Monday, August 07, 2006

The Jelly Fish Row

Sr. Martin Joseph OP was my 5th grade teacher at St. Brendan’s Catholic Grammar School. Unlike Sister Teresita OP, Sister Martin Joseph had her own style of teaching and torture.
Sr, Martin Joseph OP was a tall stern looking woman whose smile was more of a sardonic grin . Her quiet, but sneaky demeanor was just a decoy for the her acerbic personality. Her beady little eyes were like missles, seeking out a target, waiting to destroy at a glance any student who went against “her rules”.
Basically, she was a snot.
She would march down the aisles of the classroom, with her arms folded underneath her habit, as if she were holding some kind of weapon. No need for weapons. Her looks could decimate you. She was a walking WMD. She never really talked to you- just snide remarks that only she appreciated. Among the many incidents, she was infamous for few that will remain branded in my mind forever.
Any student that didn’t meet up with Sr. Martin Joseph’s standards, were labeled as weak. Not being like everyone else was the biggest sin you could make. These students were usually the ones that looked a little different than the rest, were shyer than the rest and usually had problems with their studies. Rather than deal with their issues on a individual basis, or even recognize that they were different for a reason, these students were branded lazy and uncooperative.
Sr. Martin Joseph’s resolution for this was to group these children together. Not in an educational way, but an insensitive and insulting manner.
She developed the “Jelly Fish Row”. The jelly fish row was the last row in a classroom of 5 rows across the room and eight to a row. It was next to the window so the “jellyfish” could look out the window when they felt out of control and not annoy the rest of the class. Spineless, transparent, no backbone, uncontrollable jelly fish is what they were she stated.
The day the Jelly Fish row roll call was announced, you could feel the tension building in the classroom. Who was going to be selected to the Sea of Spineless Creatures?
There were only 8 slots. The instructions from Sister Martin Joseph were clear.
“Your name will be read in order, from the last seat to the first. When your name is read, please pack up your books and papers and proceed to your new desk in the Jelly Fish Row”.
First name,
8. Bobby Brueler
7. Charlie Faracielli
6. Maryann Pritchard
5. Kevin Saunders
4. Stanley Mucha
3. Maryanne Barile
2. Thomas Melillo

Whew, I had escaped the dreaded aisle of wrong.
She made a special announcement for the proud winner that held the first seat.
This person would be the Captain of the Jelly Fish Row-
The last name to be read was mine.
I guess that’s what the bible means when it says “And the last shall be first.”
Stupid jelly fish row.

This Catholic School had more mysteries than the 5 Mysteries of the Rosary.
For some bizarre reason, we were forced to take “Ball Room Dancing Lessons” from a guy named Bill Miller for 50 cents a week collected in the mornings before class. It was no coincidence that his daughter and son went to St. Brendan’s, were wealthy, and contributed to the Church mega bucks. Each and every person in the Miller family looked like models. They were perfect. Perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect bodies, perfect sickening smiles.
Perfect suck ups..
The dance lessons were held after school, every Tuesday in the gym. The girls would line up on one side, and boys on the other, while “Bill” and his lovely wife, “Mrs. Bill” would show us the latest and greatest ballroom dancing steps. I’m not sure what good these dance lessons were to a repressed Catholic girl from the ghetto like myself, would accomplish. No cotillion balls, no country clubs, and the only coming out I had was when I came out of the closet in my 20’s. No ballroom dancing then either.
Sadly, this exercise in futility continued throughout the year. It was especially sad for the least popular boys and girls, like myself, who often weren’t chosen for a dance by the lucky kids from the “in crowd”. Being left more than once on the sidelines with the rest of the untouchables, we were forced to dance with Mr, Bill or Mrs. Bill.
On this particular Tuesday in class, my being the Captain of the aforementioned Jelly Fish Row, I was asked to stand up at my seat. I did as I was told. I was a good soldier.

The conversation went something like this:

Sister: Did you pay your 50 cents this week?

Me: Yes Sister I did

Sister: Empty out your pockets and put the contents on the desk.

Me: ( I pulled out my beanie, a key to my house and 3 quarters)

Sister: Where did you get the 3 quarters?

Me: From my mother

Sister: For what?

Me: So I could go to the store after school and buy stuff.

Sister: I don’t believe you. 50 Cents was stolen from the Dance envelope and Stanley Mucha said you were the last to leave the room. The envelope was on my desk.

Me: I didn’t do it (now starting to cry like any other 10 or 11 year old)

Sister: Then why are you crying. I think you stole it. Sit down.

To this day, I swear I didn’t take the money, I think someone just counted wrong.
So, my official title was Captain of the Jelly Fish Row that steals and lies.

Where the hell did they get these women? Another mystery.


Blogger serenity said...

Though I didn't attend Catholic school, but rather went to CCD at night during the week as a child and adolescent, it strikes me that I just wrote about the memories of the nuns in the same exact way you have here. One look is all it really required to understand what was expected. I often wondered if they were trained in "that look". Your description of the jelly fish row saddens my heart and makes me grieve for all those little broken hearts and spirits. Thank you for your courage and your honesty in exploring this topic and for sharing your light with us. You are a blessing and a joy to know.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Learning Lollipops said...

I feel so fortunate that it was only in sixth grade that I was made the scrap-goat of an insane teacher's classroom. For the most part school was my excape; I loved school. For you to come from a verbally, sometimes physically abusive home; then have to go to school where one was belittled, riduculed, and frightened by a neurotic teacher is so disturbing, on so many levels. I'm curious, did you ever suffer from post dramatic stress syndrome? From empathy, I ask. I salute you, Woman!

11:11 PM  
Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

My son, Wil, is in a Catholic school now. If he were in yours at that time, he would have owned the #1 seat in Jelly Fish Row. That makes me shudder. I shudder that parents tolerated that abuse on their children, in the name of religion, and that women of "God" behaved so abominably. The poor souls tortured like that, and probably, perpetuating the torture on others during their life, wow, how deplorable.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous ender said...

ugh. i spent one year in catholic school and taht was in the 70s after the nuns had been relegated to the library and the music "class." (they played records and made us sing along to them ... that's not music class) i think that was one of the worst years of my education ... ugh

anyhow, i don't share this URL too, too often, but i can't bring myself to take the story down, either. thought you might enjoy it:
Southern Crucifixion

you can email me if that doesn't work. :) just use the contact button at the top of my blog :)

7:13 PM  

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