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My View: Cleaning and clicking at St. Paul's School

By Jack Horohoe

As another school year gets underway, my two youngest grandsons are off. They are beginning their academic life. They are attending their first days in first grade.

That got me thinking about my school days and in particular my days in first grade some 70 years ago. Much has changed since then.

On that September morning in 1949, I was taken to meet my teacher at Saint Paul's Catholic School in Kenmore. Sister Julia was a member of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur. She was probably in her early 20s. However, at 6 years old, anyone over 12 was my senior.

It was there that Spot, Puff, Dick, Jane and Baby became my literary friends. I followed their adventures as they tried to open an umbrella and learned to share and skipped through the rain. If I recall, their vocabulary was somewhat limited, but I hung on every word.

Jack Horohoe

In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic I learned about God and my faith from that kindly sister. I have taken those lessons with me over the course of the past seven decades.

As a little guy in a big school, I was a bit frightened. Here I was surrounded by this cavernous building with scurrying nuns in their black habits, crucifixes around their waists and veils and wimples hiding most of their features. But by the second week my new surroundings felt pretty comfortable.

Each morning before class the entire school population attended Mass. This was not a big deal to me. I had been attending Mass with my mother and grandmother for years. But this time I was alone. The good sisters instructed us in the "clicker" system. A series of clicks instructed us when to stand, sit and kneel. Seems a little like Pavlov's dog as I recall it now.

In those days, moms were usually stay-at-home. We left school about 11:15 to go home for lunch. Home for me was just two short blocks away. This was when I was first introduced to the world of law enforcement. A member of the school safety patrol would lead us to the corner of our street. The head "cop" was a fourth-grader named Butch. A tough customer, that Butch. We were not allowed to speak and trudged along single file like some chain gang, only to repeat this exercise at the end of the school day. I wonder if old Butch made it to the big time at Sing Sing.

Like today's students, back then we were given special jobs. Mine was that of the eraser cleaner. I can still smell the chalk dust in my nostrils. Sister Mary David waited for a few days before giving me the nod to beat the devil out of those dust magnets. We had a special machine down in the incinerator room that sucked every last speck out.

As the year slipped by I was promoted to waste paper superintendent. My job was to collect waste paper from every classroom and put it into a huge bin and deliver it to Fred (our janitor) back down in the incinerator room. As I look back, I spent a lot of time there.

My eight years at Saint Paul's School ended in 1957. I had made the transition from an anxious 6-year-old to a confident 14-year-old who was ready to take on the world. I will fondly remember those days till my days are done.

That old school is no more. It closed a number of years ago. Rumor had it that it would be turned into an apartment building. They probably don't need a good eraser cleaner, but if they do, I still have the moves.

Jack Horohoe, from the Town of Tonawanda, is highly skilled in cleaning erasers.

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