Back to School

It’s that time again. Here, some parents insert the word already; others, finally. I guess I’m in the first camp. The summer seemed to go by so fast! (I say that every single year.) My parents used to tell me that the years would go by faster and faster the older I get, and they’re right! 😦

Watching all the kids strolling by on the way to school with their brightly-colored backpacks made me think of my own first days of school, many moons ago. We wore uniforms – dark green jumpers,  beige nylon blouses, green bow ties with the obligatory medal of Blessed Elizabeth Seton (founder of the order our nuns belonged to), knee socks and sensible shoes. For a while it was brown oxfords (my mom cheated one year and bought me brown Mary Janes instead), and for a couple of fashion faux-pas years, we wore green and black saddle shoes.

There were a few approved (and also some unapproved) accessories that added a certain je ne sais quoi to the overall look. In the early years, we sported green and gold beanies with the letters SAS emblazoned on the front. This monogram (along with the SAS crest on our uniforms) was presumed to stand for Saint Aidan School, but we all knew better. In kid translation, it meant “Stay After School,” which I had to do just a few times over my tenure there (“Ooooooooooohhh – you have dee-TEN-shun….”).

The knee socks (green also, naturally) were usually not quite long enough, and most of us girls attempted to keep them up near our kneecaps using rubber bands, with the top cuffed neatly down over. With all of our running around (and the incessant up and down to curtsey every time the classroom door opened and another nun walked in – “Good mooooorning Sister Superior!”), those makeshift garters proved pretty useless. Most of the time when we were called upon to answer a question (up again – no such thing as sitting in your seat to speak to the nuns), the first thing the victim would do was stoop to adjust her knee socks – this was also a handy stalling tactic when you weren’t sure of the correct response.

On colder winter days, we were permitted to wear “flesh-color” tights under our knee socks, which seemed to be more a little kid thing. The older girls preferred to wear a somewhat warm (depending on the fabric) fashion accessory called pettipants. Most of these were very plain, something the nuns would have approved of, had they accidentally caught a glimpse (NO ONE was supposed to see our underwear, the main reason not to wear patent leather shoes – I kid you not). However, there were a few daring souls (you know who you are!) who experimented with a more avant garde version of the garment. One day, a seventh-grade nun returned to the classroom after lunch to find at least one of these brazen hussies (“You piece of bold!”) parading around the classroom with her red-and-white striped pettipants on her head. The detention room was pretty full that day.

Around middle-school age, we were issued another required item, a green triangular kerchief with gold piping. This ugly (but comparatively cool) thing came about because we older girls had decided it was too nerdy to wear chapel caps (a lacy doily) or chapel veils (a mantilla version of the doily, de rigueur for more sophisticated students) to Mass. Instead of those particular nun-sanctioned head coverings, we had taken to bobby-pinning Kleenex on top of our heads, a much more respectable (if not respectful) item in our minds, which could be very tailored, depending on just how you folded and pinned it.

As I watch the kids skip down the street toward the elementary school in their shorts, skirts, and tee shirts, I can’t help but think how much they are missing. What kinds of stories will they have to tell in their later years?!

Me, all decked out (including monster school bag) for second grade.


About rangermoi

I'm a former park ranger and teacher, mother of two no-longer-teenage sons, avid cook and reader and the Official Family Memory. I thought I'd better get some of those remembrances down before they all leak out of my senior-moment-affected brain!
This entry was posted in Church, Nostalgia, School. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Back to School

  1. And that order of nuns would be . . . Sisters of Charity of Halifax. I wonder, did they all spend time, umm, becoming nuns, up in Nova Scotia? And why was Canada exporting nuns to Willy Park?

    • rangermoi says:

      Yeah, I wondered that too. There were definitely some from Canada, ending sentences with “Eh?” They all seemed to have the same weird names for common items, too, like “bubbler” for water fountain, “elastics” for rubber bands, “corridor” for hallway, and “Victrola” for a record player (and they weren’t old enough to have used the original Victrolas).

  2. Tara says:

    i love the briefcase!

  3. amy says:

    Ah, uniforms. Mine were mainly blue and grey, a tiny red line in there too. Always white blouse, until 7th grade, when we could wear white or blue and just the skirt – no more jumper. Always shorts underneath, and we did have the option of pants made from the same plaid pattern, in the same not-warm fabric.

  4. Audrey says:

    OMG You nailed it! I do remember those uniforms soooooo well! I also remember going to church on Holy Days and then getting warm milk and a glazed donut for “breakfast” because we had to fast for communion!

    • rangermoi says:

      Yes! First Friday Mass, then the little waxy container of milk and a glazed donut from Dunkin Donuts – LOVED that! (Except for the little pieces of wax you might suck up the straw!)

  5. Sylvia says:

    beige nylon blouses – ooh la la 🙂

  6. I went to St. Aidan’s from 1958-1965 and have the exact same memories! Remember fire drills where you HAD to wear your SAS beanie or suffer the wrath of the nuns? One time, during a drill, I loaned my beanie to another girl who said I would get in less trouble than she would for not wearing it. My punishment was to go home and write “The school hat is part of the school uniform” 500 times. One of my older brothers saw me sitting at home starting this tedious chore and told me I should just use ditto marks. I didn’t know what ditto marks were, but it sure was easier than writing that sentence over and over. Being none the wiser, and so naive, I turned that paper in the next day. I think the nun was Sister Paul Richard, or Sister John Edward…anyway, you can imagine the reaction. I had to stay after school and write that sentence over and over on both of those huge blackboards, using a stepladder!

  7. Tom Murphy says:

    “Sister Paul Richard, or Sister John Edward”… ever notice how a disproportionate number of the nuns used male names??

    • rangermoi says:

      True – a few standouts that I remember: Sr Theresa Agnes, Agnes Maureen, Margaret Eileen, Sheila Patrice (?), Mary Ita, Virginia Mary. Then the ones who changed their names from the ones they took as nuns back to their own names, Sr. Maureen and Sr Roberta are two I had.

    • Who was the cheerful nun who taught us the play the harmonica? We all had to buy Hohner harmonicas for class, and spent a good part of the day playing them. Virginia Mary?

  8. Blogger, I don’t know you (although I DO know one of the folks who responded to this piece, as I went to St. Aidan’s neighbor, St. Mary’s in Manhasset). Your pettipants story struck a chord with me, as I wrote something similar as we in the class of 1968 at SMHS were gearing up for our 40th reunion. Back in the ’60s, we wore the wildest pettipants we could buy, just to add some personality to our uniforms–even though others rarely saw them regularly…well, except in my case. In my senior year, I was several weeks late starting the year, as I had had major surgery on the first day of school. Illness had whittled 15 pounds off my usual 95-pound body, but I didn’t notice it until my pettipants fell right down to the floor of the CORRIDOR as I was walking from one class to the next. Had I done this intentionally, a nun would undoubtedly have called me the IHM Sisters’ version of “piece of bold,” which was “bold as brass.” As it was, not a single one of them said anything…especially in view of the fact SMHS wasn’t co-ed back then and no boy was around to witness my pettipantastrophe! Your piece made me chuckle, whoever you are. (Terry Laughlin, fill me in here, please!)

  9. Kathy P says:

    Oh my gosh how the memories came flooding back.

  10. Joe O'Reilly says:

    And the boys had beige shirts, brown pants and a SAS tie. First graders could wear clip on ties but soon you would wear a regular tie. We would pick the uniform order up in the summer in the basement of the school.

    I remember Robert Budda doing something wrong and the brother grabbed him by the tie, pulled him toward him and brought his hand down to slap Robert’s face. The tie popped off and the brother fell back into the blackboard. He didn’t expect that because no self-respecting fourth grader wore a clip on tie!

    • rangermoi says:

      So funny, Joe! And yes, I remember picking up the uniforms in the auditorium, strangely excited about it. Did I think the uniform had somehow morphed into something I wanted to wear?! BTW, did you live on Astor Place?

  11. Kathy Pugh says:

    Oh do I remember those uniforms.

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