Walking the halls of St. Stephen brings back a host of memories
Recently, Principal Katherine Peck led a group of St. Stephen of Hungary alumni on a tour of the 82nd Street school, from the auditorium in the basement up to the bell tower.
During our exploration, my head exploded with Kodachrome memories from my 1st grade in 1960 through my graduating year, 1968.
On stage in the auditorium, I saw myself as St. Joseph in a play for the student body. The meager set was a post office in heaven. I wore FatherÂ Emeric"sÂ priest sandals. They represented poverty, but to me they signaled taking my toes out for a walk. I proudly wore Father"s brown robe with the rope belt. The priest uniform's I got the whole priest uniform! And I could swing thatÂ FranciscanÂ rope belt around like a beat cop. I nailed a couple of kids walking by me on stage. Mr. Varga, the school"s custodian, saw me do it and kicked me in the ass.
On Nov. 22, 1963, The Yearling was our Friday afternoon movie of the month. During the tour, I looked up near the projector box to where the loudspeaker used to be and could have sworn I heard the nun"s voice telling us President Kennedy had been shot.
When I entered the 1st grade classroom, children had their heads on their desks, taking their nap break after sipping small cartons of milk. Sister Beatrice, our teacher, exhausted and smiling, leaned against the blackboard and got chalk all over the backside of her black skirt. She didn"t care. Sister Beatrice was a tomboy, smelled great and I loved her.
At her 2nd grade desk, Sister Lorraine gave me a B minus for my drawing of a Thanksgiving turkey before the 1961 holiday. I had run out of brown crayon and finished off his stomach with green and red. Dad had taught me to combine colors to make others.
In front of the 4th grade class, Sister Adrianne congratulated Michael Toth and me for getting 100s on a big arithmetic test. As a reward, she gave us the eraser cleaning assignment for a month. This meant unchaperoned trips to the bell tower before dismissal each day's and meant we would play field hockey with the erasers, winging a few of them up into the tower. Kids tried to trip us on our way back to our seats.
I saw the office where we received inoculations and weakly tried to be good on line during the boring wait, always hoping a kid would pass out when he or she saw the needle. Spied the office where the nuns ran off tests on the mimeograph machine with the light purple ink. I loved taking in the ink"s aroma. I still have a school newsletter from March 1961.
Inside the 8th grade classroom, I winked at Sister Mercedes, I loved her, too. She endorsed my hiring as a traveling salesman for the religious article store in the rear of the church. I sold catechisms, rosaries and other holy items to the students in each class. Sister Mercedes was my business manager's she also permitted Lynn Farrell and me to sing The Box Tops" hit, â€œThe Letter, to the class on a slow June afternoon a week before 1968 graduation.
But most of all, on the tour I saw a place where I sought comfort, companionship and knowledge. It was a meaningful, engaging walk through my past. I had a terrific education at St. Stephen and the spirit and strength of that instruction is still there, still strong. Thank you, Principal Peck for the tour. You make Sister Beatrice and Sister Mercedes proud's two of your predecessors, principals and teachers who deeply impacted my life and countless other St. Stephen alumni.
Thomas Pryor"s work has been published in The New York Times, he has recently completed his first book and he curates a show at The Cornelia Street Cafe.
Read his blog at YorkvilleStoopstoNuts.blogspot.com.
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