Sunday, September 26, 2010

'Readin' & 'Ritin' & 'Rithmetic

To the left, I present St. Stephen of Hungary's First Grade drinking milk at their desks right before Sister Beatrice told them to put their heads down for a nap break on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 1962.

Thank you, Katherine Peck, principal of St. Stephen's, for your gracious gift. Yesterday, at the 82nd Street St. Stephen's Street Fair, Ms. Peck led an alumni group on a tour of the school from the auditorium to the rooftop with the bell tower. Thank you, Marty Milisits, for working with Principal Peck to make the tour happen. Thank you, Steve Geosits, for pulling St. Stephen's people together for this event and online at your St. Stephen's Facebook site.

The tour was amazing, visited my 1960 first grade classroom and the seven others including fifth and sixth on the roof. I was ill yesterday, and regretfully missed hanging out with St. Stephen's classmates later on. It was wonderful to see everyone, a few friends for the first time since 1968.
I spied the room we lined up to get inoculations. Leaned against the closet Sister Beatrice threw Kevin Murphy through after he answered her back for the third time. Peeked in the corner by the radiator where we kept the bishop's crook to open the giant windows or crack a guy in the head across a few aisles. Looked up at the bell tower opening where we threw a few erasers after we played hockey on the roof when we were supposed to be clapping the chalk out of them. Used the boys bathroom where I threw the horrible school lunch food away that I stuck in my pants pockets to avoid the Nun making me eat it. You had to present an empty tray to the Nun to get out of the lunchroom. At the end of the week when she's ready to do wash, my mother to me: "Why do your pants pockets smell like boiled eggs?" Spent time in the church's choir, where I was happily stuck in between a dozen girls singing hymns for a few years until my voice changed. Liked to lend a pretty one my hankie when the Nun told her she needed to cover her head. She attached my hankie to her noggin with a barbie pin. From the choir, I looked down and saw the church's altar where my parents were married on September 27, 1952 by Father Edward Halloran. He taught me how to throw a left hook. Saw the entrance to the sacristy where we folded our hands in prayer to lead Father Frederick McKeever onto the altar for mass after we played tag behind the altar. Sat in a pew where I talked Giant football with Father Benedict Dudley. Still can't believe the Giants Chaplain shot the breeze with me in church. You usually got whacked for that. Saw the shadow of the cross on the 82nd Street buildings facing the church and school. An image locked in my mind. Saw the stage where Mrs. Otis assembled us once a year to perform the School Talent Show in front of 500 bored parents and siblings. Same auditorium where the Knights of Columbus gave me a cool toy for a Christmas gift. Saw the custodian office where I used to annoy Mr. Varga, the school's janitor. When i screwed up he'd warmly call me "Woodhead."

Stood in front of the 8th grade classroom where Lynn Farrell & I sang "The Letter," by the Box Tops with Sister Mercedes permission in September 1967. Same classroom where Sister Mercedes caught Freddy Muller & me playing hooky when the kids in class pointed us out in the ballpark crowd at a Met game on TV in the classroom near dismissal time in mid June 1968. Mets won 1-0. A Don Cardwell shutout over the Phillies. I still have the ticket stub.

Most of all, I saw a place I sought comfort, companionship and knowledge. Yesterday's tour was a meaningful, engaging walk through my past. Thank you, Principal Katherine Peck. You make Sister Beatrice and Sister Mercedes proud. Two of your predecessors. Principals and teachers who deeply impacted my life and countless St. Stephen's alumni.

First Grade class 1960

Car contains the recently wed, Robert Pryor & Patricia Ryan, married by Father Edward O'Halloran on September 27, 1952. That's my Pop, John Rode, looking in the car in front of St. Stephen's.

The Church Tower's Shadow

View of the Church from the choir

1960s classroom chums

First grade closets for our coats and snow boots, also place where sister Beatrice sent the bad kids.

One of my apartments when I talked too much.

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