Claiming our territory at Mt. Carmel was as though we were members of a gang out in the Bronx or something.
Kindergarteners hung out under arched concrete statue caves beneath the high school steps where we were either having bathroom accidents or throwing up or crying for our Mamas. My head got stuck in those balusters when we went to see the Emma window upstairs in the convent.
The Front Street lawn seemed to only host our annual Easter Egg Hunts, but as seniors Annette and I saw the little ones on the playground one year waiting for the whistle to start their hunt when we yelled, “One, Two, Three, Go,” and off they went, and off we ran. We didn’t mean to start it. This is the first time I speak of this in public.
In our elementary years we risked third degree burns sliding down The Big Slide and came close to death whilst being bumped off the dreaded see-saw. See-Saw-Anxiety still lives with me due to the bullies of the sixties who intentionally bumped hard just to throw us off into the wild blue yonder of Big Recess.
In junior high we sat on the steps facing Bridge Street and upon arrival back to our 123 degree classrooms with no fans The Box roared, “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,” followed by our robotic, “Pray for Us.” “Stop showing off your pettipants on the front lawn.” We also played Steal the Bacon near the old Dauterive Hospital and battled a copious conglomeration of caterpillars that covertly landed atop our heads and shoulders, unbeknownst to the victim until someone shrieked, “There’s a caterpillar on your shoulder,” then all hell broke loose in the form of running away from the caterpillar recipient and letting her fend for herself. Carole and I took a volleyball back there one afternoon and it went over the fence and I tried to climb it until I saw a caterpillar on my white sock. I shook my foot to death but my penny loafer was stuck and I wondered why I climbed it since I had Chain-Link-Fence-Anxiety ever since Wayne Street on account of a neighbor being a Free Bleeder and climbing our chain link fence. Mary Beth squealed, “Fee-Fee, he’s a Free Bleeder,” so we ran inside because we were scared he’d bleed…freely.
As seniors we sat on the Home-Ec steps where The Box couldn’t see us as we waxed not-so-poetically. Joselle’s, “Life is hard and then you die,” was tossed around as we yapped about whose corn we could have at lunch as we sweated and sipped on bottles of ice cold Red Pop and Grapettes if Sr. Bernadette remembered to restock. Sister had a foreign raspy voice none of us could understand. When we learned she’d been strangled by the Nazis it was the first time we realized there were other things happening in the world besides the shenanigans at 109 Bridge Street. It wasn’t for everyone, I’ve heard, but I still wonder how anyone could’ve resisted an All-Girl Catholic School that had a huge statue of Jesus with a neon halo atop His head towering over us in The Big Hall while the first song on the cafeteria jukebox cranked out Honky Tonk Woman.
The convent is barren. There remains no footprint of us, but our souls are still there…because souls are strong.
PHYLLIS BELANGER MATA was born at the old Dauterive Hospital and grew up on Wayne Street. She is a 1974 graduate of Mt. Carmel Academy and is a chili dog “without the wiener” aficionado.