Saturday November 17, 2012

DALTON

Forget the shiny, silver DeLorean of the "Back to the Future" movies. I found my own time machine. It’s a place, actually, located at 22 Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield. Formally, it’s called St. Joseph Catholic Central High School; to me it’s SJHS.

I walked up the solid cement steps last Saturday, and into a building that looked more the same than different from when I went to school there. The big change is that the auditorium is now a gym, ringed with banners proclaiming divisional, sectional or even state titles in several sports.

Of course I remembered the basketball title in 1963. Wasn’t I there for every home game (held then at the Boys’ Club) and most of the away games too? Yet sports were but a small part of what was special there.

I walked the l-shaped corridors that spread out from the lobby with its statue of St. Joseph. The yellow brick glazed tile walls still shine; the lockers a little less so. The doors into the classrooms are also unchanged, so I strolled past all the junior and senior homerooms of yore and started remembering the class times there.

My overarching memory is the sense of order. Rows of desks, rows of students, and an orderly progression of classwork from September to June, led by nuns in long, traditional habits with swinging rosary beads. Mostly, it was a predictable time.


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We always began class with a prayer, and one famous sister always ended with "Amen, one to five." The second order of business was to check to see if we had done our homework so there was a five- item quiz, with one word for each answer. Later on, as a high school teacher myself, I recognized what an effective tool that was. You could tell in an instant who had and had not completed his or her homework. Then the day’s classwork commenced.

From English to math to science to religion to foreign language, we looped around the halls in perfect symmetry, back and forth through the auditorium in near silence. The lunchroom was noisier; but we had a short time to eat and always hoped to carve a few minutes at the end for a breath of fresh air out in the parking lot.

After school we had an art club. That was one of my favorite times of the week, a chance to let my creative urges go wild as well as learn various techniques and styles of creative expression. The art room is exactly where it was then, tucked under the stairs in the front corner of the basement. I hope a bit of Sr. Anna Margaret’s spirit is still there, encouraging students to put their visions down on paper. We were a motley crew in that club; but some strong friendships were forged in the non-competitive setting.

I met a few students on Saturday and noticed some traits they all shared. They were helpful, confident, well-mannered, and happy. I was happy there too, always looking forward to the school day with friends and the educational challenges in store. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized what an important time those four years were in my growth and development.

When I left the shelter of those classrooms, I was prepared for the academic challenges of college. In my English composition class, I was relieved to find that I could master the challenge of weekly writing assignments as well as students from larger high schools all across the country.

With a strong faith and a solid skill set, I could swim safely in the very big pond located on Michigan Avenue in Washington, D.C., but it never came close to being as comfortable as the little pond on Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield, MA.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.