Friday, November 14, 2008

Pagan Babies & Other Oddities

Who didn't love Fridays at SS.P.J.? How could you not? It was the most fun in the week. SS. Philip & James was the Catholic elementary school where I spent eight years with the same 25 classmates. That would be rare now. The school is gone, but my memories linger and I'm certain I'll share when they burble up to the surface.

I'm thinking of Fridays and how we looked forward to them, not just because of the two days-off looming close, but because that was the day we received the Weekly Reader! They came tightly wound in a packing tube which Sister popped open and unfurled as she walked around handing them out. Oh, what delight those four pages brought. They were in color! Had great games. And, we took turns reading a-loud the interesting stories usually consisting of an animal, a spot of geography, and other fun facts that you just didn't know! I couldn't wait to show Daddy when I got home. Poor Dad, I'm sure it was really boring but I have to say, he always met the Weekly Reader with enthusiasm! Just love my Dad...

The other Friday festivity was Art Class. I adored art class! I'm not sure how those nuns came up with such interesting projects for 25 messy school kids, but I'm grateful they did. Crayola crayons came out of our cigar boxes, along with paste that smelled good enough to eat, and construction paper! Does it get any better than that? We'll talk about the great glitter debacle another day...

The joy of art class often carried over to Monday morning when we'd see our artwork hung about the room...tacked to the bottom of the alphabet chart on the side wall. It was sorted in order of greatness; the most proficient to the least. Happily, while my stuff didn't always land the coveted first spot, it was generally close to the front. That gave me a great feeling. But, it wasn't enough to counter the humiliation of usually seeing my math papers ruffling in lonely last place close to the cloak room. Math & Me- not good.

Did you have cloak rooms at the back of your classrooms? No room for lockers, we had assigned spots along a wide wooden strip where we hung our coats and placed on the shelf above, our lunch boxes and other bits from home that we had dragged with us. Umbrellas and galashes on rainy days neatly arranged on the floor below. I liked the cloak room, even on the days when it smelled like wet wool. Despite 25 children, in typical nunly fashion, it was always orderly, smelled of wood polish, and felt full of anticipation. I suspect it was the energy of being sprung loose at the end of each day; you could feel it. The only time I didn't like the cloak room was when one of us was banished to it in punishment for some infraction of the many rules.

We didn't have a cafeteria, so lunch was eaten at our desks under the watchful, Gestapo-esque eyes of two 8th grade girls- The Safeties! I dreamed of the day I could be a Safety and wear a white belt with its badge. Man, to be a Safety! But, I vowed I'd never be a mean Safety. I would work hard to be The Favorite Safety- I wouldn't yell and pinch. Oh, and if you needed a drink of water, I would let you go to the water fountain. No denying anyone water ever again! Just so you know, sadly, I never did get to be a Safety.

My brother was one of the fabulous 8th grade Milk Boys, though! I was so proud when he'd come with his crate to our classroom! He always had enough chocolate milk to go around. Not like some of those other milk boys with more white milk than we ever wanted- he did it the right way. If one of those chocolate milks was frozen, somehow, I'd be lucky enough to get it. If it was to be had, he'd make sure I got the coveted frozen milk. And, when he left, he'd always catch my little sister eye and give me a smile. Glenn was the best Milk Boy, ever.

Recess was held in the classroom, too. Somedays, if the Spirit moved her, Sister would lead us in silent straight lines outside for some fresh air. Generally, though, it was 10 minutes in the classroom. She'd go to the locked cubbie in the cloak room with an able assistant and they'd come back with the choices of candy, along with the Utz potato chip bags. And, pretzel rods; those costed less than the chips.

During certain months, recess was turned into the opportunity of learning the value of doing good Catholic work- Saving The World From Darkness. That's when we would have the choice of buying treats, or 'offering up,' our recess-money to buy our Pagan Baby. Yep, buy a Pagan Baby in a far-off land like Africa, mostly. Ours was not the only school to do this. I went to school in Baltimore City; Michael went to school in the country-side of Emmitsburg. He, also, knows about the Pagan Babies. Ask him!

Instead of eating candy and chips, we could be buying a baby! Who didn't want to buy a baby?! Money jar full at the conclusion of the Pagan Baby Drive, we'd have a drawing to choose the name of our acquired Pagan. If your name was picked, the baby would be named after you. One year, can you believe the luck, my name was drawn. I still have that certificate someplace declaring that there is a Pagan Baby in the world lucky enough to be named Marie Louise.

What do you mean, that's not my name? Okay,we had to add Marie or Mary because all the girl Pagan Babies had to have it. But, Louise? Sure, that's my name. It is! At least at SS. Philip & James. You see, there's no St. Holly- at least not yet. In order for me to be baptized, Dad was strong-armed into giving me a good Saint's name. It was either re-name me entirely or add one. So, he tossed in Louisa, after Nanny, The World's Meanest Woman. And, that's how I went through eight years of my life being called, Louise Dietor. Somehow the 'a' never got on my school enrollment papers to add further confusion to things. Crazy, I know. Nonetheless, there is a Pagan Baby in the world who is named Louise sort-of after me. So, it's all good!

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly, aka Louise(a): please, don't forget the ''a"


Anonymous said...

Another nice story and you should be so proud. Me, on the other hand, went to public school and I don't have many fond memories of my early can be so cruel. Though, my brother ran for school President, but he lost and I cried for him in the bathroom.

I can say that my three sons were very popular, very well liked in their elementary school...I volunteered there alot and knew all of their friends. Our house was where they all came to play.

Eileen said...

Dear Louisa ... this is Eileen Ruth Teresa Kerrigan here from Our Lady By The Sea ... my favorite memory from those years was the May Day procession in honor of Mary Our Queen when I was chosen to be the third Hail Mary from the cross in the human rosary!!!! Now talk about prestige! My God, this is the stuff that my kids think we must make up. I wish I had kept an accounting of all of the days I earned in the early-release program from Purgatory for saying those prayers on the backs of holy cards. You had me in stitches with the memories of the pagan baby ... now there's a google search and if we find her, we ought to go visit her. Road trip!!!!

Holly said...

Eileen Ruth Teresa Kerrigan Mross, This is actually Louisa Holly Lee Nicole Dietor (Dituri) Duggan Now Frock! LOL You would get chosen for the May procession because you have BLONDE hair! Only the pretty blondes were chosen for the May Court! LOL

jkc said...

Oh my...the Weekly Reader...I have not thought about that in ages, and I can still picture it exactly as you described. Being an avid reader, I even subscribed to it in the summer, and what a grand day it was when it arrived. In our small town, the arrival of the Weekly Reader was truly the highlight of the week. I have to admit though that I am amazed that those of you in Catholic school (a totally mysterious institution to those of us in public school) also got it. That makes you seem ever so much less mysterious. And did smell good enough to eat...and eat it we did at great risk of getting in trouble though!! Pagan babies must have been everywhere because my sister-in-law, who went to Catholic schools in Pittsburgh even through to the convent, talks about them. What a great romp thugh Memory Lane this has some ways I feel sorry for children today who do not have these memories although I suspect they have equally nostaligic ones...however, I am not quite sure they could ever be quite as poignant. Thank you, Louisa!!

LionKing said...

I had the premier blue badge of a Captain of the AAA Safety Patrol. I could still roll the white belt so the badge showed on the front if I had to. And, at Mother Seton Elementary School in Emmitsburg, Maryland, we rescued so many Pagan Babies that we all suffer from calcium deficiencies from giving up our milk money!

It was all good practice though, for now I live permanently with my very own "Pagan" baby!

melissa said...

Go dad was an overachiever with a badge, in charge, even in grade school. :P And, he was a sharp dresser that could accessorize with a white belt. WSM, you are one lucky mama.

No wonder I have a thing for boys in uniform. ;)

~melissa joan francis molly frock

Anonymous said...

My Catholic grade school had pagan baby collections. In fact my mothers school did also. she ran home from school for weeks expecting to find the pagan baby in her mail box.
thank you for the memories.

NanaA said...

Years late into this conversation. I had a memory pop into my head while reading about the Irish Famine. I remembered the nuns at Saint Peters School in Cambridge MA (1950's) having iron banks on their desks. These are gratefully unimaginable to today's children. The bank was an effigy of a little half naked black child with it's little hands out-stretched. One dropped a coin in the bank and the little head would bob up and down with a Thank You. I was on line looking to see if anyone had a picture of one of these horrors from my luck.

Ann Marie Spinetto Ellison

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