by Maria Lagalante Schulz
Remember those “25 Things” lists that were all the rage? I couldn’t think of 25 things anyone would need (or want) to know about me, but I did think of some pearls of wisdom I’d like to pass on. Graduation is coming, and it immediately brought me back to the 8th grade, when a brand new world was stretching out before me–and I was terrified! So here’s what I wish I knew way back when.
25. Banned books are great reads. I had no idea that Lolita, The Catcher in the Rye and Lady Chatterley’s Lover would be so interesting until I was told not to read them. I recommend that you pick up any “banned book list” and read everything on it. You won’t be sorry.
24. Likewise, banned television shows are cool. My Catholic schoolteachers could be very cagey when it came to finding out what you and your family enjoyed watching at home. Once, my English teacher handed out a list that said “Tell Us Your Favorite TV Shows!” Being naïve and always willing to tell anyone who would listen what I enjoyed, I went on to list the following:
SOAP: always raunchy, always crazy, and filled with laughs, Soap was my favorite sit-com. As a devoted soap opera fan and hopeful future writer, I loved how Soap took the whole genre and turned it on its head.
Nothing was sacred: there were mobsters, Nazis, senility, homicides, jail breaks, life after death, exorcisms, extra marital affairs…everything was game, and everything was hilarious. The other kids in the class were listing Little House on the Prairie and I was touting Soap. You can imagine how delighted my teachers were.
MAUDE: Compromisin’, enterprisin’, anything but tranquilizing, Right on Maude! Married three times and the ultra liberal cousin of Archie Bunker from All in the Family, Maude’s take no prisoners attitude always delighted me. Of course, the fact that she thought divorce was no biggie, her daughter was a single mom and she didn’t believe in God made this a poor choice for little old me to be listing proudly on my Catholic school show list. Too bad I didn’t think of that.
I loved Bill Macy, who played Maude’s third husband, Walter. That’s probably because my father looked just like him. He used to get stopped on the street and asked for his autograph when the show was on. At first he told the truth, and then he just enjoyed it.
DALLAS: whoa baby, this one was the mother lode. Glitz and glamour, divorce and betrayal, cheating spouses and cutthroat businessmen…what’s not to love? My hero was Bobby Ewing and I thought his wife, Pam, was pretty cool too. And how could you not love Captain Nelson, err, J.R. Ewing? With his ten-gallon hat and his megawatt smile, he made being a stealing, thieving, dastardly villain down home good fun. I proudly wore an “I Shot J.R.” t-shirt throughout the ninth grade. It still fits, just a lot differently.
I loved this show like a bad habit, until the episode where Pam woke up and found Bobby in the shower, and realized that the entire year of episodes that came before this one (when Bobby was written off the show because Bobby was dead) was only a dream. I got up, turned off the TV, and never watched again.
23. Monty Python is not evil. Even if they did create “The Life of Bryan,” “The Meaning of Life” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Their prescription for life (“always look on the bright side of life”) is sheer genius. See for yourself.
Or this little ditty from The Meaning of Life:
You can laugh at someone else’s hilarious view of life without it turning yours upside down.
22. Small women and big yardsticks are a deadly combination. I never expected Sister Anne Kathleen to hit me in the back of the head with her yardstick as I struggled to do math at the blackboard, and boy did that metal edge hurt when it caught me on my skull. I was so enraged that I ripped it out of her hands and screamed: “you’re not helping me, Sister!” My friend Ann managed to calm me down before I went into a homicidal rage, which was probably for the best. Even though Sister was smaller than me, I would have put my money on her over me in any fight to the death.
21. Picture Day was not created just to make me look stupid. Finding an outfit that looked okay was always a challenge. Plus, I had the habit of getting a terrible hair cut the day before my picture was taken, like the time I slept over my grandmother’s for the weekend and let her give me bangs. My mother was so upset when she saw me (since the bangs were crooked) that she tried to even them out. Thanks to her salon skills, I had bangs almost up to my forehead. That moment in time has been immortalized forever in a school picture that, surprise! I can’t find.
20. Everyone in grammar school was having a fashion crisis. Uniforms don’t look good on anyone. Who honestly thought that green plaid skirts and jumpers, yellow shirts, “x”-shaped plaid ties, green socks and black, blue or brown shoes would be the style sensation of the century? It wasn’t only me that looked awful.
19. Just because Sister Margaret said I was going to hell, that didn’t make it so. Sister Margaret was the first person I ever met who had a deep and abiding hatred for me. It was pretty shocking and ultimately liberating. I didn’t have to wonder if Sister hated me; she told me so every single day! And when she told me that I was going to hell and I was upset about it, Sister Felicity told me not to worry. In all likelihood, Sister Margaret would be there long before me.
18. I would look back at that painful, heartbreaking first crush and wonder what the heck I was so worked up about. I thought I would never survive it; now I can’t remember why I liked him anyway.
17. Even if I spent every morning, noon and night selling candy bars, I would never be able to save my school from financial ruin. From the first to fourth grades, I would beg any and all hapless relatives to buy candy bars from me. But no matter how much I sold, I was always sent off to the room where all the other losers who didn’t sell enough were kept while the big sellers were given a party with ice cream and a movie. By the fifth to sixth grades, I was looking forward to the Loser’s Gala. And in 7th grade, while Sister Margaret screamed at me that I had better sell at least 2 candy bars or there’d be hell to pay, I dropped $2 on her desk and ate both candy bars in front of her. No wonder that woman hated me!
16. It was not my job to keep Sister Felicity from having a psychotic break and killing my classmates. No amount of chocolate cake could really sedate her no matter how hard I tried.
15. After school support groups were a great idea, but they would never really offer any school-related support. I wanted to talk about Sister Margaret, who was really my only problem, but I was told we could talk about anything but that. I had to make up a lot of fake problems just so I could keep going for the free cookies and pint of milk.
14. All In The Family would not stay on T.V. forever. And horror of horrors, Edith would die! I remember watching that episode with my parents and brothers. We all cried our eyes out. It taught me to really live in the moment and enjoy things as they came, because nothing lasts forever. Not even the Bunkers.
13. Wearing a t-shirt that said “Better Dead than Disco” on dress down day would not be found half as funny by the nuns as I thought it was. Luckily, they forgave me since I brought donuts with me.
12. Learning the hustle in the 5th grade would be a skill that I would use forever. I think of that gym class fondly whenever I’m at a major event. If only I was in the 5th grade when The Macarena was a hit!
11. Learning how to speak publicly, not to mention conceive, write and perform a ten-minute speech pulled right out of your own imagination would come in handy some day. Two years of diaphragmatic breathing and major panic attacks can all be laid right at the doorstep of Mr. Pluta’s Speech class.
Thanks to Mr. Pluta, I also have tons of hilarious memories of kids who would show up at school with props meant for their speeches. One girl came off the school bus with her German shepherd and didn’t understand why our teachers got upset. Never mind that it was only 8:30 a.m. and Speech class was at 1:30 p.m. Her dog would be quiet. Honest!
10. Spending eight years with a group of people is pretty amazing.
Spending 3 hours with them at a reunion 30 years later was pretty awesome too.
9. Phonics and sentence diagramming would be about as useful to me as Trigonometry and Mechanical Drawing. Which is to say, not at all.
8. Volcano-building and detonating is a skill that every parent should have. Now there’s something that really does have practical applications years down the road.
7. Everyone you meet won’t find you hilarious. Again, thank you Sister Margaret.
6. Just because a hairstyle is popular doesn’t mean you should run out and get it. Three prime examples I can think of: The Dorothy Hamill, the perm/bi-level/80s look, and The Rachel.
5. Face-to-face confession was just not for me. The first (and last) time I went to a face-to-face confession, I was pretty hard up for sins. We went to confession every week and I led a very boring life. So, I had to make something up because I didn’t want to waste Father Lang’s time.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 3 days since my last confession.”
“So what have you done?”
“Well, I uh, uh, I cheated on a test.”
“You what?” He said, reached over, and slapped me.
“What else?” He said.
“I lied to you. I didn’t really cheat. I didn’t have anything to say.”
Father Lang roared with laughter, pinched my cheek (kind of hard, by the way) and sent me on my way with a good dose of Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s.
I decided then and there that I might actually require a wall between my priest and myself, just for safety’s sake.
4. Priests, nuns and teachers are just people. Some of them are terribly flawed; some of them are the salt of the Earth. Even though Sister Anne Kathleen liked to wave that yardstick around like a light saber and looked like Darth Vader on the Death Star, she was a kind soul who thought she was doing us all a favor. She thought she could beat some good sense and manners into us. She was probably right. Whenever I help my kids with math today and see a yardstick I immediately start saying “Yes Sister!” and “Thank You Sister!” and “Whatever you say, Sister!” My kids don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.
3. Leaving the cocoon you’re used to can be a great thing. My parents didn’t have the money to send me to Catholic high school, and besides, my twin brother was going to Cardozo. Mrs. Verdi thought this was a travesty and she wanted me to take the entrance exams for Catholic high school because she believed I could get a scholarship. But I decided not to, and another teacher, Mrs. Heaphy, praised me for it. I still remember what she said to me: “Don’t travel in a cocoon all your life. Get out there and meet other people. You’ll never regret it.”
And man, was she right. Public high school was the best thing that ever happened to me. I met so many different people and got to experience different beliefs and cultures, not to mention different foods. It was scary, but also exhilarating to discover that not everyone was Italian, Irish, and/or Catholic, and that lots of other Puerto Rican girls had the nickname “Cookie.”
2. Everything changes. When I was young, I thought that all the people I loved would always be there. I thought that the friends from those days would be right where I left them. Nothing would change.
If I could pick one day to go back to, it would feature dinner around the table with all of my brothers and my parents. My grandmother and grandfather, Uncle Don and Uncle Sal would be there, and my other grandmother would stop by, along with my grandfather and even my Uncle Nick, Aunt Nellie, Uncle John and all my cousins.
We would watch the 4:30 Movie, which of course would be The Great Escape. Maybe this time, James Garner would make it all the way to Switzerland.
Goldie and Henry would eat all the eggplant I could shove under the table while Jude’s band mates and his girlfriend Cindy ate all the meatballs that were still in the Crockpot.
Maureen, Marianne, Perette, Ann and I would bake cupcakes and then play blind man’s bluff for hours. Chris, John, Tommy and Mike would be hanging around out front, telling stories and laughing. Maybe later on, Chris would make his Pasta Carbonara for all of us to share as a midnight snack.
When it was time for dessert, all the relatives would start pouring through the door: the Ciottis, LaMainas, Scriccas, and Magros would come bearing cake.
Lots and lots of cake.
1. Don’t fight change. Ride the wave. At my brother Louie’s birthday celebration, I looked around the table and saw my husband, brothers, their wives, cousin Tommy (best prom date ever!) and my Dad.
Of course our family has had its share of subtractions: my Mom and lots of other beloved relatives have died, while some left the family through breakups or divorce. I miss them all, and I wish I could have them back (yes, every single one of them).
But I also have some pretty amazing additions: two beautiful daughters, loads of nieces and nephews who all make me proud, and friends who make each day an adventure.
My older daughter is off to high school in the fall, and my little one will be in the 6th grade. Wow—is this ride going really fast?
I know I’m lucky. Even if that “I Shot J.R.” t-shirt fits differently now.
Angel Food Cupcakes
Here’s a low-fat treat that might even get a smile out of Sister Margaret.
And here’s a drink that’s a toast to my growing up years as well as today:
Italian Amaretto Margaritas…yum!
So, what do you wish you knew when you were a kid? Leave a comment and let all the Hungry Lifers know about it.