MEMORIAL MEMORIES

Decade Six: Creative reflection

Father Pierz Memorial High School had been a mere hole in the ground across the fence from the cemetery much larger than any open grave on the other side. Who or what was to be buried there the spring of 1952? Just four of my sexual formative years, that’s all, which I struggle to uncover at a class reunion some fifty years later.
From the sixth grade playground, I watched that hole fill and grow into a three-story four-year high school. Sixth through eighth grade school students were considered mature enough for no-nun supervised playground north of the church, yet not quite ready for the hanky-panky of a middle school or a junior high school. Little did they know. We were the first television generation.
During the ’51-’52 school year, we sixth-graders played on the prairie, a vacant lot across from the construction site, post nun-supervision, pre hanky-panky. Three years later, we entered Father Pierz Memorial High School as the future class of ’59. We exited as graduates four years later through doors of a gymnasium that did not exist when our incarceration began.
Until the gym had been added, busses of basketball players and student fans traveled thirty miles down the road to Belle Prairie’s basketball court. As the tallest kid in tenth grade phy-ed, I’d been drafted to the “A” basketball squad because they needed a tenth player for practice scrimmage games. I got to suit up and even sent onto the floor for a full minute of play that season. Many years later, John Tax, team manager (towel-boy) at the time, recalls, “The home town fans cheered so loud the visiting team thought I was the team’s secret weapon to turn around a losing game.
Three lay members of our staff, Misters Peterka, Swartz and Graeve, names sounded like a lunch item at a German family restaurant. Father Schulzetenberg, resident superintendent, added color to the program, mostly with his fire-engine-red ’57 DeSoto, its interior accented with red and white cheerleaders. One morning I caught his attention and his disdain by screeching my ’49 Studebaker to a stop inches from his rear bumper. We jointly stepped out of our cars, faced each other and my rear left tire popped and fizzled just parked there.
I whispered, “Good morning, Father,” as my ego and my car slumped. He nodded and walked toward the building.
Years later, Father Schulzetenberg lit his signature cigarette after a particularly ritualized Christmas Mass and experienced a fatal heart attack. According to Father Voigt, he carried a card in his wallet that read, I am a priest. In case of an accident call a bishop. I had discovered his humorous nature too late to appreciate him.
Father Kunkel, an elderly priest recruited from a neighboring parish to instill sophomore boys with religion and sex education, stalked up and down the aisle slapping each of the faces of disruptive boys uttering, “You don’t give a damn if you go to heaven of hell.” Cause of his tirade, everyone giggling over his explanation of oral sex as misuse of an inappropriate opening in a woman’s body to avoid pregnancy. He walked out never to return, a little taste of the heaven he had mentioned prior to his exit.
Father Thompson replaced him with stories of growing up in gang-infested streets of Chicago, his favorite anecdote, holding the flame of cigarette lighter to the foot of some particularly bad gang member. He eventually left the priesthood and married one of my classmates after she had become a Franciscan nun. The married couple attended our tenth class reunion.
Father Robert Voigt confronted seniors as dispenser of religion. He taught us to believe hell exists! Between his glaring from his perch in front of the room and the funeral procession to a grave site outside our window, we paid attention. His teaching method was to select one student to stand and be interrogated about the assigned reading for the day. No one dared to not be prepared, just in case.
Confessions were offered in the room adjacent to the office on days prior to required Mass attendance such as First Fridays. With hormones raging and mortal sins well defined, mostly boys took advantage of this service.
Custodian Al Sand held court in the furnace room for us boys who needed to talk to someone without a mission to mold our character, yet effectively did. He gave me some fabric to cover the seats in my 1950 Mercury, but my Grandmother made me a winter coat out of the material in stead. A beautiful coat but didn’t wear it with the pride she so deserved. I chose the dark room as my escape from class, FILM DEVELOPING posted outside the door. One time our principal knocked and waited. We—discretion dictates I not mention who was with me—were caught. However, as seniors I had earned the respect of Sister Mary Gertrude.
Sister Shaun brought life to history while Sister Phyllis destroyed math. Correction, students like me destroyed Sister Phyllis, the consequences of guilt still felt fifty years later. Sister Romaine was the proper type to teach typing and Sister Magloire exemplified yet debunked evolution in biology class. A lively young Sister Renee taught Latin, a useless dead language. Sister Judine encouraged acting in public forums, while Sister Hilaire insisted we model Christ in our homes. Not once since Christian Family Living have I ever inserted a light bulb into my sock to darn shut a toe hole.
School lunches were served across the street in the church basement for fifty cents, a price increase from the dime we paid in first grade.
Jiggs Gilbride said, “Toss me a milk.” I did. He shoved his hands into his pockets and wandered off. I had to clean up the mess, and pay for the bottle. He was the bully of our class, the guy everyone wanted to befriend.
This and more from a memory jogged by a fiftieth class reunion.

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