The Sabbatical: School Daze

Audio also available at Spreaker

  With time on my hands now, I used part of it to noodle around my ambivalent attitude towards authority, resulting in a liberalism that believes in government as a force for good and resents its intrusiveness at the same time.

   As with everything else in life, it started with my parents. As nurturers, they expanded the "children should be seen and not heard" maxim to include not being seen either. In summer we were sent out from the house after breakfast into the stifling heat of New Orleans and told not to return until dinner. Left to forage for lunch, we learned to distinguish the hard way between poison mushrooms and berries and the good ones.

   As far as our schooling, we were ordered to do our homework before going to play. What that homework was and did we do it correctly was of no concern. We could have sat in our rooms and just played, if our rooms back then had anything to play with. (My room consisted of a cot, a stool and a chamber pot, or at least that's the way I remember it.) As far as direct participation in our school's doings, i think my parents believed P.T.A. was an emotional disorder afflicting Korean war veterans.

   My parents only school rule was not to do anything that resulted in a call for them to come to the principal's office. I think they were as afraid of the nuns as we kids were. We were taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, which they might just as well have been called the School Linebackers of Notre Dame. We were terrorized in particular by a large German-bred nun, Sister Rottweiler, I believe her name was. She had a thick, unintelligible accent. She taught either Geography or Arithmetic, none of us were sure which. One time I answered the questions on the test with responses like  "Netherlands," "Himalayas" and "llamas" and Got an A. All the kids that answered, "6," "108" and "54" got F's.

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   In spite of all the repression, my love life got off to an early start. My first true love was my kindergarten teacher, Miss Finkbiner. She broke my heart by leaving after the first term to get married. She was replaced in the second term by Mrs. Baham. Mrs. Baham was built like a battleship, bellowed like a howitzer and had hair like Stalin. Two of my kindergarten classmates who had stopped wetting the bed in the first term, started up again in the second.

   Fortunately, learning was subservient to obedience in a Catholic grammar school. We went to mass every Friday, and any form of misbehavior was dealt with Inquisitionally. In fourth grade I had the bad luck to be seated during mass with a fellow student with the same sense of humor I had. We spent the entire mass substituting Mad Magazine type lyrics to the hymns in our hymnal, and hilariously cracking ourselves up. As we filed out of the pews, Sister Rottweiler was waiting for us, steam coming out of her ears, face beet red and shaking a wurst-like finger at us. She was shouting at us in a way that sounded like a Nuremberg Rally.

   We knew we were in trouble, but just couldn't translate how much. At the end of the grading period, we found out. We both got C's in Religion. I still came out ahead of my friend. I got an A in Geography, while he got an F.