Having attended a Catholic school from kindergarten through sixth grade, I have many fond memories of life and learning in an old brick schoolhouse. After recently running into my first grade teacher and reminiscing about the good ol’ days, I’ve been having many thoughts come and go about how those elementary years influenced who I am today. I think about how school was then compared to how it is now, private schools compared to public schools, teaching then vs. teaching now, etc. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come, and in some instances, how far we have yet to go.
When I close my eyes and focus in that “memory box” of elementary years, vivid images come kicking back up: clapping the chalkboard erasers outside to clear them of dust, little school desks with pencil grooves carved into their wooden tops, uniforms, strict Sisters, and rulers tapped on student desks as reminders to pay attention. I remember principals that spanked (never me, of course), and the classic reading, writing and arithmetic lessons. I remember spelling bees, math workbooks, and Martha, my fifth grade teacher (who I was always a bit scared of- even though she was pretty nice). I remember jumping off the wooden stage in the gymnasium, families that knew each other’s gossipy stories, having the same kids in my class grade after grade, and walking back and forth from the school to the church across the black asphalt parking lot. Within each of these memories lives a story, but one that kicks up today, probably due to the beautiful weather outside, is of warm spring days and pickup games of kickball after lunch.
Every day when it was time for lunch, our classes trotted across the parking lot from the school building to the church, where we headed down to the basement cafeteria. Lots of stories and vivid images live in the cafeteria, too. The old melon-green plastic trays with little compartments for your food choices, pan-baked cheese sandwiches, and lunch ladies in hair nets. Big pots of chili cooking on massive stoves and days when you wish you had home lunch because the cafeteria cooking wasn’t as good as Mom’s. I remember walking through lunch lines that snaked through the kitchen and then finding myself a seat on sometimes filthy folding tables amongst all the children and their chatter. It was always a race to finish and get outside to play.
After lunch, I’d race up the stairs to the outside playground, which really was the church’s parking lot. Most of the time, cars were not permitted to park in the lot during the school day so that the kids could play various games and congregate. There was a fenced sanded area for swings, slides, monkey bars and merry-go-rounds. Often times the sand from that play area stuck to the soles of kids’ shoes and was dragged onto the hot asphalt, making running, rope-skipping and kickball a slippery feat.
Kickball. I can still see skinned elbows and knees as bell-bottomed pants flapped in the wind while kids ran from base to base. The feeling of a home run kick that soared over electric lines to the cheers and jubilee of teammates. I remember how kickers lined up against the warm brick wall of the church as they waited their turn listening to the screams and yells of the outfielders. I remember the red bouncy kickball coming at high speeds when it was my turn to kick and the sting of the rubber on tender skin when a stray ball caught me by surprise. I remember knee holes that wore through my blue corduroy pants and patches sewn on the inside until I was due for a new pair. I remember the sweat and stickiness after the game came to an abrupt end as we were summoned to line up from the teachers’ piercing whistles; the girls in their checkered dresses and the boys in their bellbottoms running wild to be the first in line. I remember the kickball, abandoned mid-air, and how it bounced, bounced, and bounced away to find a resting place for the next group ready for their recess kickball game.
With my heart racing back in class, I daydreamed of being the next day’s Catholic school kickball king.