Sunday, March 05, 2006
Frankford High School 1965 - public school does't pick for you
I was assigned Mrs. Carole, a rather homely but sympathetic woman, who was astounded to find out that I was not coming to public school from a Private Catholic school because I was a discipline problem. Generally that's the kind of people who "had" to transfer to public schools. Catholic school took you because you were catholic, and could get rid of you if you acted up, whereas public schools were mandated by law to accept everyone - well diciplined or not.
My mother went with me to the first meeting where we would plan my "life" in school. Because I had all passing grades and because I was in Commercial B, which didn't exist in Public School, I had to pick a new roster. No religion class here, so I had one free period, and I had to make up the gym classes that the public school wouldn't accept from Little Flower. I ended up taking gymn 5 days a week.
In place of "religion" and a study hall period I was asked if I wanted to enroll in "distributive education". That's where you work for a company outside of school for 4 hours a day 5 days a week being paid for it. Since I needed a job to help out anyhow I said yes.
My regular classes were ok. History was fair, Algebra 2 was actually ok. The teacher was the "superman" at the Phila. Opera and often tapped kids to be supernumeraries for some of the performances. I learned about opera and other classical stuff from my Algebra teacher. Bookkeeping was ok, a bit simplistic and I learned that not only could I not spell well, I couldn't balance a spreadsheet either, Spanish was hysterical, typing was terrible and English was a disappointment.
I came into the typing class "behind" on the word count and never made up for it. I barely made it out of that class with a passing grade - and only because I promised the teacher that I would NEVER take typing 2 did she give me a D.
Spanish was taught by a teacher who was burned out. Kids didn't do their homework, no one cared. I, having been well disciplined by the 10.5 years of Catholic school training, did care and did my homework and passed tests. Mr. Mussman once got so angry at the class for it's non-participation that he had ME teach the lesson for the day since I was the only one who actually prepared it.
I can see the history teacher's face, but can't recall his name, nor any reason why history of whatever era was being taught was so vitally important.
Since I had commercial kinds of classes I was placed in a "commercial" kind of English, with more spelling tests. Here I did well though, for some reason spelling in public school didn't include hard words and multisyllabic ones. Actually they didn't expect you to actually spell the word in syllables either, which was a blessing.
The "teacher" was a bit - hum - shall we say "unkempt"? She wore low cut blouses or tight sweaters and bent over a lot. She came in with her hair in disarray, and often with visible "hickey marks" on her neck. One day she was absent and the head of the English Department came to fill in for her. We had been reading a book in class, "Damian and the Lepers" about a priest who dedicated his life to the leper colony in Hawaii, only to sucumb to the disease himself and die. It was a biography.
The English Dept. Head asked some questions about the reading, to see how much or how little we understood. I had never considered myself a participator in classes, but I was the only one who had any idea what he was asking. It became a very limited discussion between me and him about the literal and figurative aspect of the book.
He stopped me in the midst of an explaination and asked me "What are you doing in this class?" Darn it all, I used one of those catholic school multisyllabic words I could always spell incorrectly. I told him I had been assigned it by Mrs. Carole when I transfered. He put down his book and said see me after class.
When the bell rang I went to see him and he marched me down to the Counselor's office where he pulled copies of my transcript from LF and my "standarized test scores" and then reworked my roster, fitting me into the Shakespeare class. It was the class for college bound students. He told me it was my choice to stay in the commercial track but he thought my potential lie elsewhere. He thought I should go to college.
He also kept a very close eye on me from then on. He made sure I took the right class and signed up for the standarized tests to get me on track for college. He made sure I got in under the wire to take the SAT's while still a Junior so I could begin applying to colleges.
I also joined the staff of the school newspaper and had journalism classes, but in Frankford, the clique of kids in journalism was already extablished. Though I was a contributing reporter and sometimes wrote editorials I was not part of the "crowd". It didn't diminish my liking for journalism though.
I stayed in distributive education, having been assigned a job in a vending maching company. I would get out of school at 12:30 take a bus to the job and when there I was locked in a vault with a change machine and handed cash bags through a slot, where I logged them into the books and then counted the cash in the bag (through the coin counter) and "resolved" the totals.
It wasn't a bad job, but it made for a lairly long day. Up early (6 a.m.)to walk to school (about 1.5 miles because waiting for the bus would have added about 30 minutes to my commute, walking was easier and free )for school's first class at 7:45. I usually got out of work at about 6 p.m. and had to take the bus home.
To make a long story short it was too much for me. I got a "cold" and it jsut got worse and worse. It turned into "pluresy" an inflamination of the plural cavity surrounding the lungs. I was very sick. My mother took me to Dr. Walsh and he wanted to hospitalize me, but we had no insurance then, and it was too expensive.
I spent three weeks at home in bed, sleeping in my mother's room while she and my sister slept in mine, which was smaller and colder.I remember the doctor coming to the house to see me twice a day, changing my medicine and keeping me almost comotose so I could heal. Yeah, Doctor's still made house calls back then. Dr. Walsh never charged my mother for all those visits, and many times he brought the new medicine with him so my mother didn't have to go to the pharmacy and spend money.
The truant officer was sent to my house because I was gone so long, but when he came in and saw how sick I was the matter was dropped and the school started sending my homework to us via neighborhood kids, so that when I was able to return to school I could be up to par with the others.
As I did improve I did study on my own. When I got back to school I no longer had the distributive ed job, by mutual concent the company and I parted company, and I was placed in a "school job" in the counselor's office for the remainder of the semester, mostly filing and doing some "running" to get kids out of class. Same pay per hour but fewer hours and no traveling by bus. I think I made $1.35 an hour. Apparently I study well on my own. I took make up tests for those I missed and aside from Typing and gym, which was pass fail, I got A's in everything that quarter.
It wasn't as if my life was only work and school. I had friends and I did things with them. Our main pass time seemed to be "hanging out" either on someone's porch, or stoop the street corner or in my kitchen where we smoked and played pinnochele.
Yeah, my mother let us smoke inside. She actually told me she'd rather have me lite up in the house than look like a tramp on the street corners. She even bought me cigarettes if I wanted them. I did smoke for a while, Parliments. But when you are in your teens and you don't have to hide from your mother to smoke it sort of takes all the fun out of it. So, although my friends continued to smoke I stopped.
My mother also gave me no dating restrictions. I could date if I wanted to, I did occasionally, but when you mother doesn't bat an eye if you go out with some unsavory character the shock value is greatly diminished. I never even had a "time" to be home from a date. Most of my friends had to be back home before 11:00, or on special occasions midnight. When guys asked me when I had to be home I had to make up my own rules. Naturally if I liked the guy I'd make it later, but most of the time I told them I had to be home before 10:00.
Why? Because my mother was a sick person. If I stayed out all night and was brought home by the police for violating the city ordinance about youth on the street after a certain hour what would that do to her heart? Would she have another heart attack? My mother let me make my own choices, and I erred on the side of conservatism - sometimes being stricter on myself than any of my peer's parent were on them.
Peers. Well physically and socially they were I guess, but intellectually I found myself wondering. My friends liked to hang out, and drink beer and go to make out places. They liked shopping and shoplifting, dancing, parties. On Saturday afternoons they liked to go "out" usually just walking the Avenue (no malls back then) or go to a movie. On Saturday afternoons I liked to go to the library, alone or I'd take my sister, to sit and read.
Sometimes on Sunday, after mass, I would ask my mother if I could go "downtown" to the main library, the Free Library of Philadelphia. It was on the Parkway in a huge neo classical building I simply adored. I loved the Classics and Humanities section and I read every book they had on Greek and Roman History. I realized that I really disliked Latin because I considered Roman culture a bastardization of the pure Greek thought. I guess I was pretty geeky, unless I was hanging out in the neighborhood.
There I wore denim blue jeans,black boots and black leather jackets, I carried a knife, for protection, after dark. My street name was "Beast", given to me by some guy who obviously thought I was not as pretty as my friends since I didn't plaster my face with make up and blue eyeshadow.
Did I join a gang? No, I never had to. Did I ever get in a fight? Nope never had to. I talked my way out of things. Not whimpped out; rational thinking and multisyllabic words disarm a punk with a quick temper and dim wits. In true street fashion I stared them down, eye to eye and spoke in quiet tones with words they were totally unable to comprehend and they usually just backed down because they were clueless as to whether they had been apologized to or insulted, generally it was the latter, but what was I going to do - TELL them? I wasn't that stupid.
One other girl in the group was like me, only she did fight occasionally, she liked it I think. She was proud of a tough guy image. She went on to college and became a bio-chemist. Most of the guys from the corner went to Viet Nam and got killed or came back and became cops and firemen. The other girls? One was beaten to death by her domestically abusive husband, another became an alcholoic hooker, my two best friends worked clerical jobs until they got married and moved out of the neighborhood. One guy went to jail, briefly, and then got a job as a bus driver.
For some reason, my mother moved us in the middle of the month. I think there was a landlord dispute about the electric. The lights kept going off because the fuse kept blowing, and then there was the sewer pile breaking in the basement which he didn't want to repair, and the fact that he didn't want to pay for heating oil for the furnace and we frequently ran out of oil, and heat. My mother called the housing department and he was forced to fix things but he was not happy. In the middle of the month we moved to another apartment down the Street, it was over a garage. Another three room place, so we all shared one bedroom again. Two weeks after we moved from that apartment, the place we moved from had an electrical fire while the unit was empty and no one was using the power.
The summer between junior and senior year I got to work at Frankford High in the school office. No, there wasn't summer school, I worked to help clean out offices and storage rooms and do filing 6 hours a day for minimum wage - gotta love that Great Society of LBJ for the funding. We "received" new shipments of books and took them to the correct offices and storage rooms for the coming year. I found out how to use an electric typewriter and use my office voice for receiving phone calls and taking messages. I got to be friends with the teachers who came in and with the counselors, who were there a lot more than the teachers.
There were some English books that they were throwing out because new editions had been issued. I asked if I could read one or two during lunch breaks and discovered George Bernard Shaw. He was out of fashion and no longer being taught, but I recall speaking to some teachers about "The Importance of Being Earnest." I realized that teachers were more interesting and fun to talk to when then weren't being teachers.
At the end of the summer the school closed for two weeks so the office staff could have a vacation, and that was mine too. I stayed at home and hung out.
When I went back to school the vice princial asked me if I wanted to work in the College Counselor's office 10 hours a week, for pay of course. I said yes. My money paid for silly little things like books and clothes for me and my sister. The Social Security checks didn't stretch very far.
Mrs. Kaplan was a wirey woman, petite and full of energy and about as tall as me. She loved her work, and she was very good at it. She used to ask me questions about my aspirations if there wer no students in the office for appointments. She had me fill out every single application she could for scholarships. She also had me fill our applications for schools I had never even heard of, or considered applying to, as well as the tried and true ones. I had intended to only apply to the local Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University, but she told me to "reach" beyond and so I also applied to Holy Family College, a private Catholic college for young women. I was accepted at all of them, but I didn't know if I could afford any of them.
I did very well that year. I dropped distributive education and took the academic classes I needed to get to college, including Chemistry I was placed in the English class for college bound students, with an emphasis on writing. I took Spanish 2, with a teacher who cared and I had History with Mr. Town, who made me think about American current affairs and care about what went on.
I graduated 124 in a class of 609 in June of 1966. At my graduation I was told to stand when my name was called for awards and scholarships. I stood 3 times. Mrs. Kaplan's applications paid off. I received a Pennsylvania state achievement scholarship, the Benjamin and Fredora Wolfe Memorial Scholarship and a Holy Family College scholarship. Only after the ceremony, when I turned in my rented cap and gown, did I see my homeroom teacher, Mr. Clarke, who told me the Holy Family Scholarship was for FULL tuition.
I obviously made the choice to attend Holy Family in the fall.