For most of my life, whenever I remembered my childhood, especially my elementary school years, I remembered myself as behaving according to the rules.
But now that I’m well into the last decades of my life, long-forgotten incidents are emerging from my memory that contradict my early self-image.
A few years ago I remembered this incident from when I was a Brownie.
Yesterday I remembered an episode of non-compliance in first grade.
I’ve shared that I am a child of German immigrants, and that I went to parochial school from kindergarten through eighth grade. My parents were careful to speak to my brother and me in English, so that we would grow up with English as our first language. But my mother also taught us a little bit of German, including a prayer.
There were 67 students in my first grade class. Amazing, right? Impossible. But this was during the baby boom. There had been two kindergarten classes, and when we were promoted to first grade, the school had a teacher shortage, and only one teacher for first grade, so they combined us. Our teacher, Sister Gracita, struggled to keep this vast community of six-year-olds under control, and apparently, I was one of her major challenges. She was constantly telling my mother I was “too talkative.” Moi?
I recall one time she took me outside the door of our classroom and told me there were “66 other students in our classroom who are trying to learn” and I was preventing them from doing so. My mind immediately went to arithmetic: 66 students + me = 67, and I lived at 67 Park Avenue! What a coincidence! I wanted to tell Sister, but I sensed she wasn’t interested.
Later that year, we had a visitor to our classroom, another nun. She must have been a supervisor from the diocese, there to observe the teacher, because Sister Gracita had been prepping us on our lessons and our behavior. Toward the end of the visit, Sister said, “And Andrea knows a prayer in German! Andrea, can you please say your German prayer?”
What? All year Sister had been on my case for talking too much, and now she wanted me to perform like a one-trick pony? “No.”
Sister asked again, and I refused again. She asked why, and I said, “I don’t want to.” Sister changed the subject, but later she called my mother and told her I embarrassed her in front of the bigwig. Of course, my mother was mortified, but I didn’t see her point.
Now, 53 years later, I get it, but I’m amazed that I stood my ground when I was six. I really thought I grew up with a healthy respect for authority figures. Now I’m realizing I was a little rebel.