Sunday, July 26, 2015

1941 - 1949: My somewhat "eventful" elementary school era

It was a cold 1941 day and my friend, Lloyd, and I were playing near where Canal St. met North St. in Baton Rouge.  Suddenly a car came careening off of North St., losing control and running accross Canal over the sidewalk and slamming into a house.  Smoke then started billowing from under the car's hood.  Wow!  That was scary.

A lady quickly got out of the car, apparently unharmed, but very distraught.  While her totalled car was smoking heavily from the impact, she was tearfully screaming "Pearl Harbor has been bombed, Pearl Harbor has been bombed." I asked Lloyd "What's a Pearl Harbor?"  He just shrugged. He didn't know either.  We then noticed that the lady was bleeding from the mouth. She didn't seem at all concerned about her car.  She just broke down further, saying "Pearl Harbor has been bombed." I didn't know what was really happening, but I felt really sorry for her.

At home I told my mom what just happened and she went down the street to the scene of the commotion.  I would learn later that the lady's son had been stationed on Pearl Harbor and she was fearing for her son's life. I have no recollection of whether or not he had been a casualty.

A few months after the Pearl Harbor event my Nicholson School first grade teacher strolled by my desk and asked "What are you drawing, Jerry?"  I was a doodler.  She had picked up my doodling paper and asked what I was drawing.  My desk was next to a window and I had been observing hundreds of strange objects falling from the sky.   Until that day I had never before seen a parachute.   But on that day I was witness to 100s of what later I would learn were parachutes.  Responding to my teacher's inquiry I pointed outside and her breath was taken away as she shrieked "Oh my GOD! Parachutes!"

Because of the Pearl Harbor attack our country was now at war with Japan.  Harding Field in North Baton Rouge had become a staging area for parachute training.  On the day of our sighting the trainees had been caught in a brisk north wind and were blown all the way from Harding field (some 8 miles north of Nicholson School) and were touching down in a large field behind the School.... quite an exciting event for 6 year old eyes.

When I was 8 my parents felt it best if I were transferred to Catholic Elementary School on North St (no longer there) across from St. Joseph's Church (today's St. Joseph's Cathedral). My teacher in the 3rd grade was Brother Alphonse and in the 4th grade I had Brother Leonard.  I especially liked Brother Leonard because he was kind-hearted and sympathetic to the childhood challenges and personal issues facing his young students, especially troubled students.  Brother Alphonse on the other hand was a stern, no-nonsense disiplinarion.  I got spanked by brother Alphonse more times than I can count during my 3rd grade year ... some I felt I didn't deserve. 

On one occasion the entire school was marched over to the basketball / auditorium. The seating was bleacher style and we were to listen to a speaker. I have no recollection of the subject matter, but I do indeed remember suddenly needing to go to the bathroom on that day. At each end of a bleacher section stood a brother whose function was to keep order.  In my bleacher section on my right stood Brother Alphonse and the left side was monitored by another brother (whose name I don't recall).  I really needed to go to the bathroom (number 2).  So I got up and started to make my way to the right only to be stopped by brother Alphonse.  I said "Brother, I really need ..." but he cut me off with "Go sit down!" "But I really need..." "GO SIT DOWN!".  I sat back down.  But I really needed to go, so I made my way to the left of my bleacher section only to be stopped by the left-side brother who also cut me no slack.  In any event I was stuck there.  So I sat back down, but now nature cut me no slack.  

Soon the speech ended (thank God!) and  we were now all returning single file back to our class rooms. On our return I began hearing "Oooo watch out!  There's poo on the ground." I was very relieved that my khaki pants were long, so pretending to be disgusted by the bodily debris that was littering our path, I too was "careful" where I walked though I knew I'd not be stepping in it since I was the guilty party.  None of the students (thank goodness) knew who the offender was.  Believe me had they known,  I would surely have been the "butt" of their taunting.  When we got back to class, Brother Leonard, who was definitely aware of my distress, came over to my desk and said quite discreetly "Jerry, do you want to go home?" I said "Yes".  I lived only 1/2 mile from school and walked everyday.  So I made my way back home to 630 Canal St.

I told my mother what happened and she was very angry about how my distress was disregarded.  She went the next day and had a meeting with the principle. Must have gone well because Brother Alphonse treated me with much more respect after that.

At some point during this 3rd to 5th grade era in the elementary school chapter of my life my class was marched over to St. Joseph's church.  We were to make our first confessions.  I thought I had remembered all I needed to know about confession from our Catechism classes, but when it came my turn to enter the 
confessional I started well enough: "Bless me father, for I have sinned.  This is my first confession ...",...then blank.  The priest said nothing.  I repeated "Bless me father, for I have sinned.  This is my first confession ...Still blank.   And no help from the priest.  I then asked "What do I say next? He said "How should I know?  This is your confession, not mine." Thanks a lot.  I blank out and he does nothing to help me.  So again I start "Bless me father, for I have sinned.  This is my first confession ... I don't remember what I'm suppose to say next"  He said "Well I certainly don't know." Out of the corner of my eye I see my class now leaving church.  I am now in a state of panic.  "Father, my class is leaving now."  He says "So what are you going to do?" I say "I need to go with my class."  He said "Bye!"  Hurriedly I leave the confessional and catch up with my class.  

For days afterwards fellow class-mates razzed and heckled me about taking so long in the confessional saying "Hey Leggio you must've had a lot of sins" or "Leggio must be a pretty bad boy.  Took all day to make his confession".  I was  made aware that I hadn't received absolution, but when I next went to confession some weeks later (better prepared than before) I included this omission as one of my sins. For some reason I was accorded more respect by this priest as well as my fellow classmates.

In the 6th grade I was transferred to Sacred Heart School.  That year was when the movie "THE SONG OF BERNADETTE" was showing in theaters in Baton Rouge.  This was a biographical film about the life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous portrayed by Jennifer Jones.  The school's principle strongly urged everyone to see that film.  On the following weekend I went with my cousins and saw it at the Paramount Theater on 3rd street (no longer there).

The following year the film DUEL IN THE SUN, also starring Jennifer Jones, opened at the Paramount Theater.  Her character in this film was quite opposite that of the saintly Bernadette.  She played a loose temptress.  We were told by our princple NOT to see that film because that was just an actress playing Saint Bernadette before and she shouldn't defile the life of Saint Bernadette by playing this character.  The Catholic Church at that time assigned Duel a "condemned" rating thus preventing all sub 18-year-olds from seeing it.  I did see it several years later and found it not to be nearly as offensive as the nuns had led us to believe years before.

In 1949 while in the 8th grade at SHS I had Sister Robert who was the female version of Catholic Elementary's Brother Alphonse...a stern, no nonsense disciplinarian.

I was part of a group of somewhat rowdy boys who enjoyed playing cops and robbers or cowboys and indians during recesses. All my friends had their own play-guns, but I didn't have one.  So one day I came up with the insane idea of bringing my own pistol to school.  A toy pistol would not have been insane, but a REAL pistol???  My father was a gun collector and quite stupidly I decided to "borrow" (Unbeknownst to my Dad) one of his small
calibre pistols to take to school. So I "borrowed" his 22 calibre snub-noised 8-shot revolver and brought it to school the next day. Now I could feel more a part of the gang.  None of  my friends knew that my pistol was REAL (at first) and certainly I didn't say anything to them to the contrary (at first). I kept the gun with me for several days and little by little I confided to my friends that this was a real pistol.  Wow!  I made them promise not to tell (yeah, right!).  

Then one day another insane urge overwelmed me.  While waiting for Sister Robert to come into our 2nd hour class I decided to brandish my pistol.  Then suddenly Sister Robert appears, she comes to my desk, holds out her hand and says: "Give that to me!"  I say "My pistol?" She said "Yes, give it to me."  I turn it over to her saying "Will I get it back after class?"  She said "NOT after class, after school if you behave."  At the end of that school day I went to her and asked for my pistol.  She gave it to me saying "Don't bring that gun to school again."  I didn't bring it to school again and my Dad (thank God!) never knew I had taken it to school.

I never knew whether or not Sister Robert was aware that my pistol was real, but another occassion gave me reason to suspect that she had probably found out.  This was on a Friday morning before mass and I and the gang were on the playground doing our usual goofing off, playing tag or shooting baskets, burning a lot of calories to while away the time until we were to be marched accross the street to church.  I was getting hot, so I went over to the water fountain and as I started drinking, I heard "YOU WILL NOT GO TO COMMUNION!"  I looked around.  It was Sister Robert admonishing me about "...daring to take a drink of water before communion."  Back in the 40s the Catholic Church required that anyone planning to receive communion must fast from midnight until after receiving communion. Fasting meant that neither food nor water could be ingested after midnight.  

I said "Sister, I forgot." She blurted "NO EXCUSE!" She went on "You will NOT go to communion.  When we get into church you are to stay seated while the rest of the school files down to the communion rail.  Everyone will know you can't receive communion because you will be the only student still seated while everyone else is filing down to the communion rail."  How very cruel. When it was time for communion and everyone else was filing down to the rail, I remained seated as ordered by
Sister Robert.  While there I theorized that she must have somehow found out that I had brought a real pistol to school several days earlier and was avenging that dastardly deed (my theory).  Otherwise why was she being so hostile?  I would never know whether or not she had found out.  But that day in church I felt like a lone drifter in the middle of the ocean as I was the only student in church who remained seated while all the others were filing down to the communion rail.

And so ends my elementary school era adventures... or at least those I best remember. 

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