Friday 27 January 2012 – 0000:00 hrs CST
My Most Embarrassing and Painful Moments at Saint Joe’s School
The title and idea for this thread came from HBGF’s reply to 73 Grad in “Cuyahoga Falls Christmas Memories.”
I attended Saint Joe’s, albeit unwillingly (parents you know). Anyone who attended Saint Joe’s during the early years know the original building had eight classrooms, four each on the first and second floors. Those rooms had tongue and grove hardwood floors and a “cloakroom” in the back of each classroom.
While serving my sentence at Saint Joe’s, I had numerous moments that caused me a lot of embarrassment. I was all of 9 years of age for the first two and not seasoned enough to gracefully handle one-off moments; other events occurred that were not so much embarrassing as they were painful.Dress Code Violation
Some time during the fourth grade, I received a bright yellow T-shirt with a large cartoon picture of a wolf with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. That picture took up the whole front of the shirt; considering how skinny I was back then, it probably would not make a good handkerchief today.
I loved that shirt and decided to wear it to school one day. I received numerous positive comments on it but also a few about the shirt not being appropriate relative to St. Joe’s dress code; in those days, girls wore uniforms and boys were supposed to wear dress slacks and shirts that had long sleeves and buttons up the front. My shirt did not come close to conforming to any dress code except maybe that of a circus clown.
Once we got into class I slid down into my seat so that the Wolf was not visible to Sister Bernard. As I sat there trying to hide my shirt, Sister Bernard called on me to answer a question (don’t remember the question). While trying to answer her question, I remained seated in my low slunk position. She did not allow me to get very far with my answer when she interrupted me with an order to “Stand UP when you are called upon.”
Knowing what the outcome would be if I defied her order, I stood up to the howls of my classmates and a stern look on her face. She ordered me to never wear that shirt to class again. Needless to say, I did not; I do not remember what happened to the shirt though I sure wish I had one just like it today... if it would fit.Gas Attack
The next embarrassing moment happened in the same class and was worse than the first. I rarely if ever raised my hand when a teacher asked a question; I knew better than to put myself in a position where I might look like a fool. Remember the old saying: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” (Attributed to many, its roots originate in the Bible)
Well, one day Sister Bernard is asking questions and kids are raising their hands. As usual, I just sat there day-dreaming. All of a sudden, she asks the first question for which I positively knew the answer. I was so positive I had the correct answer I thrust my hand into the air; I continued thrusting my hand into the air in the hope that she would call on me. The thrusting caused me to bounce up and down in my seat. I was bouncing so much I was causing the desk to partially come off the floor (they were not attached directly to the floor; they were screwed to long wood slats that sat on the floor).
During one of those upward thrusts, I broke wind with such force it rattled the windows; I am sure everyone in the school heard it. As the class let out a huge roar of laughter, I immediately slunk down into my seat, never again raising my hand in class; to add insult to injury she did not even call on me.Painful Day
Now at 10 years of age, I am in to the 5th grade with Sister Irma as Guard in Charge. This incident was not so embarrassing as it was painful. I usually sat in the back of the class (out of sight, out of mind); in this instance, it was near the back of the first row from the teacher’s vantage point counting left to right. It was the row fartherest from the windows, next to the side blackboards and just in front of the cloakroom.
One fine day, unbeknownst to me, Sister Irma was in the back of the room standing directly behind me out of my sight. We were probably supposed to be reading or studying and I was probably talking or doing something she did not condone, which was normal for me. All of a sudden, something hit me on the right side of my head and ear. The force was so great it knocked me clean out of my desk and onto the floor. As I landed on the floor, I heard a voice spew an expletive: “D__You.” By this time, my head was hurting and my right ear was ringing as though a siren had been stuck into it. I looked up from the floor and there stood Sister Irma with “Fire in Her Eyes.” I got up off the floor and sat down at my desk. She said nothing more and walked to the front of the classroom. For about two weeks, I could not hear with my right ear other then the constant ringing.
I do not think I ever found out what it was that provoked her violent outburst. I am sure it was something I had done; after all, I was 10 years old and should have been acting like an adult.A Case of Arson
Before I go any further, “It Weren’t Me.”
Every once in awhile, our teachers would take us downstairs to watch a movie, sometimes it was purely entertainment and at others, it was propaganda (educational). On this occasion, it was for entertainment. After the movie started, Sister Irma left the movie room, returning about fifteen minutes later and remaining for the duration of the flick. When it was over, we retreated to our classroom on the second floor.
When we arrived back at our classroom, the room was full of smoke and there was a fire burning between the last desks and the cloakroom wall. No fire alarm was sounded; fortunately, Sister Irma was able to extinguish the fire without anyone in the school being aware of what was happening or anyone being injured.
What caused the fire you ask; when Sister Irma left the movie, she went back to the classroom and set a hot plate directly on the wood floor. She then placed a large pot on top of the hot plate, which she filled with chunks of solid paraffin (wax). She then plugged the hot plate’s electrical cord into the outlet on the front wall of the cloakroom, and then returned to the movie.
The movie was a long one, about an hour; while we were watching the movie, the wax melted then boiled over into the hot plate and onto the floor. The hot liquid wax ignited and started the wooden floor on fire.
Once the fire was out, the mess was cleaned up courtesy of Sister Irma’s inmates. Afterwards, she decided we would take turns “volunteering” to remove the charred remains of the wood floor. She managed to procure a large quantity of steel wool with which us inmates could use to wear away the char from the floor so that no one would know there had been a fire in the room.
This became an all-consuming task; all day long two or three of her inmates would be at the back of the room rubbing the char with the steel wool while she taught classes. She was considerate enough to allow us to stand up and use our feet to move the steel wool back and forth over the char. I will have to give her credit for the way she assigned kids to the buffing task: no one was spared, we all took turns volunteering, like it or not.
Eventually, after weeks of rubbing the floor with steel wool, it became self evident that we had to stop the buffing as the floor was wearing down causing a significant depression in it that was tinged with black char. I do not think the authorities were notified of the fire including the principal, Sister De Lourdes; this was a cover-up job if there ever was one. Had I been more astute and seasoned in those days I would have used my knowledge of the fire and apparent cover-up to blackmail Sister Irma into giving me better grades and excusing me from class work and homework for the duration of the school year. Great, I think of these things when it is too late to do me any good.A Pit Bull
I was very happy when 5th grade was finally over; Sister Irma was not one of my favorites. What I did not know at the time was, who and what awaited me when school would resume in the fall of 1951 as I entered sixth grade.
When school started in September 1951, I lucked out and got Sister “Pit Bull” Assumpta as my guard. She was in the “Junkyard Dog” category… MEAN. Corporal punishment was her specialty, which consisted of a three cornered wooden ruler across the knuckles.
As fate would have it, my turn with the ruler arrived. Do not remember what I did though I am sure it was a rule violation of some sort. She took me to the back of the classroom and made me hold out my right hand with the knuckles facing upward. She then took her three cornered ruler and swung it down towards my hand as hard as she could. As the ruler came close, I jerked my hand back causing her to miss me, which thankfully caused her to hit her leg. She then grabbed my hand and held it with her left hand while she swung the ruler with her right hand; again, I jerked my hand straight back only this time I pulled her hand towards me causing her to whack her own hand. After hitting her own hand three times, she gave up and sent me back to my desk. She never again tried that on me. Epilog
In June of 1954, our Saint Joe’s class graduated from 8th grade. Finally, I was paroled from prison, though unbeknownst to me at the time, only for a short while; Saint Mary’s was looming on the horizon. I did not set foot inside Saint Joe’s again until the summer of 1996, fifty years after entering the first grade. I was in the Falls that summer and while passing by the school, I noticed the doors were open due to some form of construction activity. Decided to go in and have a look around. A lot had changed and a lot remained the same.
What did I gain from attending Saint Joe’s: an abiding Love of and Faith in God, a love of Country, Patriotism and a fear of Penguins. The first three remain; the latter has dissipated; I always did like the real ones.
Copyright © Chet Headley 2011. All rights reserved