Today, if you don’t mind, we’re taking a little stroll down memory lane, hope you’ll come along. As I’ve mentioned before, when I look back on it, I’m amazed we survived childhood. This tale, by the way, is on a par with the one about S. Marie Rene, the stripping nun. Hope you enjoy it. Now, without further adieu. Once upon a time…
Two people met in a forest preserve in Chicago and fell in love. My father was hanging out with some buddies and mom with some girlfriends. No one had a pen or paper, so dad found a stick that was charred and wrote mom’s number on the white wall of a tire on his car, an old Ford. True story.
Dad courted mom under the watchful eye of my Great Grandmother who, if you’ll remember was born in 1865 and was a true Victorian woman. My aunt who had no beau was their de-facto chaperone in Gram’s absence.
My father had been raised Catholic although as he grew older he fell away from the church, disappointed at the hypocrisy it espoused. My mother was brought up in the Christian Science faith. They loved each other dearly but the only way they could get married by a religious person was for mom to denounce her religion. My father refused to be married by a Justice of the Peace (that would be shameful in his mind for some reason).
Poor mom had to sign her life away promising to raise any children they had, as Catholics. Even then the shackles of the faith would not allow them to be married in the church but only in the parish priest’s office.
Thus, as a child I was sent off to a private Catholic school. High school was the same story and an all-girl one on top of that, with uniforms, daily mass…the whole nine yards. Putting my mom through all this was just part of the warped Catholic belief system which altered my views on organized religion forever. But that’s another post for some other day. As time passed my parents must have finally seen the light because my brother went to a public school vs. high school with the Jesuits. Lucky rat.
Normally, we had a nun or female teacher at CK Catholic grade school. Classes contained 30 to 40 kids per room. The sisters ruled with an iron will and intimidation in their black flowing, wool gabardine habits.
In seventh grade however, we had the experience of a lifetime in dysfunctional behavior courtesy of Mr. Koenaman. At the time we didn’t have lockers or change classrooms, so the desks were “home” for a year and therefore stuffed with books and papers. Every classroom had at least one black (or green) chalk board, pointer, sticks of chalk, erasers and a wooden ruler at the blackboard. Classroom doors were always closed while classes were in session.
The year started out calmly enough. At first Mr. K taught as one would have expected but little by little, he wove in stories about being in the Korean war, before going back to college and becoming a teacher. Right before our little eyes we got to experience, firsthand, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) before anyone knew what it was.
Gradually, the tales took a u-turn in the sanity department when he began adding questionable elements to them. For example, how “he knew about the plot” of the Japanese, after WWII. He said they named a city USA (no periods) so they could get away selling Japanese made items in the U.S. and not disclose they were made in Japan, a negative selling point after WWII. I did google this and it was a popular urban myth at the time.
But to seventh graders in the midwest, this was far-fetched and we were still studying the beginnings of this and other countries. We hadn’t arrived at WWII or covered the complexities of history. We were occupied with memorizing the Gettysburg address and the like.
There were more oddities spouted by Mr. K but I can’t recall most just because they were so ridiculous. I remember listening to him with eyes wide. Of course as good little Catholic kids we told our parents everything. Must have mentioned some of the things he said to my parents though I’m pretty sure they just brushed it off as the imagination a twelve-year old working overtime.
His stories continued to grow into the realm of unimaginable, such as how he and his supposedly Swedish wife were on a picnic with their infant son and an eagle swooped down, snatched up and carried off their baby. This was all before reality TV folks and we’re talking seventh graders, seriously, twelve year olds here. What was he thinking?
Anyway, Mr. K soon began to overtly display his PTSD symptoms by flying into rages at some imagined infraction and dumping entire rows of desks. Remember how many kids there were in a class? That adds up to about seven desks in a row, five rows deep. The desks and chairs looked like this:
When one of these episodes struck, we learned to remain absolutely quiet and push away from our desks as he proceeded across a row, dumping desk after desk onto the floor. We also learned to swiftly pick everything up and stuff it back in the desk while trying to look completely undisturbed. The silence was scary-deafening. I’m sure that’s a word.
Remember the pointer and the ruler? Well, Mr. K discovered them and thus his new name came into being, Mr-Cane-a-Man. It suited him well, because three months into the school year, he had zeroed in on his two small victims.
Ross, was a short, stocky, feckless boy and Bridget, a quirky Irish orphan who’d been adopted when she was five by an older childless couple along with her soon-to-be juvenile delinquent brother. They could do nothing right and Mr-Cane-a-Man let them know it. Ross was first. After some perceived error, he demanded that Ross stand up and bend over in front of the whole class. Then he proceeded to “spank” Ross with the side of the pointer. If Ross cried, Mr-Cane-a-Man added a few more lashings. Sometimes it was his knuckles that the ruler targeted. Now, mind you, this teacher was not sexist, he doled out the same to Bridget.
We all sat in horrified muteness as this happened, waiting for the inevitable desk-dumping that was coming. He displayed no prejudice as far as whose desk or what row to dump. When he was done, he’d return calmly to teaching as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Once another teacher, Mrs. Brown came to school with greenish hair rather than her platinum blonde bob. Mr-Cane-a-Man confided in us that it was green because she dyed it and then went swimming and that it was the chlorine that changed its color. He then proceeded to tell us about how she “ran around” and so on even though she was married. Did I mention we were just twelve year olds and he was supposed to be the teacher?
The year continued in this same bizarre fashion until two weeks before school let out for the summer. Some kids must have finally gotten through to their parents who demanded the principal do something (that or Mr. K was given a nice jacket with lots of straps and taken away in a little white wagon) because when we arrived at class on Monday, our teacher for the last two weeks of school was the principal herself, Sister Mary Margaret.
To this day I marvel that it took so long for the loon to get the boot. If Bridget and Ross turned out as normal adults I’d be amazed. Seriously.
In closing I’ll leave you with this rather telling review of the school which I found online:
“honestly, i am still a bit scarred by my experience with this school. not only is it not worth it from an educational standpoint, it is also a religious hypocrisy. badly organized and badly run, with teachers who are either not qualified for their jobs or simply have a huge disregard for their students. if you are planning for your child to attend this school for a catholic upbringing, this is not the right place. i am disappointed that i was sent here by my parents, and disappointed that they wasted their money on a mediocre education. needless to say, i am now religionless.”
And yes, Virginia, I did survive childhood…she says cackling like a mad woman.