Resurrecting WCHS (Part II of An Un-Tribute to My Alma Mater)

WCHS
Hail Alma Mater, Wildwood Catholic High

Hard to believe that my Alma Mater is giving me homework–29 years after graduation.  At least now I enjoy the writing process.  But 2 “assigned” posts is too much in one week of a (rebellious) blogger-mother’s life.

Yet, once I get the “nudge,” it’s almost impossible to resist.   Even if I don’t put my fingers to the keys, the story starts writing itself–at the most inconvenient times.  Like when I’m trying to sleep or make love or drive in the snow.

So here I am, taking my assignment like a good Catholic schoolgirl. Only this time, I’ve been asked to resurrect my dying Alma Mater–rather than bash it.

If nothing else, the closing of Wildwood Catholic marks the end of an era even while its legacy lives on in its graduates who are the greatest testimony to its enduring value.

Take a quick glance at my class of ’81:

Ralph at the Pentagon, John on the State Superior Court Bench, Carole traveling the world, Gwyn living it UP in the deep South, Deb working oncology, Kathy mothering a sick child who recently passed away, Joe teaching history, Patrice coaching swimming, Lou Ann raising two fine boys, Kelley a college professor, Jesse a Public Defender–and that’s just the people that come to mind in this instance–the list goes on.

Which brings pause to my diatribe against the school and makes me wonder,

What did I learn at Wildwood Catholic High?  What were the teaching moments that made a difference?

I see myself back in the basement, standing in the cafeteria–not in line for a wet pretzel or a Friday cheesesteak (Were those moms dedicated or what!) or even for the “Last Dance”–but for a testimonial–on behalf of  Sister Henrietta–Catholic’s Principal, back in the day.

I can see her flocked with nuns as they play her favorite song and she wells up. “You Light Up My Life…”  This struck me.  It was a mushy love song.  And then it hit me.  This is her song for God.  And I was moved.

Next stop is the Principal’s Office.  Sister Marie, this time.  I’ve been called down because of the political cartoon I turned in for Turco and Stubbs’ Senior Social Issues class.  The cartoon was my commentary on Marie’s new policy of “no driving” off campus at lunch time.

Granted, in the past, seniors were heading to Woody’s for lunch and throwing down “a few” with their beef. (The drinking age was 18.) But that didn’t take away our indignation over the newly imposed restriction. (Teens excel at indignation.)

My cartoon featured Sister Marie with a ruler, standing at the corner, overseeing a group of chained seniors heading to A & LP where we would now be charged exorbitant prices for a slice of pizza.

Sister Marie would like to see you in her office,” Turco told me when I arrived for class the Monday after turning in my assignment.  Gulp.

She had the cartoon on her desk when I arrived.  “Kelly, take a seat, and tell me about this,” she said, in her typically stern manner.  Gulp.

But you know what she did?  She simply dismissed me, saying “Thank you, Kelly, I’m going to have it framed for my office.” Surprise.  Even Principals could be cool.

I have to acknowledge that my studies at Wildwood Catholic were celebrated in more ways than this. Upon  a recommendation by the Art Teacher (whose name I wish I could recall), I was asked to design a banner on behalf of WCHS to welcome “THE POPE”  on his visit through South America.  Apparently, it didn’t matter that I was a Protestant, as long as I could draw Mary and some lillies. I felt honored and expanded–and included.

Art also helped me find my way onto the gym floor (since sports would never do that for me 🙂  I was asked to help design and paint the new emblem at Center Court.   With two athletic boys of my own now, I marvel at the dedication and performance that I took for granted in highschool.  And I wonder, what will happen to the WCHS banners and trophies?  And what about that legacy?

I’m glad to hear the school will stay a school, and a Catholic one at that.  After years of teaching in the public system, I did a short stint in religious education, directing the program at a Unitarian/Universalist Church.   While administration wasn’t for me, I’ve always loved the study of religion and the pursuit of “understanding.”  My favorite Theology teacher at Catholic was a nun who was just there for a short time, but in whose class I delighted in our studies–going on to take three more Theology classes at my Catholic college.

And while I didn’t continue in theater at the college level, my participation in the FTT musicals at WCHS were a huge fulcrum for my sense of self–and belonging.  I’ll never forget the feeling during yet another grueling late night rehearsal (and a Saturday night at that!) when Feraco would stop us to say,

You did it!  I got chills.

Despite this extraction of sweetness from my years at WCHS, the news of its closing unearthed a range of emotions and memories that found their way into my first “assignment,” An Un-Tribute to my Alma Mater. And by the slew of comments that I received (better than any “A,”) my perspective struck a chord with many–often harmonious– and occasionally sour.  Of the latter, this one stirs the most:

You were popular and well liked. I’m surprised you don’t feel more disappointed at the loss of the school. You too must have had many good memories, there were many fun times. There are still pictures and banners of friend’s records there that add to a sense of belonging to something bigger than us. It marks the success of completing a challenge, a place we became adults.

I was surprised about my own “negative” feelings too–which is exactly why I wrote that piece– as part confessional/part exploration.  But John Osborne continued to put me in my place when he added this about the direct affect the closing had on his family,

My son just got the news of the end of the school. I wish you could sit in our house and see how the wind gets sucked out of a family.

And while fellow alumni Dan Rosenello ’86 shared that he heartily appreciated my “Un-tribute” , he closed with this “on the mark” sensitivity,

…For good or bad , it was and is the school where I began my own trip into adulthood, and as such , I will miss it. Godspeed WCHS.

And thus, I’ll  close Part II of my Un-Tribute with the apropos sentiment of a fellow graduate, Tracy O’Brien ’80.

The most precious thing I took from Wildwood Catholic were my friends, I am still close with them today, and I love them all. I hope people read your letter in the spirit it was written, the truth isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t all ugly either.

With a special nod to Trish DiAntonio, also from the class of  ’80, who tipped the scale on this second homework assignment, with these words:

I hope you write a follow up! I can’t wait to read more.

Thank you Wildwood Catholic, new friends and old.

Kelly Salasin, WCHS ’81

Click on the links below for related work:
Part I of the Un-Tribute to WCHS

Never Grow Up!

Connect with the dynamic group working to Save Wildwood Catholic You can also find more WCHS groups on Facebook.

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An “Un-Tribute” to My Alma Mater

WCHS
Wildwood Catholic High

It occurs to me that this subtle sense of vindication isn’t an entirely “appropriate” response to the news that my Alma Mater is closing.  Which makes this piece, part confessional/part research, as I ask, How can I hold animosity toward an institution I left 29 years ago?

Which then begs the question,  How can I be that old? No matter though, because all those years fade away when I think back on my days at Wildwood Catholic High.  And there I am, 17, in a pink Handi-Wipe uniform. I wasn’t even Catholic.

When it came to choosing my highschool, my parents disagreed. Neither wanted me to attend their respective Alma Maters. My father could not imagine sending his first daughter into the wilds of his own public high school experience (at Wildwood High), and my mother couldn’t imagine inflicting her experience at Catholic on anyone else.  (She had abandoned her childhood faith when the Church refused to marry her, pregnant, to a Protestant/Jew.)

But when it came to choosing my high school, my father–and the subject of French–prevailed.  Wildwood High didn’t offer French III and Catholic did.  (Of course, what they failed to mention upon my registration at Catholic was that although they offered it, I wouldn’t be able to take it as a sophomore which was the intention.)

Though it’s come up briefly in other places, I’ve never written directly about my highschool before–and I’m a little nervous about it.  Of course, it’s easier to bash something or someone upon death.  And personally, I think it’s healthy to do so.  A little Razor’s Edge makes the separation simpler.

And to be fair, lots of “good” took place within those walls for me: I met my first love and had my first kiss.  I summoned up the courage to try out for the school play.  (Thank you Peachy, FTT & the cast of Pippin.) I excelled in the small art classes.  I toyed with honors.  I recited the Canterbury Tales in Middle English (I still remember them!) And most importantly, I met some of my dearest friends–with whom I am STILL  friends. (Take that, Mrs. Coughlin!)

So what is it that leaves me strangely satisfied about the school’s closing?  Is it simply a case of Alice Cooper’s, “School’s Out for Summer” with a twisted emphasis on the line,  “Schools Out Forever!” And who can resist the lyrics, “School’s been blown to pieces! No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”

Or does this sense of smugness smack of something hidden, some “slight” left unresolved?

Was it Sister Henrietta standing at the top of the stairwell after lunch, confiscating each of our illegal cardigan sweaters and stowing the whole pile of them in her office?

Was it Breslin throwing chalk at my head for falling asleep in English? Or  Sister Paul Mary for slapping me after I asked a “stupid question”? (She was my mom’s Biology teacher too.)

Was it that Sister Eileen singled me out instead of the boys when they nudged my desk ever so slowly out into the front of the room until I banged into hers? (Thanks Keith & Porto!)

Was it the detention I got for scratching my name into the wooden auditorium seats during the weekly Mass?  Or the “C ” I got in typing because I wasn’t a jock or a cheerleader? (I’ve only recently learned to type without looking.)

Was it that Father Hodges cleverly mocked my Protestant indignation over kneeling for the Rosary– by crowning me May Queen? Was it his hair shirt or the Irish Pub songs he made us sing? (“Oh it’s, no nay, never, no nay never, no more, Oh I’ll Sing the Wild Rover…”)  Or Sister Saint Jervase’s unusually strong affection for the bust of Shakespeare?

Maybe it is even deeper yet…  Something beneath the surface of institutionalized authority.  Something that extends beyond my singular experience…

I wasn’t one of the students being made fun of by the teachers after play practice.  But upon hearing them, I learned that not all adults had the integrity I expected of myself in coming of age.

It was also funny to be asked to release my boyfriend’s hand across the cafeteria table, “My dear couple, there will be no public display of affection,” while another girl was giving her boyfriend a hand job in the Library–or better yet, when the new teacher was screwing one of the students.

Admittedly, having my dress looked up with a shoe mirror by my classmates wasn’t nearly as bad as the humiliation endured by one of the smaller boys who was frequently stuffed in the trash can at lunch time or stowed behind the soda machine.  (Watch out boys. He’s a Marine now.)

Or what about our very own guidance counselor, who told some of our “lower tracked” friends that they weren’t “college” material and that they shouldn’t bother applying– even to a community school?  (Does anyone else feel creepy about the tracking system?)

What about how cruelly we treated one of our kinder, but odder teachers? I didn’t care to pay attention enough to understand Animal Farm, but I’ll never forget the way the teasing made me feel inside. (The term “passive colluder” comes to mind.)

When I look closely at my years at Wildwood Catholic, there’s nothing really terrible there.  It was more of a Purgatory, a suspension of living—a forced “playing” of someone else’s game, before I could live my own.  It’s probably true of most highschool experiences.

I appreciated the sense of “belonging” at WCHS.  Like when the entire first track resorted to hiring the same math tutor (her condo was revolving door of seniors.)  Or when we all chipped into the “Chem Pot” so that the poor soul who scored the lowest grade on the tests (which we had all repeatedly failed) would take home some cash.  Or the ditties we prepared on our free period to make some abysmal teaching tolerable. I still sing, “B to the negative N, B to the negative N,” (to the tune from the Wizard of Oz.)  That bright spot of a dull morning in the basement of the school was worth the pink slip that read, “Kelly is a constant source of disruption in class.”

One of the greatest covert acts of my lifetime was arriving late to school to discover an empty office with a pile of detention slips on the counter.  Holding my breath, I shuffled through the pink pile, finding mine and stuffing it into the pocket of my dress.

Many more things happened at Wildwood Catholic that I never knew about.  Like I didn’t know that I shared the cafeteria with a track 4 underclassman who would a decade later become my lover and then my husband and then the father to our sons, one of whom is in public high school now (and hopefully not reading this.)

Unlike my husband, I never experienced the infamous Senor Platt as a teacher, though he lost his life outside the restaurant I managed during the summers–which is now also gone.

I never understood why Mademoiselle Hodge distributed cookies during the SATs by serving one side of the aisle and not the other so that she was forced to make two round trips–just with the napkins.  But I loved it about her– even more than her thoughtfulness.

And then there was the all time favorite, Mr. Stubbs, who was cool enough to manage the class and treat us like equals.  Much to my initial discomfort, his wife insisted I call him “Sam” when we became teaching colleagues at Margaret Mace Elementary years later.  We spent Friday afternoons together in the P.O.E.T.S. club (Piss On Education Tomorrow’s Saturday) and during our precious years together, he lost Sharon to cancer, and married a friend, and moved away, like me.

Maybe it’s the building that bothers me.  The cross shape. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face the day my parents brought me there to register.  “This place still gives me the heebie jeebies,” she said, with a shudder, as we waited in the cold marble lobby for Sister to see us.

It was the first time that my mother had let down the mask of “adult,” and I saw her just like me…  as a person. She learned to smoke there at Wildwood Catholic High, across the street, hiding from the Nuns.  Maybe in some twisted way I blame them for that.

I guess despite my extensive probing, I haven’t figured out this animosity toward my dying Alma Mater.  And so I’ll end with love.

Love for all those who have had their highschool belonging years cut short by this closing.   Love for those who never did belong, though they may have ached to.   Love for teachers, past and present, who gave of their time and patience to be there, and for those who now face an ending that rocks their world.  May you find higher ground.

While I don’t share their walk, I have long admired the living Catholic faith among my old highschool and college classmates, and I can only imagine what a loss this type of ending is for them–and for their children.  For that, I offer my deep condolence.

“Hail Alma Mater, Wildwood Catholic High!”

PS.  Sister Patricia was wrong.  That track 4 guy (that I married) DID eventually go to college, graduate with honors and become a highschool history teacher himself:  Vermont’s own version of Mr. Stubbs 🙂

Kelly Salasin, WCHS ’81 is a lifelong educator and “recovering classroom teacher” who now shines the light of learning through writing, yogadance & life coaching.

Scroll down below to the comment section to join the “conversation.”  Add the name of your highschool and year of graduation to your name if  you’d like.

of related interest:

Part II of An Un-Tribute to WCHS

Never Grow Up!

Catholic Schools–How to Fix the Parochial School Decline;

WCHS Alumni, Ann Delaney blog post on “Closing Schools”

Facebook, The Mean Girls and Me (At 34 years old, I finally feel like a popular seventh-grader. How sad is that?)

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