AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD; IN THE BEGINNING

MAMA

It began with my Mama; she was just a young girl

Who’d decided on teaching; she’d give it a whirl;

She went to college in Dayton and her degree was the best

She thought she would teach at a school in the West;

She went to Nebraska; her brother had gone there on a lark,

To a town founded by Mormons, that was called Cutler’s Park;

There her brother bought himself land and got him a bride,

And he tilled and he toiled with ingrained-farmer pride.

With a town comes a church and a school on the prairie,

And Mama was teacher and head of the library;

And a one-room classroom became Mama’s domain,

With grades one through eight and children to train.

Two of the students, were boys six and eight,

Willy and George, who never came late–

Their father delivered them right to the door,

And quickly departed but returned right at four.

Soon Mama learned that their mother had died

when Willie was born; Mama heard this and cried,

and soon she devised ways to give them a bit

of motherly love; she had lots of it.

Of course, it was Papa who’d fathered those boys

Seeing Mama each day became one of his joys,

But he kept to himself and she couldn’t know

of the love that he had but he knew of the flow;

and  it wasn’t until his sons spoke so much about

our good school marm” that he learned of her touch;

Eventually Mama and Papa were wed,

instead of bridesmaids, Willie & George stood in their stead,

And when I was born, I had two big brothers,

and never did know that Mama wasn’t their mother.

PAPA

Papa was a man of very few words;

he believe in hard work and

got up with the birds;

His first wife was a girl

who’d run off from her church

but she died birthing Willie,

leaving Pa in the lurch.

So Pa ran his farm and his little boys too

with an iron fist–what else could he do?

A woman in town showed my Pa how to cook

and to help him along, she gave him a book,

Once a week he took their laundry to town,

to a Chinese laundry, the best one around,

The maidens in town had their eyes on my Pa,

But he only noticed the school marm, my Ma;

For she loved his children long before him,

And when she married, it wasn’t a whim,

She went on school teaching until I came along,

And then she stayed home, where she felt she belonged.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted January 10, 2012

Updated August 26, 2018

 

Sandra’s footnote:  This poem was the first in a series that I wrote in 2010 about an American Childhood; one of my Canadian girlfriends had all of the poems to An American Childhood printed in a booklet. Thank you, Doreen.

FOUR YEARS AT MERCY/CLASS OF 1958

In 1954 we were the Freshman class

girls from many parishes, wearing

new blue uniforms

with crisp white blouses,

bobby socks and penny loafers,

blue and white beanie caps;

Assigned our lockers

and a list of the rooms

of all our classes.

In my dreams, I still lose

the slip of paper with my

classes listed on it and have

to go to Sister Emily’s office

to get another.  I may have lost

that list once or twice every

year. I may have been slightly 

scatter-brained.

Religion, English, General Math,

Science, Domestic Science (Sewing).

I was not very good at sewing and

spent a year making a pair of pajamas

with French seams.

Public Speaking. I had a class in

Public Speaking? P.E. I did not like

P.E. and it did not like me.  I think the

teacher took pity on the girl with two

left feet. she allowed me to be the coach.

In 1955, we were the Sophomores

No longer the new kids on the block.

We were worldly, experienced, and knew

our way around the halls and up and down

the stairwells. I still lost my list of classes once

or twice until I had them memorized.

Religion, English, Biology.  (Sister Joseph, I remember

you well–oh, that all the world could have been as

enthusiastic as you!)

World History, Public Speaking (again?) Domestic

Science (Cooking Class; I love you Mrs. Cunningham,

where ever you are). P.E. How did I ever get a 97.5

average in P.E.? (is this really my report card?)

In 1956 we became Juniors.

No longer babies. “Young women” sister said.

Religion, English, U.S. History, Homemaking II.

typing! (I loved typing class) Office Practice.

(Sister Joseph again. We practiced writing checks

for weeks. Sister was a stickler for getting it right.

To this day I write a pretty good check.) P.E. (how

did I ever get a 92.5 average?)

A in Conduct. (OK, I could live with that.)

In 1957 we became the Senior Class.

Religion, English, Business Math,

Problems of Democracy (Democracy is

still having problems  fifty years later)

Typing, P.E., The Senior Prom. Getting our

pictures taken. Final Exams, graduation Day

in front of the school.

(Of all the things, the documents, driver’s license,

birth certificates for four sons, and bits of paper

that have trailed me through life, much has been lost

along the way, but somehow I have managed to keep

four important report cards, proof that I was there

for four years and graduated from Mother of Mercy

High School June 4, 1958).

Requiem for Mother of Mercy High School

Last April I attended the 60th class reunion for the class of 1958; it was held in the school cafeteria, after we had a group photograph taken in front of the school. Then we were allowed to explore the school, much of it just the same as it was 60 years ago when we were students.  Mother of Mercy opened its doors in 1915. A couple of years ago, Mercy celebrated its 100th year as a Catholic girls high school. As of this school year, Mercy is merging with McCauley High School, at McCauley. Our Mercy building is being bought – possibly to the Cincinnati public school system.  – sls

 

 

 

Sandra Lee Schmidt/Smith

Class of 1958

FOUR YEARS AT MOTHER OF MERCY, CLASS OF 1958, A RETROSPECTIVE

In 2018 I attended my 60th class reunion, held inside the high school, along with perhaps 40-something  classmates. (I think there were about 250 girls in my 12th grade graduating class) it would be our final class reunion held at Mother of Mercy, in April of 2018; Mercy has been in the process of merging with McAuley Girls High School. Mercy celebrated its 100th year teaching girls in 2015.

I wasn’t the only former student shedding tears at what is most likely our last class reunion. I wasn’t the best of student during those four years–preoccupied, at times, with working in the school cafeteria, the school library, and cleaning classrooms for 50c an hour, to help pay for my tuition and receiving free lunches. I didn’t feel as though I fit in at Mercy–the majority of the students in 1954 were from well-to-do families–and like it or not, the nuns knew which students came from well to do families and which ones didn’t.  and we knew that they knew this.  The sisters would insist that the reason we wore uniforms was so we would all be on a level playing field.  Don’t you believe it.

For one thing, our report cards (coming from a poorer parish) went to our parish priest for review before it was given to us to take home top our parents. The parish paid half of your tuition.  I don’t believe I was the only student in the 1950s who was aware of my “lesser” status.  Even so, there were classes at Mercy that I loved – cooking class for one (Domestic Science), office practice, sewing classes,  typing classes (in which I excelled), reading and writing and memorizing poetry. I was a terrible student in American History in my Junior year of school for the first semester. The teacher took pity on me and said I could make up any tests I did not pass.  I was mortified–I knew that the only reason I was failing was my failure to study.  I did much better the second semester –I have often wished I could have let the teacher, Mrs. Schuab, how I developed a great interest in American History about a decade later, and how surprised I think she would have been.

Mrs. Cunningham, my cooking teacher, knew from the start that I was   greatly interested in “domestic science” – my mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was about ten years old.

I was unable to attention the first four  class reunions, held every five years; the first I attended was our 25th reunion and I think I attended all the rest. I was also able to purchase the four year books for my years at Mercy, when I was there in 2018 – books I couldn’t afford when I was a student.

 

Sandra Lee Schmidt/Smith

 

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

Mahatma Gandhi

if we aspire to anything, as human beings,

perhaps it would be to make a difference,

to leave our mark, to be remembered;

Who, more than teachers, are in a position

to make a difference – not just in one child’s

life, but in the lives of many children.

All of us, I think, have fond memories of

a favorite teacher – and if you are extremely

blessed and fortunate, more than one favorite

teacher–teachers we loved and admired and

remember for the valuable lessons they taught

us, or for the acts of kindness they demonstrated

in their classrooms.

Such were my teachers, Sister Doris Marie, 5th

and 6th grades, and Sister Charlene, who was

my eighth grade teacher and also the principal

of St Leo’s when I was a student there.  Groups of

eighth grade girls would follow her around,

during recesses, wanting to talk to her,

to be near her.  Sister Doris Marie had that effect on boys

as well as girls–if you received notice

going into the 6th grade–that you would have

Sister Doris Marie again–we were all ecstatic..

I fell in love with school going into the 5th grade

and being in Sister Doris Marie’s classroom.

In high school, the most outstanding teachers

who made a difference in my life were Mrs. Staub,

who taught American History and Mrs. Cunningham

who was the cooking teacher–I adored Mrs. Cunningham

and I loved cooking class.

I wish I could go back in time to tell these two teachers

how much impact they made in my life–the seed (a love of

cooking)  had already been planted – I began cooking when I was

ten years old – but Mrs. Cunningham made that seed grow.

My high school, Mother of Mercy, was blessed with so many gifted,

caring teachers – and we had huge classes of students in the four

years I was enrolled there–I counted something like 250 teenage

girls in our senior group photograph.

To these teachers, to all teachers, I want to say “thank you” for making a difference.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

originally composed October 23, 2009, updated July 5, 2018

TEACHERS

There were some teachers in my life

who stand out in my memory,

Now, more than 50 years ago,

My first grade teacher, Sister Tarcisius,

Who taught my sister, brother, father,

aunt and uncle

and celebrated  her Golden Jubilee

as a Franciscan nun is first

to come to mind;

She was a gentle woman

who taught first graders for five decades

I prefer not to remember my fourth grade

teacher, sister Cecilia, who perhaps

would have been better off

anywhere but teaching young children;

she pulled my hair once when

I entered church without a scarf on my head

(which I had forgotten to wear)

she pulled me by the hair out of church

and threatened to beat me.

I told my mother, who send sister a note

telling her if anyone was going to beat

her daughter, it would be her and not

sister Cecilia.  Sister never forgave me

for that.  Fourth grade was an ordeal.

I wonder now why I didn’t ask to be

changed to another fourth grade class?

It just wasn’t done, I think.

But the fifth grade brought me to Sister Doris Marie,

who taught us long division and diagramming

sentences, who read stories to the class and

loved children; we loved her in return.

The greatest gift I received for sixth grade

was a return to Sister Doris Marie’s classroom.

She taught me to love school.

Eighth grade brought me to the classroom

of Sister Charlene, who was also St Leo’s school

Principal. the 8th grade girls would follow

Sister Charlene around the playground; she

was also greatly loved by her students.

After graduating from 8th grade, I began

going to high school at Mother of Mercy

where I immediately made an enemy of

Sister Seraphia who found me entering

the Cloister as I tried to find my Science

Class on the first day of school. “Didn’t

you see the sign reading “Cloister?” she

remanded. “Yes, ” I said, “but I didn’t know

what it meant.”  Sister Seraphia had it in

for me for four years starting with my

Freshman religion class.

At my 50th class reunion, a group of us

were standing outside in the parking

lot–Sister Seraphia was one of the people

in that group. I told my cloister story and

she said “Oh, you probably didn’t know

what it mean”.  Really, Sister Seraphia?

I carried a burden of guilt for 54 years?

 

I had several favorite teachers in high school;

Mrs. Cunningham, our cooking teacher was

one–I was finally in my element. Another was

my American History Teacher and my typing

teacher–both read my stories and encouraged

me to write.  These were a few of the teachers

who saw something in me that I didn’t know

wat there at the time.

At my sixtieth class reunion in April of 2018, I

was able to purchase the four Mercy yearbooks

for 1955-1958 and now the names of all these

teachers are firm in my memory.

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written February 2010, updated

June, 2018