Saturday, January 18, 2014

Memories of North Catholic Philly - circa 1962 and 1933

I am reminded of older stories about North Catholic in Philly from my Dad who was a graduate in 1934. There were many changes to the buildings between the time I arrived there in 1966 or my brother in ’62.

It is remarkable that North no longer exists and St Joan of Arc Church just closed in June.

The one thing the newer North had was the building annex that was built in the early sixties. Cannot nail down a date of its dedication but I remember being there on a Sunday afternoon and standing in the lobby with my father waiting to go into the auditorium to take a seat.

The door opened into the Principal’s waiting room outside his office and there in scarlet was Archbishop Krol standing there talking with Mayor James H. J. Tate.  The door closed and we went to get a seat.

The new building had a great expanse of a new cafeteria on the ground floor. The first, second and third floors above did not sit level with the floors of the older original school building dated to the late 1920s. So connecting stairways between the two buildings was a series of half flights and landings.

There were built in lockers in along the floors in the new building.  There was an overflow of lockers for students in the older building as you would walk by a passageway past the restroom and a room filled with janitors that were actively collecting trash from the daily four periods of lunch in the new cafeteria.

Am not certain but I think there was a furnace in that room with the janitors and they burned the trash but I am not totally certain.

The overflow locker room in the basement of the older building had been the cafeteria in the original school according to my father.  I think he brown bagged it in the Depression but managed to scrape together a nickel for a bowl of navy bean soup and a buttered roll which was his favorite and served on one particular day a week as the daily special.

His main memory was that of being in his homeroom and even in the hot last days of summer in September or the hot days in late May or early June, the windows of the room would remain closed because of the smell and all the flies that were generated by the horse stables across the street at Harbison’s Dairy for the delivery of milk via milk wagons in the 30s.

He related the story of his older cousin, my godfather, having broken down in front of the school in his junker Model T Ford and then spending all day taking the engine apart before being able to get the car going in late afternoon. And that as the car departed, there were a few odd bolts and gaskets in the street and the Model T was still road worthy. Don’t make cars like that anymore.

My Dad was able to keep progress all day on his cousin because in those days, your homeroom was where you sat all day. The teachers actually changed classes and not the students.  The same basic education for everybody since the homeroom was arranged alphabetically in the “M”s in his case and this particular class had most of the Micks “Mc”s in it.

With a last name in alphabetical going M-c-S, he was seated last seat of the last row and next to the window.

Which leads to the story of the last class of the day, and the guy ahead of him in the seat in front of him.  That guy had the cardboard lid of an ice cream cup consumed at lunch. 

Apparently the round disks were objects to throw like a mini Frisbees and quite the fashion to aim such flying lids at cars from the height of the local Elevated station down the street for commuting students.

Well anyway, the story goes something like the guy with the ice cream lid had sent it into flight in a classroom where the next teacher had not arrived yet for class. The lid hit the next teacher just as that teacher turned the corner of the door and hit him squarely in the face.

Teacher said “Who threw that?”. No answer.

The teacher then conducted class, and then as it was the last class of the day the teacher after class went to every desk and holding the cardboard disk and asking each student seat by seat, aisle by aisle, asked every student if he threw the disk. As they denied the act of throwing it, they were allowed to leave.

Last aisle and the guy in front of my Dad looks the priest in the eye and denied throwing the ice cream lid. The guy left. At that and because my Dad was last man on the totem pole and his shock of the bold faced lie of the guy in front of him, my Dad said that he burst into laughter in comic relief of the irony of the situation.  

The priest did not ask him if he threw it. He instead got a week’s detention.

That was North Catholic. 


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