Jottings: A 'B' in Catechism II
"Johnny" my mother whispered to my father, as he cradled the kitchen phone in his hand, talking to a buyer in New York. "Johnny, she's going to be late for school AGAIN!" Standing there in my parochial school uniform of navy skirt and sweater and white blouse, I waited eagerly for the phone call to end. With luck, maybe today I would be on time for school. Once again, though, it appeared doubtful.
Daily, Dad would start phoning his east coast contacts as early as 6 a.m. and begin arranging orders and deliveries of his company's automotive products. Dad had a strong work ethic. He would become so immersed in these early morning calls that he'd forget to watch the kitchen clock, then suddenly find that he was in the middle of an important conversation just when it was time to to drive me to school.
Inevitably, the phone call would end with the minutes ticking past the nine o'clock school start time. Grabbing my lunch pail, I would quickly follow Dad to our Buick and hop in the front seat. Dad would carefully back out of our driveway, situated on a bend on hilly Uplands Drive. He then would hit the gas pedal and zoom onward toward two-lane Country Club Road and Our Lady of the Lake School, trying desperately to make up for lost time.
Our Lady of the Lake School is now quite different than it was in the 1950's. In that decade it sat well back from "A" Avenue with a wide sidewalk separating a lawn on each side and several steps up to a landing upon which opened heavy, double doors. The sidewalk, steps, and doors would be my first challenge each morning as I began my trek to second grade. Hugging Dad goodbye, I long ago had learned that my hesitant little steps would be under his watchful eye until I reached the landing. Off he'd zoom again, heading late to the office where, since he was the boss, no one questioned what time he arrived. Not so for little me!
The trick was to open the front doors carefully so that they would not make a tell-tale bang or hit the metal lunchbox. Once the doors were negotiated, one must tiptoe up the stairs, holding one's lunchbox tightly against the uniform skirt so that the thermos would not rattle. On the right at the top of the stairs sat the principal's office. Very carefully, a quick peek was needed to see if she was there and, if so, facing away from the door. This might take several attempts before the doorway could be cleared.
Next lay the challenge of the second-grade classroom door and the nun entranced within as well as whispering, giggling classmates who were eagerly awaiting this daily event, a distraction from Catechism class already underway. Again, securing the lunchbox against one's leg, the doorknob must be turned very slowly, quietly. A peek again was needed through the slightly ajar door to see which way sister faced. Eventually, she would turn to write on the large black-board and a quick but silent closure of the door, a sprint into the coatroom lining the back of the room could be accomplished. Once there, a minefield of metal lunchboxes and galoshes needed to be silently negotiated while hanging up one's coat and quietly depositing the lunch pail onto the hardwood floor. Oh, that rattling thermos!
More furtive peeks came from the coatroom hoping that sister was again writing on the blackboard. Voila! Crawling on hands and knees amidst giggling classmates, a quick scoot into one's desk chair could breathlessly be accomplished if one was lucky … and, if one was VERY LUCKY, sister would not turn to formally welcome the tardy student but merely announce that it was time to close the catechism books.
My mother was not a saver of childhood mementos. The three of us each inherited a few boxed items from our childhood. In my box was a second-grade report card. Not only did the nuns grade each subject but also virtues such as humility, persistence, and promptness, virtues being graded "1-3," with "1" being excellent. My little report card has all "A's" and all "1's" with two exceptions: a "B" in Catechism and a "2" for promptness. (Perhaps the latter grade was a sisterly act of kindness …)
Hand-written at the bottom of the card is, "Jo Ann has been exceedingly late for school 25 of the last 25 days of this grading period. She has consistently missed Catechism class!"
Grading for Catechism was heavily weighted on correctly memorizing Catechism answers and prayers such as the "Our Father." Waiting outside the class door or in the coatroom, I would listen as carefully as I was watching and this must be how I earned my "B."
Josie Seymour is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center's Jottings group.
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