Tuesday, October 31, 2006


It happened, inevitably, at least once each school year. The dreaded vomit-in-the-classroom. Does anyone else remember the janitors coming in and sprinkling the sawdust down on the offensive, odiferous pile of barf? Man, there's a special place in Heaven for janitors. What would St. Genevieve have done without Pete and Alfonso?

My first experience with the sawdust/vomit combo was in kindergarten. I remember it was during our candy-sale kick-off, and the representative had brought us some yummy samples. We were chowing away (what else would kindergarteners do?) when all of a sudden, Scott raised his hand and began frantically waving it in the air. Miss Simeone, wanting to keep us quiet so the representative could finish her little candy-shpiel, just kind of ignored him. I can still see him, left hand up in the air, wriggling on the floor, obviously not feeling well, his right hand clutching his stomach and his face contorting and getting sweaty. The next thing I heard was "Miss Simeone, I have to throw up."

And he did.


Miss Simeone felt bad and started apologizing to everyone. The janitors were there in no time, joking with Scott so he wouldn't be embarrassed. And they brought the sawdust. I don't know if it made things better or worse--I remember that it just looked gross. And I remember my little friend Renee--her blondish hair in two braids, wearing a white turtleneck and denim overalls--laughing and holding her nose. Then I started laughing. And so did everyone else. Except for the candy lady. She didn't think it was funny that Scott got sick after eating her "delicious, melt-in-your-mouth" peanut butter puffs. Or maybe it just wasn't funny to her, because while trying to get past us laughing, snot-nosed kids, she accidentally stepped in a little bit of the barf-a-roni.

Sawdust barf-a-roni, that is.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fifth Grade Folly

I think everyone probably has a “stupid moment” that will always be remembered. I think I have many (many, MANY) stupid moments that I remember. Like this one:

I was in fifth grade at my little Catholic grade school and back in those days, we didn’t have cafeterias or anything, so we ate lunch in our classrooms. (Side note: Does anyone wonder how all of us kids managed to get through school without dying of food poisoning??? We all kept our lunches, which often consisted of lunchmeat sandwiches, in our paper bags, in the cloak room, without refrigeration…or even air conditioning!)

Anyway, I remember one day, my friend Heather and I were eating lunch. She had turned her desk to face mine and we were eating and chatting away when Raymond, my fifth grade boyfriend (I already had been dumped by Jason at this point) was trying to get my attention. In classic fifth-grade-girl manner, I completely ignored his attempts. However, I could hear a steady thump-thump-thump coming from behind me. I didn’t want to look over my shoulder, so I asked Heather, who was busy chugging her chocolate milk, to see what he was doing.

She glanced past me, and faster than I could blink, I was covered with a spray of chocolate milk. In my hair, on my face, dripping down my neck, all over my uniform. I remember that my round-collar white blouse had little chocolate milk speckles all over it. What had caused Heather to spray milk from her mouth?

Raymond was humping his desk.

Yes, we were attending Catholic school, we were fifth-graders, and Raymond was humping his desk.

Heather was laughing so hard she was crying, but she kept trying to apologize for spitting her milk out all over me. I was mad, but I ended up laughing, too.

I guess Raymond got my attention after all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

First Grade Frustration

When I was in first grade, there was some debate over how my brain worked. (Of course, there’s still that debate now, twenty-plus years later, but for different reasons!)

Back in the day, our Catholic school did its own kind of testing to determine what level of classes students should be in. I remember taking one that was supposedly designed to measure level of intelligence and would determine if I should be in regular classes or smarty-pants classes the next year. For one of the sections, there were a couple of red flags that my teacher was concerned about. I had done well overall, but she was worried about the section I had completed on reasoning skills. While it didn’t make sense to me then, I get a huge laugh out of it now.

On this particular section of the test, the teacher would read the question out loud, and the students, who had answer sheets in front of them, had to circle the correct answer, which was in the form of a picture.

One of the questions was something like, “Which item should a child not wear?” There was a picture of a shirt, shoes, a lamp and a watch. I circled the watch.

One of the other questions was on the order of, “How does a squirrel get into a tree?” There were pictures of a tree—one showed the bottom of the tree, one showed the middle, and one showed the top. I circled the middle of the tree.

Ms. Salek wasn’t sure what to make of it, so there was a conference with me and my mom. The outcome? I remember trying to explain that I knew a child can’t wear a lamp. Hello?! Isn’t there a certain “duh” factor with that? You have to wait until you can visit Fred Flintstone, who had too much to drink at the Water Buffalo Lodge, before you can put a lampshade on your head! And my mom kept telling me I was too young for a watch. Made sense to me! A child shouldn’t wear a watch.

And as for the tree…well, we lived in a two-flat in Chicago on the first floor. When I would look out the living room window, I saw the middle of the large poplar tree in the front yard. The squirrels would jump onto the window ledge from the middle of the tree to eat the bird food my dad put out, and then they would jump back into the middle of the tree. Made sense to me, but it dumbfounded my teacher.

The good news is that they determined I wasn’t cognitively deficient. The bad news is that just for fun, I may let my child put a lampshade on her head, but not let her wear a watch.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fourth-Grade Miracle

A little humor for a Monday…

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher, Ms. Paolicchi, told the most amazing stories. They were all Bible stories—you know, Catholic school and all—and she told them with such fervor and enthusiasm, it was hard not be completely enthralled. My favorite, by far, was her version of the story of Lazarus. (For those of you who don’t remember, Lazarus was the guy who died and was placed in a tomb, but Jesus brought him back to life.)

Anyway, to this day, I remember Ms. Paolicchi telling that story for probably the eighty-gazillionth time (yes, I’m exaggerating), but there was something different in her presentation on this day. I even remember what she was wearing! She was wearing brown polyester slacks with a sort of drapey cowl-necked yellow sweater and brown moccasins. And she was wearing a dangly necklace with all kinds of beads on it. I don’t know why I remember that, but I do. It’s burned into my brain.

I was sitting at my desk (fourth row, third seat), chin propped in my palms, waiting for our religion lesson to be finished, but amazed at her dramatic voice as she described Lazarus’s grieving family and their heartbreak at his death. She was explaining how Jesus had been away, and that was why He wasn’t able to help Lazarus during his illness, and why he had ended up dying. I felt sad for Lazarus and his family, but already knew the outcome (we all knew Jesus was going to save the day), so my excitement probably wasn’t what it should have been as Ms. Paolicchi was working her way up to the miraculous and climactic ending.

I was sitting there, watching as Ms. Paolicchi assumed the proper stance. She was at the front of the classroom, and to her left was the classroom door. She had just gotten to the part where Lazarus’s family brought Jesus to the tomb, and it was like watching it in slow-motion as she turned to face the door on her left, stretched her arms straight out in front of her body, then pulled them back, sort of striking her own chest, took a partial step forward with her right foot and roared, “Lazarus, COME OUT!” At that very second, the classroom door opened, and the entire class of nine-year olds let out frenzied screams of terror. There were actual cries of “Ms. Paolicchi must really be Jesus! Lazarus is coming for us!”

You can imagine the fearful looks and then laughter when the janitor, Alfonso, jumped about three feet in the air with a completely bewildered look on his face. It wasn’t a miracle. Turns out, he was just coming in to collect our recycling bin. Talk about good timing! I don’t know who was more scared—the kids or Alfonso.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Paolicchi was completely unfazed by it. She continued with her story, then launched straight into our spelling lesson without missing a beat. How do teachers do that? Do they just learn to expect the unexpected? I don’t know. And maybe Ms. Paolicchi didn’t know either.

All I do know is that from then on, our class always paid attention to the stories in religion. And maybe that was the point of the story—to expect the unexpected and to always be prepared for miracles.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Fear is Born

Staurophobia--a fear of crosses or crucifixes

Growing up Catholic, I was exposed to the image of the crucifix at an early age. My mom and dad had one in their bedroom, there was one in the bedroom I shared with my sisters, and of course, there was one in every classroom at the school. I never really liked them—it just seemed so sad and painful, and I didn’t want to think about it. I’d also get upset if a student was acting out in class and the teacher pointed to the crucifix and said, by way of a reminder I guess, “Jesus died for your sins.”

It got worse when I was a little older and we would be on Easter break. At home, mom would watch the variety of what I would call “Jesus Movies.” There was “The Robe” and “King of Kings”, and inevitably, I would end up wandering into the living room just in time for the most graphic scenes. My stomach still turns when I think about it. I wasn’t allowed to watch a PG-13 movie, but mom would let me—sometimes even encourage me to—watch this. She believed it was okay, because it was related to our faith and had an educational component to it. FYI: I didn’t agree with it then and I don’t agree with it now.

Anyway, it wasn’t even any of those things that triggered my fear of crucifixes. The roots had probably started, but there was one incident that left me nearly unable to even be in a room where a crucifix is displayed.

Going to Catholic school, each grade attended a weekday mass on a designated day. Of course, this was in addition to attending regular Sunday mass. But it was at one of those weekday masses that the following happened:

There was a huge crucifix at the front of St. Genevieve Catholic Church. It was the largest crucifix I’d ever seen before (and since), and it was surrounded by smaller statues of the Twelve Apostles. There were enormous, ornate, beautiful stained-glass windows that flooded the church with color, and I usually spent more time admiring the windows than paying attention. That day was no exception.

As my eyes were wandering around the church, I did a double-take when I suddenly thought I saw Jesus breathing. I was mesmerized, convincing myself that it couldn’t be happening. But it was there—a subtle, but steady, rise and fall of the chest; a slight movement of the ribcage with each breath. I remember wanting to look away, but not being able to do it. And then, the rigid, forward-facing Jesus turned His head and looked at me.

There was a scream building in the back of my throat, which I quickly swallowed down when I had the sensation of waking up, and realized that I must have nodded off during Father Maher’s sermon.

It must have been just a dream. Vivid and realistic, no doubt, but still just a dream. I think about it far more often than I’d like to, and it comes back to me at the strangest times. Like when my in-laws gave me and my husband a crucifix as a wedding gift. My husband, bless his heart, keeps it tucked away where I can’t see it.

Now, all these years later, you would think I’d have outgrown my irrational fear of crucifixes. I haven’t. I know it’s supposed to represent ultimate sacrifice and love, but it’s still unsettling for me.

I guess it’s a fear that I’m not afraid to hang on to.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Long Story of Memories

It’s funny how once I started thinking about things from childhood, more and more memories came flooding back. Memories from each grade—memories of my teachers, my classmates, friends and enemies, people I loved, people I hated.

Maybe it’s strange, but I remember all of my teachers. I may not remember how to spell all of their names, but I remember all of them.

I remember Miss Simeone, my kindergarten teacher, and how I thought she looked like a larger-than-life, dark-haired Barbie doll. She always had fun activities like “Switch-a-Roni” and various sing-alongs to teach us new skills. I remember the first day of school and how she spent as much time comforting crying children as she did comforting crying parents. That was also where I met Jason, who would become my first little boyfriend.

There was Ms. Salek in first grade, who always did a funny dance in her chair when we would sing, “Hooray for God, Hooray for Me.” Mrs. Jandritz was the other first grade teacher, and I remember that I was upset I wasn’t in her class—until I realized how neat Ms. Salek was.

I was in Mrs. Bellezzo’s main class in second grade and went to Mrs. Gunther’s room for math. Third grade was one of my favorite years. Mrs. Bernadine Caldwell was fantastic and I actually stayed in touch with her, even after my family moved. Mrs. Kehoe was the other teacher, and I remember going to her room for the religion class—that was also when we had to memorize the Apostle’s Creed. Yikes!

Fourth grade was wild. Ms. Paolicchi seemed like she had landed on earth from somewhere else. Not in a bad way, though. She was stuck in her ways, for sure, but she had incredible enthusiasm for teaching. Ms. Ceranek taught the advanced fourth grade reading and science. I remember a story she shared about frozen blueberries and how they reminded her of her father.

Fifth grade was a blast, but kind of traumatic. Jason dumped me that year for Danelle. I recovered, though. Hello! We were only ten! I got over it and set my sights on Raymond. It was okay—he would give me neat little gifts and try to hold my hand. It was fun, but sometimes he wasn’t very nice. I didn’t complain too much when he moved to Florida at the end of the school year. The best part of that school year was being on student council. I was a nerd, even back then!

Sixth grade was different. We got to change classes more often. I was in Mrs. Pawlak’s class, but went to the other teachers—Miss Ragano, Miss Killeen, and Mrs. MacLennon—for reading, social studies and science.

Then seventh grade rolled around. I knew my family was going to be moving, so I tried to make the most of the time I had left. Sister Otilie was my main teacher, but there was also Sister Jean Michael and Ms. Zygowicz. And there was the basketball coach, Mr. Zarconi, who inspired me to play and play well. And to have fun. My playing was cut short a few months later when I hurt my knee, but I remember the role he played in giving us clumsy kids the confidence we needed.
There were other people in the school. Miss Lubbock, Mrs. Gleason and Mrs. Carli in the library. There was a variety of music teachers over the years—Mrs. Swantek, Mr. Brown, Mrs. Rae, Mr. Bosen, Mr. Barcanic. The gym teachers—Mrs. Harper, Miss McCormick and Ms. Westendorf.

I remember Ms. Snopek, the principal, and how she would scare students with the idea of a “spanking machine” if they got poor grades on their report cards. Mrs. Ketter was the assistant/secretary/nurse, all rolled into one. She bandaged up more scrapes and cuts than I could count—and that was just on me!

When Ms. Snopek left, Ms. Gawlik became principal—not the former fifth grade teacher. This was a scary woman who the students—and some teachers—were terrified of. There was a negative shift in school spirit and morale when she came on board. But I remember the new secretary, Mrs. Cholewienczki, who was the mother of one of my classmates and was super-nice to everyone.

I also remember Alfonso and Pete, who did the maintenance and janitorial work around the school. They were the best. Alfonso taught us how to do fun things like have garbage can races down the hall. And he taught us the importance of never, ever putting soda cans in with the garbage that was being incinerated. Pete was more subdued, but always there. I remember his plaid shirts and baseball cap.

I don’t know why or even how I manage to remember all of this…all of this and still so much more. There’s a reason I remember. Hopefully, I’ll discover that reason. I believe it goes far beyond just memories and how they shaped my life. There’s got to be something more.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Growing Up

I grew up Catholic. I'm still Catholic. I think I fit the profile of the proverbial "Guilty Catholic." I also think I'm okay with that.

Reminiscing is a good thing. The idea for this blog came to me last night as I was drifting off to sleep. (Bedtime is usually when I have my best ideas!) From out of nowhere, I suddenly remembered a single sheet of paper my older sister (Sister #1 of The Four Crazy Sisters--check us out at www.fourcrazysisters.blogspot.com) had brought home (from the same Catholic school, by the way), and it was a mimeographed picture of a Vampire with a short story on it. Wait a minute...Vampires? What kind of stuff were they teaching us?? HA! Anyway, I remember that the mimeograph ink was purple. We're not that old, but apparently this was before the day of black and white copiers in schools.

So, the thought of that blurred purple picture is what inspired me to do this. What fun to think about those early days of my education, the teachers I had, the friends I made who I haven't seen in over 15 years. Ah. Memories.

I loved my school in Chicago. The worst part came when my family moved 40 miles outside of the city and I had to be enrolled in a public school. Who knew I would miss those blue plaid uniforms and white, rounded-collar blouses? And white knee socks? And no makeup?

Life was simpler back then. I look forward to remembering those simpler times and sharing them.