I stepped back into my childhood a few weeks ago and I didn’t do it alone.
Just as I rounded my grade school stairs, I spotted three of my old friends standing at the top — Carol, Jeannie and Ann. We’d all come to St. Therese for a final walk-through of the building, which is slated to be torn down this fall.
Even though I’m a member of St. Therese Parish and have been in the old school building a number of times in the years since I graduated, I still hear the echoes of my youth as I walk through those halls. They even smell the same if I breathe in deeply enough — the bread-bag-stuffed snow boots being yanked off on the floor of the old school hall, the white chalk dust clapped between two erasers, those lovely old books that used to crowd the library, the wood pencil shavings, the purple ink on the mimeograph paper.
I can close my eyes and picture us all lined up for lunch with our fingers crossed because, even though we had to eat the fish sticks I loathed almost every Friday, sometimes we had grilled cheese and tomato soup and those were delicious. The best lunches included homemade cream puffs with fresh Wisconsin whipped cream and I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to score those on our trays.
I remember four square games on the playground and dodgeball in the gym. We had a weird dress code back then and girls could only wear pants if their tops came down past their bottoms. Dresses had to hang longer than the end of our hands. The result, as I recall, had us all looking like a cross between various cast members of The Electric Company and Little House on the Prairie.
Once a week, we left our classrooms and marched down one staircase, through a tunnel, and up another to attend our weekly masses and on those days we were supposed to look extra sharp.
No one loved their grade school experience more than my sister Kathy, whose first grade teacher got married toward the end of the year and invited all those squirrelly little six-year olds to her wedding. Then, even better, she taught them all again in third grade with a brand new last name. Kathy liked her teachers so much she became one.
It was fun to walk through that old school one last time with Kathy, too.
We moved to Appleton from Green Bay in November of my second-grade year and I was a very shy kid. So, I also have fond memories of my first teacher at St. Therese, Mrs. Rossmeissl, who assigned me to an outgoing bossypants named Jeannie, still my lifelong friend.
I understand the need to tear down that old school building. It was drafty, not accessible, and not up to code. But I also spent five formative years there, so I really appreciated the opportunity to say good bye.
Thanks for the memories, St. Therese Grade School. I can still sing the old fight song:
St. Theres-a hats off to thee.
To our colors true we will ever be
Firm and strong united are we.
Rah Rah Rah for St. Therese.
Rah Rah Rah for St. Therese.
Rah for our dear old school. Hey!