This is a special memory from my own childhood.
Before my parents finally got divorced, my mother would always threaten my Dad that she would divorce him and take us girls to California. She finally sold the farm and she packed the backseat and trunk with everything we would take. She had hired a company to come in and handle auctioning off everything else. My sister and I sat in the front seat and our dog Pete sat in the back on top of the suitcases. It took us 5 days to drive cross-country and we arrived in California on Admissions Day, September 9, 1963. All of the flags were flying and my mother said it was to welcome us. I was completely overwhelmed by the freeways and the palm trees. School would start in a week and the worst year of my life would begin.
8th grade really was the worst. We were staying with my aunt, uncle and two cousins. They had a beautiful home “south of the boulevard”. They had a swimming pool. Anyway, anyone who has ever lived in the San Fernando Valley will tell you that “south of the boulevard” is where all of the really wealthy people live! My mom enrolled us in the local Catholic school. My sister got lucky — there were no openings in the 7th grade. I didn’t get so lucky. I was entering a class with very wealthy kids who had gone to school together for the last 7 years and I was a little country bumpkin, completely out of place. Even the nuns were very snobbish and made it abundantly clear that I did not belong at their school!
The new school wasn’t the only thing that made it the worst year. I missed all of my friends and my skating buddies. Most of all I missed my Dad and all of my relatives. Before we moved my mother made sure I didn’t get to see them anymore than was required by the court. Being 2500 miles away, I wouldn’t see any of them again until I turned 20 – eight long years later! That will be next week’s story! Meanwhile back to 8th grade…
I will never forget the first time Sister embarrassed me in front of the class. It must have been the very first week. We were going to go to Mass and I had made the terrible mistake of putting a scarf on my head. All of the other girls in the class were carefully bobby pinning their lace doilies to the tops of their heads. Sister asked me if, I was planning to wear that disgusting rag into God’s house? I may have had tears as I nodded yes. In my old church, we had been discouraged from wearing doilies, as they didn’t really cover our head. My old Mother Superior had said doilies were for furniture! I wanted to go home.
Sometime that first month I made a complete fool out of myself by admitting that I was a Girl Scout, worse yet I was proud of it. The school didn’t even have a troop so I had joined the one at my sister’s school. It would have been OK but I made the mistake of wearing my Girl Scout uniform to school on the day of our first meeting just as I had done at my old school. I got in so much trouble but the worst part was the other students laughing. I wanted to go home.
Then there was that first chilly day when I wore my team skating jacket to school. I was sent to Mother Superior’s office. I was not to wear my team jacket or anything with a logo embroidered on the back! It was 1963 but you would have thought I was wearing gang colors! I wanted to go home.
Then came Confirmation. In the Los Angeles diocese, students received their Confirmation in the 8th grade. At my old church Confirmation was only done every 4 years – and so I had been Confirmed in 4th grade! Once again, I was an outsider. I had to sit in the back of the church, as they would practice for the ceremony. I wanted to go home.
I will admit that I may have gloated just a little because as part of their ceremony they had to promise not to drink alcohol until they were 21. I made no such vow!
One of the worst things the nuns did to me at that school was to ridicule my name! I was born Kathryn Sue. Well, neither of those is a saints’ name and so could not possibly be put on my 8th grade diploma. My diploma reads Catherine Susan. By then I had stopped crying every night and knew I couldn’t go home. Now all I wanted was out of that school!
9th grade was so much better! I went to a Catholic high school with students from at least five other Catholic elementary schools. It was 7.5 miles away and I would have to take three public buses to get there. No one from my 8th grade would be going to school there! No one knew me or that I had once been a country bumpkin. With students from so many schools, everyone was new! It was nice to finally fit in.