there just before 4 p.m. Daddy would usually be there or on his way; I often hung out at the rear dock if I didn't see his car there and waited on him. I got to hang out at the post office once Daddy arrived, which basically meant hanging around the breakroom table until he was ready, usually an hour or so.

The post office seemed like a very sterile place -- at least the "new" post office was. It had been built about 1970 to replace the post office building on the corner of court square. The old post office became the nelson countyh library for decades.

The old post office seemed like a step back in time ... the new one was white and sterile ... it even smelled hospital like. There were dozens of cloth bins on wheels which held the mail as it was separated for shipping out.

Daddy's mail case was huge -- it had been expanded to add like 4 additional wings to it on each end. It was amazing to watch him "case" the mail ... he would pick up a piece of mail and shoot it into the right slot on the case. Many of the slots were doing double or triple duty.


Back To My School Days

St. Monica seemed like a prison to me. Because of the break ins in the area, all of the windows that opened had metal frames over them fitted with heavy wire mesh. It allowed the windows to tilt out as they needed too, but prevented anyone from getting in them.

The place was devoid of playground equipment with the exception of a set of swings and a broken down sandbox. The first moon landing had taken place the summer before, so I used the sandbox to re-enact the first steps on the moon. I would smooth the sand over the best I could, then step off the LEM to leave the first foot prints. I played alone, no one else would have appreciated that.

There was also what was left of a baseball diamond right off the driveway into the parking lot. It had a large back stop but that was about it. We liked to play over there when the would let us.

The school had two parallel wings that shared the cafeteria. The other wing was the local Head Start program. We stayed away from that end of the building.

The food at St. Monica was always good from what I remember.

In 5th grade, one of my class periods I would do speed reading, where a machine showed you lines of print uncovered by a scrolling mask and at the end you took a comprehension test. There was a nun in charge of it whose name escapes me ... .Sr. Vivian Mary?

I'm not sure what the purpose was, but it wasn't easy. It's called a tachiostic (sp) machine. The goal was to build reading comprehension. Did it work? I think so. The best part was it got me out of class for a while.

But it was a little scarey. The room was dark, the project made a sound as it operated, and it always seeemed like the nun kept pushing my limits. One of the problems you had with this system was if you lost concentration you could fall behind and lose your entire train of thought ... you would end up losing most if not all of the theme of the passage you were reading.

I found some of these machines on eBay, and located a number of people who were in grade school in the 60s and early 70s who also had the same sort of "speed reading" training.


This first entry has dragged on forever, I'll sign off and start a new one.

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