Sunday, March 23, 2008

St. Francis Academy

When we moved from Durkee to Baker I was in the middle of second grade. My parents put us in the catholic academy knowing that we would get a very good education. Indeed St. Francis was more advanced than the public schools at that time. For example, one of our classes was penmanship and I had never written in cursive nor did I know any of the letters. Being somewhat shy and the new kid in school instead of asking for help or letting the teacher know I instead began to follow the cursive letters which were above the blackboard around the room. In order to do this I had to figure out which letter I needed and then try to put it all together. I remember feeling so stressed that I could not keep up with the other kids but yet the idea of letting on to the teacher in front of the whole class was even more terrifying. But the sister quickly caught on and did not embarrass me at all. In fact she just began to review all of the letters from the beginning of the alphabet to the whole class. It was years later that I realized what she had done and how kind it was of her to do this. There were very kind sisters but there were a few that weren't so kind.

This is an early photo of the academy which was built in 1904 and closed in 1970 due to financial difficulties and a shortage of sisters. I am sure that there are more recent photos but I only had this from a post card. When I was in school it looked mostly the same except they had built a wrought iron fence around the playground which was all black top and the trees were much larger. I don't know why in the world they would have blacktop because I came home with many a skinned knee from falling while playing. The playground was around back from this photo and consisted of a swing set and a baseball diamond. The rest was just open for games and such. I do remember a tether ball but I also remember walking around looking in the windows to the basement where the the kitchen and laundry was done by a very old sister whom we rarely saw. It was off limits so we were always very curious. There was a library down there and a lunch room. Hot lunches were not served so we took cold lunches except for the occasional hot sloppy joe fund raisers the high school would put on in the church basement. We always felt this was such a special treat. I used to envy the children who had bologna sandwiches because my mother would never buy this. Instead we had tuna, peanut butter, egg salad, deviled ham or even worse, SPAM. Yuk! If you asked any one of my six siblings what food they hate the most from childhood the word Spam always is the prize winner. Now I would never have bologna...gross. Grass is always greener.

Here are the main doors to the school. However, I don't ever remember going in these doors. Usually we went up a flight of steps on the side of the building and into the main hallway. At the back of this hall were small music practice rooms where kids could practice piano. We had a piano at home so the only time I was ever in here was when my friend practiced occasionally. I took piano lessons for three years from a mean grumpy Sister Foster or Faustina (I can't remember her name exactly). She was not a very patient woman and used to smack my knuckles with a huge wooden pencil (those souveniers you used be able to buy for each city) for letting my wrists sag while playing. My parents could not afford piano lessons at that time so I worked in the library in the basement to pay for the lessons. Oh how mortified I was but now realize that I was taught a very good lesson about working for something worthwhile.

I disliked my music teacher as you can imagine but I liked playing the piano. One day I had a little gas problem and on this day she was very mean and yelled at me about something I played wrong. Well the silent killer emerged and she choked her way out of the room all the while telling me to practice and she would be back. But before she left she opened the window a couple of inches. I just smiled and played and played until my lesson was up. Revenge was stinky sweet!

The school was a boarding school for women before my days there. I remember walking up and down the halls looking at all of the photos of past graduates and the dates of graduations. I wish I had some of those pictures because the clothing was so amazing over the years. The above hallway was on the second floor where the high school classrooms were. You could only walk part way to double doors that were always kept closed. Behind these doors were the "mysterious nuns private rooms". Oh how curious I was to see what it was like. There was a third floor where an old gymnasium and bathrooms as well as bedrooms for the borders were. During my school years this was not used except for storage because it was not structurally safe. Each classroom had a storage room with extra books and such and my fifth grade teacher would send me up there along with my best friend, Carol, to put books away or bring something back and we would sneak around and look at all the rooms and the old bathrooms. We felt we were doing something so bad and mysterious because there was a walkway that had frosted glass windows that jutted out over the playground and to get to the rooms we had to sneak across there. I'm sure our teacher or others knew what we were up to but never let on. Bad girls we were.

This is Sister Rose De Lima who was my fourth grade teacher. She was a fantastic artist and taught many, many children private art lessons. I remember her as a kind lady and she was in Baker for a very long time. She always remembered me as an adult when I would see her in the grocery store.

Here is my sixth grade class picture, the very last year the school was open. The majority of us went on to middle school in the public school system which was about all that was available. I am fourth from the right in the middle row. This teacher, Sister Kathleen Anne was one of my very favorite teachers. She called our class the three B's....the biggest, the best and the brightest.


Jill said...

I love all the photographs, they make me think of an old, haunted school :) And you know how I am about ghost stories...the class picture is really cool--you look exactly the same! With shorter hair and a change of clothes, of course :oD love you!

noble pig said...

What a great story. My Aunt is a sister and taught school as well. She is 85 now and is just the sweetest person. This reminded me so much of her.

"JEANNELLE" said...

Wow, Egghead, what a great story and wonderful old photos! Your writing made me feel like I was right there with you in the old hallways and rooms.

We, too, had a black-topped playground and lots of tether ball poles! My kids don't even know what tether ball is.

Tipper said...

Wow I feel like I've been there after reading your post. So interesting! I hope you keep posting about your history.I don't think I have ever seen a nun in real life.

Isn't it funny how you can remember the schools of youth so detailed? And I can't remember where I ate last, but I still remember how my first school smelled.

carrie & troy keiser said...

It's fun to read your school memories. Thanks for posting the school pictures also.

Sissy said...

Your story of St Francis and the music rooms made me think of the story I wrote recently of my music experience on Hey, Let Me Tell You a Story. You are going into my favorites so I can read the Whole Blog. Thank you for sharing.