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Grade School Memories

After reading Ron Kitson's memories about his school days I began to think about mine.

We too walked to school and came home for lunch. We didn't live in the country but on East 32nd street in downtown Cleveland. We walked a total of about 5 miles back and forth to St. Columbkilles school.

No one was allowed to stay for lunch. We had no snow days. The only days we had off were when the broiler broke down and the school got too cold. Many days we just kept our coats on in class.

Ours was an old wooden building. At recess, lunch time and at the beginning and end of school one of the eighth graders would go outside to the back of the building and shake the cowbell at the two class room doors.

Occasionally they did not do it hard enough and class kept going. Everyone was intent in their lesson and no one wore a watch. There was a clock on the hall wall but until they heard the children outside, class went on.

But I am getting ahead of myself. When I was in kindergarten and first grade I went to the public school that was down the street. It was about 6 houses from ours on the other side of the street. They had crossing guards in front of the school, but my overprotective father fought the school and insisted that I be crossed in front of our house by my mother.

He, of course, won. Just as he did when he went to the Bishop and told him I couldn't go to Catholic school in first grade because I was too young and school was too far and not a safe walk because there were too many streets.

I remember one day my mother standing on the porch talking to the next-door neighbor and motioning me to cross. I was almost killed - a car had to go up on the lawn to miss me! (I doubt she ever told my father).

I never understood why we had beautiful handkerchiefs pinned to our little dresses. They certainly couldn't be used if we had to sneeze or cough. Every little girl had one on her dress. As we got a little older and had puffed sleeves we'd tuck them in the sleeve under our arm. Then at least we could get to them.

Back to my days in Catholic grade school with our sawdust floors. When we got new sawdust we were encouraged to slide up and down the aisle to polish the floor. We had ink wells (dear God, am I dating myself?!); we all had beautiful penmanship with all those "push me/pull me's".

The school collected tax stamps and on Friday afternoon we'd count stamps for about a half hour before the weekend. We loved that because it meant no studies.

We also sold candy to make money for the school. It was an honor and only very good seventh and eighth graders got to sell. The day the candy came in we were all so excited.

All the boxes had punch cards. The candy was a penny and if you got the special numbers you'd get five, ten or as many as twenty pieces. We would never tell if the twenty tabs were gone because they would buy from someone else (I guess all those people having trouble with their chads never went to Catholic grade school).

There was always a little candy left for the seller. Problem was I'd eat the candy (more than they left) and run out. For someone shy like me, it gave us something to do at recess and before the bell rang. Some kids would ask you to trust them when they forgot their pennies. Trusting was easy to do, collecting was hard.

Once when we were in the fourth grade on the way back from lunch a car pulled over the curb. There were 2 men and a woman in the car. They offered us candy. There were about 4 or 5 of us. We all ran like crazy.

For several days, as you can expect, my father had people watch us back and forth each trip. After that the school had the "big eighth grade" boys walk with us for about a month.

I often wonder if they were just nice people. When I see eighth grade boys now, they don't seem so big and strong.

We held the nuns and the lay teachers in highest respect and awe. I particularly remember one lay teacher whose boyfriend was in the service. She had eyes in the back of her head. Really she did! If she was writing on the black board and someone was goofing around behind her back she'd toss her piece of chalk over her shoulder and hit the right person.

We were such jerks, come to think of it. We considered it an honor to be able to stay after school to help the teacher and clean the boards and go outside and beat the erasers. Teacher's pets!

When we chewed gum in class (I often did) we had to put our gum on the tip of our nose. We would get our knuckles hit with a ruler for some offenses. It sounds terrible but it wasn't really. I can't remember why but it was probably for talking. We were always closing our mouths turning the fake key and throwing it away.

We had two grades in one room. It worked well. Our classrooms would have 30 or 40 kids in one room. When I graduated from 8th grade I think there were about 12 in our class, but there were a lot of 7th graders in with us.

When I was in the eighth grade we had to write an essay. The girl whose essay was the best got to crown Mary at the May crowning in church before the whole parish. It was a big deal. I came in second but the long gown fit me better (they borrowed it from one of the nun's sisters) so I got to crown Mary. Wonder what the rights groups would say about that today? I felt bad.

I have told you about our St.Patricks Day celebration and all the preparation that went into that.

We, in the upper grades had a retreat once a year for three days. We did extra praying and only talked when necessary. It was fun. We pretended to be nuns, walked taller and gave off the air of saintliness (at least for the first day).

So many memories, and there you are dozing off. I will have to write another column.

One would wonder when we learned our lessons, but don't be fooled. We studied hard and many of the leaders in our community came from our ranks.

Yes, those were the days my friend……

What are your grade school memories?

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