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A blast from the past

Posted Tuesday, August 23, 2011, at 1:33 PM

There's nothing like going home...especially to meet friends after the passing of way too much time.

In Minnie's youth, there were three of us who were glued at the hip, it seemed. Minnie and her friends matured in age, (but never in spirit) agreeing years ago that when they reached a certain milestone in years, six decades to be exact, they would meet again on the turf they once called home. Never did any of the trio believe that day would actually become a reality. When one is 35, it hardly seems possible that one will one day actually reach 60. Preposterous!

But the three days came in 2011, and as promised, we gathered near our old homeplace to the north for an extended weekend of frivolity. Thousands of miles were traveled through air and on paths northward to reunite.

There were, if possible, as many new memories made during that recent weekend, as there were those to recall. It had been over 35 years since we were all together and over 25 since two of us had even seen each other.

In the span of time that seemingly flew by, husbands were divorced, children were raised and grandchildren appeared. And yet, when we joined forces once again, it was like 1963 when we were sewing our bell-bottom pants, our madres plaid shorts and purchasing Evening in Paris to dot on for a special occasion (like a drive to Wrigley Field to see The Beatles LIVE).

One of the first stops on our Mission of Memories was at our old Catholic elementary school, where children attended kindergarten through eighth grade. Families, it seemed, averaged at least 12 kids each, and there was always a Margaret, a Timothy, and a Mary Catherine in the bunch. (Catholics, you may or may not know, were only allowed to name their children after a saint or the derivative of a saint.)

It was a Saturday, and we expected to see no one. To our surprise, though, a stooped priest exited the rectory and greeted us. When we told him of our mission, he volunteered a peek inside the old church, recently restored to its original grandeur. Inside, the parish's General Manager (Churches need general managers?...I always thought that was God) in a most kind gesture, offered us a much quicker paced (the priest was 93) tour not only of the church, but of the entire school. The three "mature" alma maters welcomed the opportunity, following the GM (who was not God) for a more complete tour of the church than we ever had as attendees. The long white gowns of the altar boys (and now girls) hung on original big iron hooks awaiting the next Mass in closets that smelled of Murphy's oil and cedar.

We viewed the old refurbished statues to which we used to pray...wish I had a nickel for every Hail Mary that had been recited during Rosary recitations in that church!

The highlight of the tour then came with a tour of the old classrooms...I could almost hear the slap of Sister Alphonse's ruler across my knuckles and the sound of Sister Cornelius' portable keyboard she'd push from classroom to classroom for Music Class, which consisted of raising our voices to The Erie Canal and Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Those days, if you were offending, you suffered the crack of a ruler or a nun's open hand, upon the offending part of your body. If you were making too much noise walking in the hall, your feet got cracked. If you were talking out of turn, you could pretty much count on a bloody lip in your immediate future. There was never a question as to whether or not you deserved the cracks...rather, it was just accepted. The nuns were just a hop, skip, and a jump from God himself.

...and why was it every nun wore glasses?...was that a prerequisite to the sisterhood? You had to have poor eyesight? Food for thought.

And as we viewed the rooms adorned with popes, saints and John F. Kennedy depicted on the walls, we recalled the days when, as we sat in perfectly pleated plaid royal blue skirts with blue vests, Peter Pan collared blouses held at the neck with coordinating blue continental ties, we received instruction by the Sisters of St. Francis (or the "Franciscans" for we insiders).

We carried lunch in a brown paper bag. It consisted of either peanut butter and jelly or an egg salad sandwich. The lunch bags would sit on the window sill, sometimes in the sun, for four hours before eating. What kept us from death by ptomaine poisoning, I do not know. There was no lunch program, unless one counts Hot Dog Day on the first Thursday of each month. That preceded, of course, First Friday, which was the time set aside to make your sin list for the confessional before First Friday Mass. We'd confess, be blessed, and do the penance, only to return the next First Friday and do it all over again. Same old sins, usually the same penance -- depended upon if you got Fr. Sloan or Monsignor Cloos as to how severe the penance would be. With the penance said, (usually consisted of three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys), we exited the pew with a genuflect, feeling pure and downright saintly, confident in the knowledge that if we got hit by a garbage truck in the next few hours, we'd be on a straight path to heaven's gates, without having to endure Purgatory or Limbo. (Unlike the poor Pagan babies who might meet their demise prior to baptism and be forced into an eternity of Limbo).

In the auditorium, which was found to be very much how it appeared in the early 1960s, we used to gather to put on plays for St. Patrick's Day and also to watch vocational films that portrayed a life in the convent to be one of fun and folly. At about eight years of age I vowed to enter the convent as soon as they'd have me. I was pretty good in the kitchen, and it was my vocation to become the "cook nun." I wold forever frolic with the others, sing in perfect harmony and bake bread. It would be a good life. I apparently got distracted along life's way and never, much to the dismay of my very Catholic mother, never donned the white cardboard forehead cover, veil and rosary beads.

In upper elementary grades, we used to also visit the auditorium for health films. The girls would go one day and learn of bodily functions and of all things good and evil to expect as one experiences the Joys of Puberty. Such expectations were not discussed at home, as I recall, and so the only way I had in the way of warning was these very staged short films and friends like the two with whom I revisited my childhood days at St. John the Baptist.

We were SO Catholic, as I recall of my early days, that there were only two varieties of beings...Catholic or Public. Public, in my elementary mind, took in any denomination that was not Catholic. And that would explain why I nearly wet my pants at seven years old when in a downtown department store there were only "Public" Restrooms...where in the heck was a good Catholic restroom when you needed one?

Suffice it to say the recent walk through the past served the three us well. We walked some of the old walks that we used to make in our fashionable perts and culottes with half a can of White Rain on our "flipped" hairdos. We talked...we ate...we drank...we laughed...we cried....we reunited. When we headed home, we each said a prayer to St. Christopher (the patron saint of travelers, in case you didn't know...and it worked. We arrived home safely. Life is good.

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Oh, Minnie! You have no idea how GOOD it is to read your wonderful words of wisdom again! It has been at least one--possibly two-- cold, gray years since we shared the homespun humor of your blogs!

I love the bit about the "public" bathrooms!

Though I never had the privilege of going to a Catholic school, all three of my children have married Catholics, and I have laughed hysterically at their stories--particularly the ones about the swift punishments handed out for transgressions!

As a "public" school teacher, I have often envied the nuns' ability to twist ears and whack fingers!

Thank you for sharing this nostalgic look back at your childhood!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 9:04 PM

Dear Minnie,

My have times changed! Can't believe you were escorted into the 'alter boys sanctuary'...off limits to the female gender for sure! Having attended the same educational institution, I can vouch for everything you so candidly (and cleverly) recounted. Gosh, I spent over 50 years trying to forget that period of my life....but you certainly made me laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all!


Public Jusen

-- Posted by mountainmamma on Tue, Aug 23, 2011, at 9:33 PM

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