Shards of Memory


Marilyn Niemann Kinsella


Here I am cleaning out the dreaded attic…truly a task for the millennium.  Time to clean out the attic spaces.  Get rid of the loose ends, unfinished projects and unfulfilled dreams.  Time to set order to what lay in chaos.  Over 35 years has been pushed back into the corners.  Dust motes lazily cruise the shafts of morning light piercing the darkened attic.  Suddenly, I spy the half -forgotten; the half-remembered shoe box.  Its edges are worn.  Its corners are broken.  But inside?  Inside are the pictures of our high school days at the Academy of Notre Dame.


It’s time to look at them again.  But they have grown old, and oddly enough, they seem to have changed over the years.  They are somewhat brittle.  An unusual patina has washed over them. What seemed important back in the mid ‘60’s has recessed into the shadows.  Other things - seemingly insignificant things - are now highlighted.  Both are important to the picture.  For without the darkness around the edges, how would we ever see the light?



Gingerly, I pick up the first picture.  It’s our school…The Academy, if you please.  It’s dark brick rising like a medieval castle; a sea of lush grass serving as a moat encircling the mighty fortress; giant fir trees holding silent sentinel against the forces trying to penetrate its virginal walls. 




Oh, now we know whom those forces were.  They came disguised back then.  However, they surreptitiously, albeit rarely, made their way into Annunciation or Visitation Hall wearing military attire, gray-flannel suits, or, yes, even clerical collars.  But their mysterious bodies were as foreign to us as those of David and Rodin.





Here is another picture, the chapel, with its white alabaster walls, communion rail and altar of shining turrets.  The sun behind the fine stained glass windows splashes color onto the pews where we kneel in reflective repose.  The colors move ever so slowly like the tide washing over us in pools of azure, gold, velvety purple, and garnet red - its color bathing our folded hands reminding us of our budding womanhood.     


                          Holy Mary Mother of God


Here is a picture I’ve kept of the Virgin Mary in a darkened alcove of Visitation Hall.  She stands with her palms pierced with the stigmata while her feet crushes the head of the serpent.  After all these years her glassy eyes still follow me - reproachful, sad, demanding.  Have I crushed the serpent…or have I invited him in?








Let me show you this black and white picture filled with black and white figures standing in the doorways, at the foot of the stairs, and the front of the classrooms.  Black and white, black and white - never any gray.  You either belonged to the darkness or to the light.  There were no compromises, no excuses - just black and white.



Oh, I forgot about this picture - the fishpond - a school of uniformed goldfish swimming in circles, no place to go - to and fro, from one class to another.  Go ahead.  Reach inside and pull out a prize  -   Mary N.D.,  Sodality Queen,  Student Council President.  However, the fish are much too slippery for most of us.  Going for the gold will have to wait.  But, in time, it will finally come to those who are patient and learn to play the game.



Here are some pictures of our new gym.  Built as a symbol of our future - new, modern, full of light and promise.  The pictures are brighter with young women in prom dresses, in graduation gowns, in costumes for the class musical.





As we cross over into the new millennium, the new gym still stands.  Yes, its face is different, but it alone withstood the changes.  The old fortress suffered too many cracks in her foundation and she slowly sank into the coalmines below.





And, finally, a picture of the back of The Academy.  Her stony arms reaching out protectively.  “Come inside,” she beckons.  “Come inside where it is safe.”  But some of us linger on the soft belly of earth - sitting on white, wrought-iron chairs around a blue glass yard ornament.  As we gaze into its depths, as deep as the ocean, faces swim in and out reminding us that we are all equally a part of The Academy: 


                      The Rich Girl and the Poor;

               Dandelion Queen and Shrinking Violet         

      Cheerleader and The Last- Girl- to- be -Chosen- in- Line;

        Star of the Musical and Miss Creatively-Challenge; 

                         A-track and B-track; 

                        Pious and Street-wise.


Do you remember when the crystal broke - shattering our pristine fairy tale world?  Was it Vatican II - when the rules suddenly changed?  What had been black and white was now…gray.  Was it John Glenn stepping into space - reminding us how seemingly insignificant and yet exquisitely grand we truly are.  Was it the assassination of President Kennedy? - where a bullet nearly fatally wounded our belief in the innate goodness  of mankind.


Whatever…the glass ornament shattered and can never be put back together.  It is now and forever shall be a collection of sharp-edged shards of memory worn smooth over time.  Some of which I gathered and put into a shoebox . Occasionally,  I look at them and muse on the how these pictures, polished with a golden patina, reflect our own stories. We have journeyed such interesting and divergent paths!  Yet these pictures belong to all of us…serving as reminder of what it was like to part of the

                                                                                 Academy of Notre Dame


                                                                          Yes, this really happened circa, 1965

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