Chapter XII - Be It Ever So Humble
The whole family gathered around us, as we related every detail of our great adventure - the sights and sounds, riding the ferry boat to Bedloe's Island, climbing the circular staircase in the Statue of Liberty, and looking out of her eyes (windows). We looked through the telescopes on the observation deck on the top of the Empire State building. The huge water cannons on the fireboats were pouring sea water on a warehouse fire in the New York Harbor. Nobody believed that the water cannons on the fireboats could shoot a stream of water that far. It was simply incredible! We saw six tug boats guiding the French luxury ocean liner, NORMANDIE, as she entered the New York harbor with steam whistles blaring her salute to New York, and to the United States. Our fabulous adventure had ended on a happy note. We had a lot to tell the class about what we did on our vacation. We had about a week to recuperate from our trip before school started. Once again we were reluctantly trudging back to school. Labor Day slipped past while I wasn't paying attention, and it was back to the salt mines again. Something very strange must have happened to Ilene over the summer vacation.
She looked a lot different now than she did in the fifth grade. Back then, she was pretty - but now she is beautiful!
My teacher's name was Sister Mary Colette. She was young, and very nice. On the very first day of school, she handed me a note and said, "Take this home to your mother, and don't come back until you have glasses."
Mom didn't think I really needed glasses, until she read that note. Mom took me down town to the Bender Brothers Optical Co. on Vine Street. After the doctor examined my eyes, he walked over to the window and pulled a drape to the side. There was a cigar store across the street that had a huge sign that said "Cigars". The letters were about eighteen inches high. He said, "Mrs. Braun, this boy can't read that cigar sign across the street. Mom couldn't believe it. She looked at me and said, "Can't you read that sign"? I said, "I can see it if I squint". She said, "I had no idea his eyes were bad".
The class got a little ahead of me. I didn't get my glasses until Friday afternoon. Consequently, I had missed the first week of school. On Monday, we began our English lessons. Sister said, "Edward, would you please stand and conjugate the verb - Go?" When she said conjugate, I knew I had heard that word somewhere before but for the life of me, I could not remember where or when. I replied, "Sister, I must have been absent the day you had that." She said, "Well, you must have been absent all last year then. This is simply a review of last year's work." Some of the other kid snickered, as the word conjugate began a long journey through my foggy memory. Suddenly, three words jumped out of my mouth. I said, "Go, went, and gone". She said, "Very good, Edward. Now you may be seated".
A boy wearing glasses, in 1933, was destined to live a life of hell on earth. He was called "four-eyes " by almost everyone that didn't wear them. Now that I could see better, a whole new world opened up for me. I didn't have near as much trouble in the 6th grade as Marg led me to believe I would have. I took a liking to Arithmetic. I thought decimals were kind of neat, mainly because you didn't have to remember a lot of dates and names like dividends, divisors, subtrahends, or quotients. I was really happy about not having to be seated next to the blackboard anymore. I could read it across the room! Now that I could see, I discovered that Ilene was even prettier than I thought, but I sure hated wearing those glasses and being called "four-eyes" all the time.
Little Betty started into the 2nd grade, and Marg took charge of getting her started off on the right foot. She said, "I don't trust you boys to get Betty home in one piece. You'll have her wading the creek on the way home, or worse". One of my worst subjects was American History. I hated history with a passion.
I just could not remember when all those important things happened. Sister Mary Colette was passing out our papers from the last history test. She laid mine on my desk and said, with an air of exasperation, "You sure believe in letting bygones be bygones, don't you. Edward". Take this paper home, and show it to your mother". In the upper right-hand-corner of my paper, she had written, F-36%! Naturally, I was subjected to a lengthy sermon, and my free time after supper was not quite as free as it had been. This extra effort enabled me to bring the history grade up to a C.
Bill and I were happy to be in the choir. It added a to our self-esteem. I had learned to translate some of the Latin hymns. St.Margarets was considered to have one of the best boys choirs in the greater Cincinnati area. After practice one evening, Mr. Less told us that our choir had been invited to sing with the Newman Brothers' Choir in Cincinnati's Music Hall. This was quite an honor. The Newman Brother's Choir was very a prestigious group. Our performance was scheduled for the first Sunday in May. We had about three weeks to prepare for it. On the Friday night before, we were to have a dress rehearsal at the Music hall. We boarded a chartered bus waiting for us in the church parking lot. It took us down town to the Hall. As we got out of the bus, several Nuns escorted us into the hall through a dark storage area where a number of large instrument cases were kept.
We passed through some heavy red curtains and out on to the enormous stage. The rehearsal took about ninety minutes.
On the night of the performance, I believe half of Cincinnati was in the Music Hall. People in the balcony looked like they were halfway to heaven.
It was an experience I would remember for a lifetime. I had never seen the inside of the building, and it was enormous to say the least. Every whisper was magnified so that it sounded like you were talking out loud. We were positioned in a semi-circular pattern on stage, with several other church choirs. I was seated about 6 feet from a huge brass "Chinese Gong" cymbal. Our choir was seated behind the Newman Brothers choir. The Orchestra pit was below the stage. The conductor tapped the lectern with his baton, and announced to the audience, "The program tonight is The Mass by Franz Shurbert". The composer opens the score with a traditional salutation to Julius Caesar. The house lights dimmed, the kettle drums rolled, as we sang this Latin salutation to God -- Not Julius Caesar. The opening phrase: "Te Illustrissimum Salutari-- Salutari Illustristi ti " Oh Illustrious One, We Salute You -We Salute You Illustrious One." The score was marked "Pianissimo, almost a whisper. Then trailed off to complete silence.
Then I found out what that strange mark on my copy of the score meant. I had never seen one before. Someone hit that big "Chinese" cymbal. I jumped a foot out of my chair, and almost wet my pants. The sound reverberated through the hall and it felt as though the whole building shook. I didn't hear another word until I was back outside.
The local papers gave our performance rave reviews, but when we got back to school Sister Mary Colette said, "You boys did rather well last night but don't get the Big Head over it."
Entering the Sixth Grade opened yet another window of opportunity; that is, if you are a glutton for punishment. I have always been prone to start my mouth, or my muscles long before engaging my brain. Sister Mary Colette said. "If any of you boys would like to become Altar Boys, please raise your hands". The first two arms that shot up were Jack Fleming and Rome Hartman. Neither of them was in the choir. I'll show those two I can do just as well as they can. My arm floated reluctantly toward the ceiling. "Thank you, boys. You will begin your instructions with Father Ansbury this afternoon in church."
The object of my affection was seated in her usual place, first desk first row. Ilene had coal-black hair, dark eyes, and a chip broken off the corner of a front tooth. Catherine sat right behind her. She was a pretty little girl with blonde hair, it was almost the color of butter. Catherine lived about the same distance from school that we did, but it was in the opposite direction, across from Smitty's famous truck garden.
My new job of being an altar boy was becoming a great deal more than I bargained for, especially when I learned that the rookies were scheduled to serve the first mass at 6: 30 in the morning, when no one notices the mistakes that the beginners are apt to make.
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