DECADE NUMBER TWO: exploration of my body, mind and environment
Let me begin by saying I never wanted to be in the seventh grade. I longed for the ninth grade at the new high school. I recall a nightmare where that two year time warp occurred. I stood at the front door of Father Pierz Memorial High School too embarrassed to enter because the legs in my faded denim jeans had huge holes and my bare knees were exposed. Today’s jeans are purchased with frayed and ragged body exposures, even across the butt.
That said, I have more memories from my seventh year than all the others combined, partly attributed to the onset of puberty and partly to my teacher, Sister LilyRosa OSB. Given a list of the fifty three students in my class, I could recall at least one memory of each person, be it as incidental as where he or she sat in relation to me or the time a girl who I won’t identify stood to read aloud with her dress tucked between her butt cheeks. She sat two seats in front of me.
I remember the class size because Sister LilyRosa celebrated her fifty-third anniversary in the classroom that year. The numbers matched. To her fifty three students, she seemed old, yet probably younger than I am as I record this memory. She began teaching before the turn of the century; now that makes her seem old!
Each morning Sister LilyRosa and Sister Roland from the eighth grade classroom across from us would leave us students unattended for their twenty minute coffee break. They said such freedom gave students the opportunity to show responsibility. Actually, it gave our class clown (no name mentioned, but not me) an audience to entertain with such antics as imitating our teacher and passing gas loudly. He must have eaten beans for breakfast to produce that kind of thunder.
In truth, the two nuns gave certain classroom tattletales an opportunity to hone their skills. One must have snitched on the classroom farter, because the parish pastor made a surprise visit to our class and pulled the culprit from the room. The humbled student returned from the storeroom with the imprint of the priest’s hand on his face, and, I think, he went back to eating normal breakfasts. The single slap was the reverend’s trademark.
One time I almost met with the farter’s fate in that same storeroom. One of our playground games included a pocket knife. We’d face an opponent a few feet apart and toss the knife to his left or right. If it stuck, he’d have to stretch his leg to that point. The object was to get as many tosses without stabbing his foot or making his stretch impossible. We’d play this game when playing drop-the-marble got boring.
I don’t recall what happened, but here’s the account I gave Father Voigt after being called from Sister LilyRosa’s classroom. “I was cleaning my fingernails with my pocket knife when Kenny tagged me even though I wasn’t playing that game. I swung around and accidentally cut his hand between thumb and finger.”
The priest glared down at me. I was tall for a seventh grader, but he seemed much taller. “Let me see the knife.”
I dug it from my pocket.
“Open the blade.”
I opened all three blades. He took the knife.
“Are you and Kenny friends?”
“We don’t usually hang together, but we get along.” Truth is, he was a city kid, and I lived in the country; came to school on a bus—not a matter of prestige. A second truth known to teachers and students alike, neither of us would ever fight anyone. I don’t think we were pegged as cowards, but our temperaments precluded any sort of violence.
“If you want your knife back, come to the church rectory after school. Now go back to class.”
I don’t recall if I retrieved the knife—going to the priest’s inner sanctum was akin to entering a haunted castle. But I suspect Father Voigt held high expectations for Kenny and me. Four decades later, he singled out our successes—Kenny a medical doctor and I a doctorate in education—in his published history of our town, Pierz, Minnesota.