It was August 1967. Mom had awakened me so early. It was still dark outside, and I thought no one is supposed to be up yet when it was still night time unless you were going fishing. I was 6 years old, and it was my first day of school. Morning breakfast those days was cereal; either corn flakes or Cheerios, for Mom was never talked into buying the "sugar cereals" as she called it. I was like a walking zombie. I remember at that age how cloudy it was in the morning, and I'm not talking the weather but my mind. Seemed like all my life up until then, you woke up when the daylight woke you, and you stumbled around the house until you woke up. All my life, until my first day of school, if I did wake early enough you could catch the early kid shows that came on, starting around 7am with the 7 channels available. Earliest was Bozo the Clown, included cartoons, skits, and games that kids on the show would play and win the coolest prizes. T-Bar-V Ranch Time with Randy Atcher and Cactus the rodeo Clown was another early morning show and when we picked up the Cincinnati channel, the Uncle Al show was the last to watch before adult shows came on. Usually, that meant at the age of 5 that it was time to get dressed and wander in the neighborhood to find your friends and get the day started playing.
But this morning was a new chapter in my life, and those days of nothing but playing were over with. Mom would help me get dressed for the first couple of weeks as I moved like a snail, confused and tired about the early wake up. There was no set uniform yet at Good Shepard School as I can remember. There were definitely no jeans allowed and button up shirts with collar was the rule. I don't think we were even allowed tennis shoes. The morning was dark for day light savings was not in affect at the time and on top of that it was a cool August morning, cloudy and spitting rain. We drove downtown, my heart pounding more by the second as we got closer. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking, but I'm sure, like all the children in the past up till today, I was full of anxiety as most kids would have on their first day of school. It was the first step of many in the American parent's view of emptying the nest.
Mom pulled up to the church, and told me that we attended mass first before we went to school. That was the first shock. I looked up at the entrance and there standing on each side of the main entrance, were two long and lean nuns. I gazed up at them and it reminded me of the gargoyle statues looking down from the Notre Dame Cathedral when I had watched the old Hunchback movie starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara from the 1930's black and white classic. I looked back at Mom and tears filled my eyes. Why are you doing this to me I thought. She pointed that finger at me, told me to dry it up. She got out of the car stopped one of the boys who was going in, and asked him to walk with me inside. Children from first grade to seniors in high school were flooding inside and the nuns had the traffic control down to an art. There was the shoulder turn, where they would grab the middle age kids by the shoulder if they were not moving fast enough and would guide them into the front door. The children my age would get the head grab and pushed into the front door that way, while others would get anything from the collar grab on the back of the neck to actual hair grab at the older students who wasn't scared to say something smart to the nuns, or just did it to get a laugh or fulfill their rebellious spirit. Once we got inside, a student sat with his age group, a specified area for the rest of the school year. There you would see some my age crying some being woke up and scolded for falling asleep. Older ones were whispering and making jokes, others staring blankly at the ceiling. The females were always required to have something on their head, and it seemed it never failed that someone would forget theirs. The nuns would always have extra hankies in their pocket and would lend them to whoever forgot but always cost them a scolding. There was a short little nun, who looked to me like she was 90 years old. She kept one extra piece of cloth in case a girl needed it. The problem was, we had seen her use it to sneeze in and blow here nose so whenever we saw her pull it out and hairpin it on some girls head we'd smile and try not to laugh, and remind the girl later on the playground she had better wash her hair when she got home. We met our teachers after mass, and the first grades were taught by two teachers and were not nuns to my relief. We had a lot of characters in that grade. When people see that old First Holy Communion picture they are usually floored by who is in it. The first day of school involved meeting fellow classmates right off the farm, some I knew from my own neighborhood, younger sisters and brothers of my older brother's friends. Some I knew wasn't completely right from the beginning. As that first day ended, I remember a boy getting up, falling over his desk with a loud bang, and half the class breaking out in a roaring laughter, while others like me stood there with our mouths wide open how someone had the nerve to make such a ruckus in this strict prison of discipline and no excuses. Seemed that the boy sitting behind him, tied his shoe to his desk and when the poor kid stood up and tried to take off walking, everything ended up on the floor. Of course, the teacher was told, I'm sure by one of the girls who saw him; seemed like the girls was always the tattle-tales, and on the first day a boy was taken outside and spanked. He came in hopping and still rubbing his behind and you could hear the clock ticking it was so quiet. Things have changed over the years when it comes to a child's first day of school. What happened that day would be considered child abuse mentally and physically. I do think in the long run, it made us very tough at an early age. It made us a very independent generation. A child was fearless back then by the age of 10. I remember to this day learning how to read that first year. Sitting at my desk, watching reactions, watching bad habits from nose picking, scratching in the most embarrassing places, to seeing some actually sticking their pencil down their throat to induce a vomit so they could go home...
I remember the older kids sneaking across the street behind the Paul Sawyer Library...sitting on a wall overlooking the river and smoking Marlboro reds. They always had tiny travel bottles of cheap cologne and a mouth freshener called "nip-it" to hid any smell of their 5 minute adventure. Country cooking was the norm at Good Shepard Cafeteria. Fried chicken, mash potatoes, and green beans we top notch. Food was definitely cooked with love compared to public schools at the time. Fights broke out on the playground every other week or so. I probably learned more about fighting there than anywhere until I met a friend my age whose father boxed in the service and he taught me a few things. I left Good Shepard when it seemed all my Catholic friends were moving out of the neighborhood to the west side of town that was starting to grow. Seemed like the rest that stayed behind with me was leaving, and since most of my friends that were left were going to public school I wanted too. Mom, all too glad not to have to worry about tuition conceded to my wishes. Things were so much easier at public schools; my first year of transition was easy. We played until we were threatened to come in. From the am hours till past dark, we never sat on the couch and played video games for hours at a time. We played sports, mostly football when I was younger. Tackle got to dangerous once we got older and had been playing in pee wee and Pop Warner leagues. Are attention focused then on basketball, the Kentucky official sport. Baseball was played mostly with a tennis ball for windows were expensive. Sometimes we played whiffle ball, or simply played kickball. Then there were other outdoor games, hide and seek, Red light Green light, "Mother may I?"...and Simon Says. The boys were big on playing army, GI Joe, hot wheels, Tonka's, and flying kites or the cheap balsa wood airplanes. We'd explore, which meant riding bikes, walking trails out in the woods, climbing trees, or building forts and clubhouses. The only time one would stay in the house was exceptionally cold days with no snow, or nasty wet and rainy days. Our generation grew up healthy and independent and once most of us got old enough to walk to the pool during summer vacation, we would swim for 6 hours straight taking only restroom breaks and stopping once to eat.