Bill's Story Part 2: First Kiss and Other Adventures in Catholic School
Here is another excerpt of my father-in-law Bill’s life story. Our manuscript is a work in progress, and we’ve got about 150 pages thus far. It’s been a real pleasure getting to learn so much about him. The photo is Bill on the day of his First Communion. What follows are some of his early memories attending the local Catholic school down the street from his childhood home in Jersey City, New Jersey. Enjoy!
I started kindergarten when I was four years old. A friend of mine, Tommy Katz, had his birthday in April, and he went to school the following semester in September like I should have done. Eventually I figured out that I should have waited to start school until the next year, because I was always really behind. I couldn’t spell and I couldn’t really read, so I just kept quiet, and did what I could.
I attended St. Bridget’s, a Catholic school in our neighborhood. We walked to school, and we had half days. For the first five months, I’d go to St. Bridget’s in the mornings. Then for the second semester, I went in the afternoons. I hated that. My mom used to have to chase me down to get me to go.
For the first grade, my teacher was Sister Elizabeth, who was very pretty. The Sisters wore those black habits, where all you could see was their face. Everything was covered, but I swear they had four thousand pockets in there, because they’d pull out all kinds of crazy things.
In second grade, I had Sister Anette. She was a little, petite, pretty lady, but I don’t remember much about that year. I always was quiet. You had to fold your hands on the desk, and if you screwed around, the Sisters would whack you with their rulers. Or they’d take you to the principal’s office, and you’d get whacked again.
The principal was Sister Mary, and her office was right across from the third grade classroom. I sat in the front because I was real short, so I was right by the door where I could look into her office. Inside there, I saw all of these cabinets lining the walls from floor to ceiling, and the ceiling was like twelve feet high. Everyone used to spread rumors that she had a cat of nine tales, a whip, and all these old torture instruments in the cabinets. If you got called into her office, you’d look around and wonder which cabinet held the torture instruments. Your mind travels like that in those situations. Luckily, I only had to go a few times.
I remember a lot of the third grade, because I was there twice. When I went back to school after the summer following third grade, I discovered that I was in the same class and had been held back. I had Sister Grace as a teacher both times. She was very hairy, with a black mustache, and she was strict but nice.
I was still short, so I sat in the front, and there was a group of big kids in the back. They were there when I started third grade the first time, and they were still there when I started the second time around. There was Raymond Mooney, Charles Castle, and a kid named Louis. I went all the way to the eighth grade with them. They all looked like men, and one kid even looked like Bela Lugosi, the guy that played Frankenstein.
There were a few reasons I got held back for the third grade. I was sick a lot back then. Our apartment wasn’t very big, and whatever sickness my brothers or sisters got, I got too. Whooping cough, measles, chickenpox, you name it.
I also used to sneak out a lot at night. The first time I did it was in first grade. I don’t know how late it was, but when everyone in my family went to sleep, I’d go outside. The big guys were always out- sixteen, seventeen-year old kids in the neighborhood. They’d tell me to do stupid stuff, saying things like, “Hey Bill, go up on that car and jump up and down.” I’d do it, because I was a little kid and I wanted to be part of the group. Then I’d go back home, and I was tired during class the next day.
I was always in the lowest groups, and one day Sister Grace asked Mary, a beautiful girl in my class, to go sit with me to help me read. I was so excited, but then, when she sat down and started reading, she had horrible breath. I thought to myself, “Oh gosh, that kills everything. That’s the end of that one.” No more crush on Mary.
Then, there was a girl named Jeanie. She was very pretty, and she was my first kiss. Her and I used to kiss each other all the time. Tommy Samon used to find us kissing down in the basement in the apartments. He’d look through the keyhole in the door and say, “Hey, I saw you!” and we’d get embarrassed. After that, we never hung around or anything, because the next year she was grade ahead of me.
When I brought home the first report card of the school year, my dad looked and it and said, “Third grade? Weren’t you in third grade last year?” I said, “Yeah, but I got held back.” He asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I said, “Well, you didn’t ask.” My dad didn’t know I had been held back for a grade.