A Tale of a Seventh Grade Something Else


                                                                                      Someone named this picture "Ma Barker and Her Gang."

John Zakjewski, Stanley Thein, Johnny Lindener, Richard May, Kenneth W. Tucker, Jimmy Lemansky, Roland (Rocky) Raab, Ronnie Orr, Roger Downey, Gary Forsee, Eugene Wojeck, Virgil Bramlett, Vernon (Buddy) Barcum, Tom Wehrly, Ralph Smith, Michael Sprouse, Ronald Hindman, Gary Lugge, Donald Klein, John Matthews, David Tissier, Ronald Werner, Tom Smith, Marty Callahan, Robert (Bobby) Scott, Ray Swetitch, Father (Msg.) Schindler, Sr. Evelyn, Fr (Msg.) Hartlein, Albert Evans, Tom Richardson


                                                                                           Marilyn A. (Niemann) Kinsella

 I guess everyone has a year in school that is “thee” year - the year that is the topic of conversation when old classmates meet up unexpectedly at the supermarket or the corner bar. For my class, the class of 1961 from St. Albert the Great, that year was our seventh grade with Sister Evelyn.  I can only describe Sister Evelyn as the quintessential little old nun. Her pudding face was punctuated with dark sparkling eyes and lips the color of a ripe plum. She wore the old Precious Blood habit – a dark, floor-length robe tied at the waist with a magenta sash that symbolized the blood shed by Christ. She wore a high, white headpiece across her forehead and a starched white collar. Every bit of hair and throat was wrapped in white. A long, black veil draped around the crown of her head and flowed down her back. Around her neck she wore a golden pendant in the shape of the Sacred Heart. The real mysterious part of this habit was the sleeves. They were so big that they held a myriad of hidden objects that often times made a sudden, unexpected appearance a clean white handkerchief, a pitch pipe, a piece of yellow chalk and, of course, no nun’s habit was complete without…the ruler.

Even though Sister Evelyn was as sweet as apple pie, that didn’t deter her from whipping out the ruler and whacking some well-deserved knuckles. Sometimes the boys got the double whammy. To make an example for the whole class the naughty boy (sorry, it was always a boy) came to the front of the class. He had to hold his hands out in front of him knuckles up. Whack! Whack! Then, if the transgression was of the mortal ilk, the palms were up and…Whack! Whack! It was the unspoken code amongst 7th grade boys to walk away without crying. In fact, you got extra points if you were smiling when you returned to your seat.

 But, to tell you the truth, I don’t think Sister Evelyn really whacked anyone very hard. Ah, there lies the rub, for we knew the minute we walked into that seventh grade room… it was par-tee time. We had heard rumors when we were in sixth grade about the wild seventh grade, and we could not wait. We were not disappointed. It was the only time in some of my classmates school careers that they actually looked forward to going to school, if only to see what kind of shenanigans they could get by with on that day.

 One of the problems Sr. Evelyn had was her age. She was old and hunkered over. Most of the boys by this time towered over her. I’m sure at some point in her life she was quick and spry, but now she was slow and, well, she slept a lot. We’d be in the middle of reading on page 52 of the Faith and Freedom reader, when the nudge began to spread around the room.  It started in the front row and sort of spread around the room like an enormous wave…”Look, she’s asleep.”  One day, somebody (I’m sure it was a boy) rolled wooden bats down the aisle. When they hit the front of the room, the clatter sounded like somebody making a strike at the bowling alley. Sister woke up with a start and asked what page we were on. Somehow we were miraculously on page 80. We got through our reader in record time that year.

 It was in seventh grade that I perfected the art of note passing. We found ingenious ways to pass notes and answers to questions around the room. I guess my favorite was taking the ballpoint pens apart, rolling up the piece of paper, and sliding it into the tube. Then, when the note was sufficiently tucked away, the messaged pen made the circuit around the room. I’ve got to tell you that, although we didn’t do much work that year, we sure did make pretty good grades.

 Another favorite trick was by two of the more popular boys, Ron Hindman and Dave Tissier, who happened to sit right behind each other. Sister would call on one of them for an answer to her question. One stood at his desk and wordlessly moved his mouth up and down while the other said the answer. It cracked us up. When Sister saw us laughing, she wondered what the big joke was. We never let on.

 Some days were just ripe for the great spit wad fights. The boys (sorry it was always the boys) chewed the edges of paper until they had a gob of sticky pulp. Then they put it on the end of a ruler, took careful aim, and catapulted the load across the room. Sometimes they hit their mark smack dab on the back of some poor unsuspecting soul’s head. After a convulsive head jerk, it slid down the back of his head and into his collar. If the victim was quick enough, he could scoop up the corroded mess and return fire. But, other times, they missed and the wad of goo went “Splat!” on a wall. The stuff hardened like cement. Many afternoons were spent scraping the errant missiles off the walls and blackboards.

 Once somebody learned the aerodynamics of paper airplanes. Quickly the information passed from one student to the other until the whole class was adept at whipping together a plane in a matter of seconds. All it took was for one plane to sail across the room, and  the whole room would spontaneously combust in a white-out of paper airplanes. One day I remember not being able to see the kid in the next row for all the planes dive-bombing across the room. We probably wiped out a couple of forests right there in that 7th grade room, but who knew about caring for the environment in the late 50’s.

 However, there was a party pooper up the hall from our room. The nun who could make Genghis Khan fall to his knees and beg for mercy…Sister Mary Anthony, affectionately, but rather irreverently called “Tony the Tiger” behind her back. She was bigger than life itself. She never smiled - just one side of her mouth curled up into a snarl whenever she came sweeping in on one of her surprise attacks. She stood in front of the room, eyes blazing, as she looked pointedly at each and every one of us:

How dare we! How dare we not give Sister Evelyn the respect and honor befitting a woman of her innumerable years of service to God. Did we have no compassion? Did we not know that she was ill?  We should get down on our knees and beg God for forgiveness… and on and on….

 Did we listen? Did we mend our sinful ways. Well, I think the longest we held our heads down in shame was maybe 30 minutes. Then someone (I’m sure it was a boy) threw an airplane or spit wad and the party was back on. We developed an uncanny way of predicting when Sr. Mary Anthony was lurking the hallways. Like magic the room fell silent, and we would be busily working at our desks when she opened the door.

 One day, there was a glitch in our radar . We were in our party mode when we heard the door open. At that point I had a piece of the forbidden Double-Bubble Bubble gum in my mouth. I had just blown the mother of all bubbles, when I heard the familiar click of the door. I admit; I panicked. I picked up the nearest paper and threw it against my face. Thereby, popping the bubble and spreading Double-Bubble Bubble Gum all over my face and all over my hair. This was before “clean” bubble gum was invented. This stuff stuck to you like superglue! I pulled out Double-Bubble Bubble Gum out of my hair for weeks.

I think the defining moment of our seventh grade bedlam happened one March afternoon when someone (I’m sure it was a boy) threw Brenda Benhoff’s shoe out the window. You’d think that the normal person would make some lame excuse to leave the room and go out and retrieve it. But, there was nothing normal about our class. I still have a vision of two boys lowering Brenda out the window and back in again - all the while carrying on a geography lesson with a sleeping Sr. Evelyn at the front of the room.

 Alas, all good parties have to come to an end. One day in May, Tony, er, Sr. Mary Anthony came into our room. She stood at the head of the class and curled up her lip. “I have my teaching assignment for next year,” she hissed” “I thought you’d like to know. I won’t be going anywhere next year. By special request, I will be right here at St. Albert. I will be your eighth grade teacher.” I’m not sure but I thought I heard her say, “Be afraid…be very afraid.” For once, there was dead silence. You could have heard a pin drop – as if a pin would dare to drop while Sr. Mary Anthony was in the room. She glided toward the back of the room, looked at us one more time with a stare that could cut steel, and exited through the door. We all let out our collective breath, waited the required 10 minutes, and resumed the party. After all, if we had to go down, we may as well enjoy it till the last minute of the last day of our seventh grade.

The next year, the first day we walked into the eighth grade classroom, we knew the party was over. We either towed the line or got out. It was about the middle of the year when Sister Mary Anthony announced that Sr. Evelyn died. She gave us a sorrowful look – like we were personally responsible for her demise. And I guess we were. But, the way I look at it is this. We gave Sr. Evelyn something – a one-way ticket straight to heaven, because while she was on this earth she had the class from hell.

 God bless you, Sister Evelyn. God bless you for the stories we share. You may be gone, but we will never forget you. 

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