-My parents enrolled me in pre-kindergarten at St. Clare when I was four years old. Right away, I earned a reputation as a shy and sensitive boy who was intelligent but somewhat lacking in motor skills. I’ve been told that my pre-K teacher, Miss JoAnn, was astonished to learn on the first day that I already knew how to read…and nearly as surprised to learn that I wasn’t able to use scissors.
-Kindergarten brought its own challenges, as I struggled with my penmanship; having broken my (dominant) right arm that August didn’t help matters. I must have been unlucky that year, because I also busted open the back of my head in class one day. My desk was at the back of the classroom and I was leaning back on my chair to try to pull out my handwriting book, which was at the very bottom of the stack in the desk. I lost my balance and hit my head on a metal table right behind me and started bleeding everywhere. I remember sitting in the nurse’s office with the teacher’s aide and sobbing. She was doing her best to calm me down and told me that I was going to live and that I would grow up and get married some day. That strikes me as an odd sort of thing to say to a five-year-old, but it did stick with me and it probably provided a distraction. I think I dodged a bullet, because no stitches were needed and I was cleaned up and returned to class in time for a regularly scheduled lesson on dinosaurs, my first childhood passion.
-My father got his first teaching job at St. Clare, as the principal took a chance and hired an art teacher with no college degree and two decades of experience in retail and warehouse distribution. It took another ten years for him to earn his bachelor’s degree in art education, and he never would have done it without the support and accommodations that the administrators and fellow faculty members provided to him.
-As a middle schooler, it was sometimes embarrassing to have a parent working at my school, but I’d have to admit that it had its moments. One day my classmates decided right before art class that we would have a secret word of the day, a la Pee Wee’s Playhouse. At the beginning of the period, after much prompting, my dad finally uttered the secret word: “door”. We responded with a brief cacophony of screams, and then moved along as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
-My fifth grade teacher had a system for rewarding good behavior and academic achievements by which she would award us with fake money made from construction paper, in denominations from $1 to $500. At the end of the year, she auctioned off food, toys, and trinkets that we could purchase with our accrued riches. At the time, I was “dating” Stephanie, my first girlfriend. (This largely consisted of holding hands when possible, talking on the phone regularly, and hanging out at the parish’s spring carnival.) She was a tomboy, so I attempted to meet her halfway by exhibiting a heretofore unseen interest in sports. Anyway, getting back to the auction, my big haul was a modest stack of a few dozen 1992 Fleer cards that included Mike Mussina. I’d already been in possession of an assortment of 1980s Topps cards that had been given to me by family members, but as I remember it those gaudy greenish borders and big bold team-colored letters were my gateway to a collecting frenzy.
-In eighth grade, a classmate’s father suffered a fatal heart attack at his workplace. It was stunning, confusing, and most of all scary to the rest of us. Speaking for myself, I’d lost my grandfather a few years earlier, but I understood that he was an older man and that his time had come. The idea that a parent could be taken away from you…I still don’t like to think about it. The day that we found out about Amy’s dad, our teachers rose to the occasion. They put aside all of the planned classwork for the day and talked to us about what had happened. We were given time to walk around outside and talk to each other, time to cry, time to scream. We were allowed to play basketball and to do basically anything within reason for a much-needed distraction.
-One of the last things that St. Clare did for me as a student was to give me the acting bug. I was cast as the Grand Duke in the school’s Disneyesque musical production of Cinderella. It was a part that (mercifully) required no significant singing from me, and I suppose there was no one else who had more of a physical resemblance to the animated character. I remembered all of my lines and enjoyed the process enough that I gravitated toward the stage again in high school, and I’ve been involved in theatre in one capacity or another ever since.
There are scores of other images and moments from my ten years at St. Clare that have been flooding back to me since I heard about its impending closure, but I’ve already topped 1,000 words and I have other things I’d like to do today. Until we meet again…