How to Survive Grade School: Leave Thy Low-Vaulted Past

How to Survive Grade School: Leave Thy Low-Vaulted Past

 

First Grade  You have chicken pox and can’t go to school. You have mumps and can’t go to school. You have measles and can’t go to school. We’re all going to live in a hotel for a while so you can’t go to school.

Second Grade We’re moving to a new town and you’ll be going to a new school. The nun says you can’t read so you have to repeat First Grade.

First Grade We’ll buy you a bicycle to take your mind off your shame. What color do you want? Green? Ok. Oh, your sisters want bicycles too, blue and red.

Second Grade The nun says you read well enough to advance to Third Grade.

Third Grade Why don’t you know how to multipy? Come to the convent after school. We’ll have snacks and I’ll teach you arithmetic. You’ll be late going home. Can you cross the street by yourself?

Fourth Grade We’re moving to a new town and a new school. We’re moving again and you’re going to another new school. We’ll be living in a hotel until we find a home. You’ll be riding the public bus to school.

Fifth Grade We’re moving to another town and a new school. We’ll be living in a hotel until we find a home. March to class. March to lunch. March to recess. No talking in the hallway. No talking in the classroom. No talking at lunch. We’re moving into a house in another town and another school. They don’t wear uniforms, so let’s go shopping. Whew! No uniforms. No marching. And lots of talking.

Sixth Grade Hey new girl! Let’s sneak into the church at recess and read the booklet about sex. Let’s go ice skating after school and play Steal the Bacon with the boys. Want to join Girl Scouts? We’ll go camping and collect badges. We’ll sneak off in the middle of the night to meet the boys. I hear the nuns sent you home for wearing a sweatshirt to school. It’s ok. You just have to know the rules.

Seventh Grade We’re moving to another town and a new school. You have to iron your own white shirts, polish your brogues. Learn French. Work harder on arithmetic. You and your sister are playing palace guards, dressed in frog costumes, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Ride your bike to play summer softball. Ride your bike to Cathy Riley’s, then ride her horses into wild raspberry fields.

Eighth Grade You’re on your way to win the all-school trophy for all-around best student. Keep up your grades, sports, tutoring and extra credit projects. We’re moving to a new town without your father. You’ll be living with relatives for the last six weeks of the school year. The school requires all eighth graders to memorize nine poems in order to graduate, including Oliver Wendall Holmes’ The Chambered Nautilus:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Casper the Holy Ghost

Casper the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost appeared to me in the first grade on the day our Catholic school nun taught our class about the three persons of the Trinity.  My shimmying skin signified Casper the Friendly Ghost had floated into our classroom with his new, deeper nature as the Holy Ghost’s doppelgänger. A 1950’s cartoon character, the bubbly, happy, peaceable Casper tried desperately to befriend humans because his fellow ghosts were too sinister.But the poor guy terrified most people even though his spirit was warm-hearted and affable. Now he was one of the persons of God. And I needed Him.

My original first grade at Stone Ridge Academy of the Sacred Heart in Washington DC was interrupted by illness. I didn’t learn about the Holy Ghost until I got to my next first grade in a parochial school in Terre Haute Indiana. I was happy to repeat the first grade so I could be with my younger sister and best friend, Erin.

Third-gader Mara, my older sister, teased me relentlessly about flunking first grade in front of her friends – and what would have been my friends if she hadn’t poisoned them against me. I prayed that my one new friend, Casper the Holy Ghost,would scare Mara away from tormenting me.

I never had any trouble with the Trinity. Catholics bless themselves by making the sign of the cross, tapping the head, heart and each shoulder, while reciting “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The concept of the Trinity was and is still simple – three persons in one, just like a cross. For the life of me I don’t know why theologians are always trying to explain it. Perhaps they didn’t have Casper to guide them in the first grade.
I dressed as Casper at Halloween –  many kids still do. My mother wasn’t the least bit interested in dabbling in children’s holidays, much less making costumes. But my Casper costume was a cinch. As long as I didn’t cut holes for my eyes, she let me drape a white sheet over my head and Erin, in her hobo costume, led me around trick-or-treating. Mara, in her I Love Lucy outfit, ridiculed us surrounded by her pack of friends.

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I started collecting Casper the Friendly Ghost comic books in 1952 when I was six. By the time I was ten I had them stacked up alongside Superman comics in my closet. One day I came home from playing baseball and Mara had thrown away my comic book collection. She said it was time for me to grow up. The slick odor of those mistreated keepsakes haunted me for a time but the quivering feeling of Casper’s friendship and protection eventually evaporated.

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About that time Catholics started using Holy Spirit instead of Holy Ghost. The only image I had of the Holy Spirit was an inanimate white dove hanging open-winged over statues of Jesus. He certainly didn’t look like he needed friends. I slinked away from the Holy Ghost until years later when He fell into my own spirit and turned my old fear of Mara into forgiveness. She’s still scary. But not to me.