Tag Archives: Bishop Kelley School

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing # 5


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The writing prompt I’m using today comes from Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. She asks, “What religion were you brought up with?”

I was raised in the Catholic faith. We went to church every Sunday and abstained from meat on Friday. We always gave up something for Lent. The sacraments were an integral part of our lives. Babies were baptized, all of the girls sharing the same flowing white baptismal dress right up until Darla, the seventh baby girl in our family, died in infancy and was buried in it. When Amy came along, she had to have a new dress. We practiced for our first Holy Communion, with discs of white bread flattened to resemble the host. We studied for out Confirmation, and took great care in choosing a saint for our confirmation name.

We all went to parochial school. Bishop Kelley School was the only choice in our small town, and it only went through the eighth grade. If we were to continue in Catholic school for high school, the boarding school at the convent in Oxford was the nearest option. A few of us considered it, in those pre-pubescent years when we imagined we wanted to go into the sisterhood, but in the end we all stayed at home and went to public high school.

When I think of it now, it was amazing that my parents managed to send all of us to Bishop Kelley. At some time that I was attending, I knew that there was a ninety dollar per-year, per-family fee, plus so much for each child. In the 1950s and early 1960s, that was a huge sum, for something that could be had for free. It speaks to me of my parent’s commitment to the church, and to the education of their children. They were never very vocal on either of these topics, but they obviously made them a priority.

Attending Bishop Kelley School, we started each day at the Immaculate Conception Church, for mass. Each class sat in a group with the teacher. When mass was finished, we walked back across the road to the school, to begin out classes. Religion class was a part of our daily curriculum, as well as history, geography, arithmetic, handwriting, phonics, English, spelling and reading. When I see that schools often cover all of those last five subjects in one “language arts” class, I know we received a superior education!

In our family, we attended mass every Sunday, said grace before meals and prayers before bed. My mother was a member of the St. Jude Circle, and went to regular meetings. We attended Catholic school. For the years we were in Bishop Kelley, we usually went to church for massĀ six days a week! Beyond that, there were Stations of the Cross, rosaries and devotionals in the various seasons. We went to evening catechism classes through our high school years. Still, the Catholic faith always seemed to easily fit around our lives.



Dressing the Beaver



One hundred years ago (or so it seems), I attended Bishop Kelly Memorial School in Lapeer, Michigan.

Our teachers were nuns. Our nuns were Dominicans.

They wore habits of white and black. Their only embellishment was the long, black rosary that hung from their belt.

No patent leather.

No plaid.

No mohair.

On the deep windowsill of the elementary classroom sat a small statue of the Christ child. About eighteen inches tall, with porcelain features and outstretched arms, I believe it was “the Infant of Prague”. Not a newborn baby Jesus, but a toddler sized version, with a kind little face and sweet blond curls.

The very best thing about the Christ statue was that he had different outfits. Though he looked to be made of the same material as any statue, it seems he must have had some flexibility in his joints, because his clothes could be changed.

There were lacy and shimmery robes of velvet or satin with gold and silver embroidery. Tiny, precious beads and crowns. A gold necklace with a large, glowing jewel. The colors seemed to coordinate with what the priest was wearing at Mass. I’m sure there was seasonal significance, with special robes for Lent or Advent or Epiphany.

As a child, it just seemed glorious to come in and see the Christ Child in new colors. I pictured the nuns sitting around in their drab but well-pressed habits, trying one outfit after another on the little statue until they were satisfied. I imagined their glee when He finally looked just right.

When I started working at the hardware store more than ten years ago, I knew nothing about the business. I was unfamiliar with the computer system they used for purchases, ordering and inventory. I was ignorant about plumbing and electrical methods or materials. I had not yet learned about paint and caulk and nuts and bolts.

As I learned, I made myself useful doing what I knew.

I cleaned the rugs and swept around the fixtures in the front of the store. I went down the aisles with the big push broom and then the mop and bucket. I cleaned the pavement outside with snow shovel or rake or broom, depending on the season.

It wasn’t especially rewarding, but it made me a valued employee. I was willing to work every single weekend, and do the grunt work. It ensured that I would keep my job long enough to become good at it.

Still, I looked for creative outlet.

As the morning server at the Shamrock, I’d been known for my “Specials” board. In addition to posting the daily specials, soup of the day and dessert offerings, I added birthday wishes for my morning regulars, sketches of the weather, and caricatures of my customers. When people marveled over it, I’d say, “Oh, thanks…thirteen years of art school, twenty thousand dollars in student loans…I can do a pretty good specials board.”

At the hardware store, I set my sights on the beaver. As tall as me and three times as round, the beaver stands on a fleecy log inside the entrance. When I started working there, he was just a greeter. He wore a simple work apron. A sign hung around his neck saying “Hi, I’m Bucky Beaver! If you need help, ask someone dressed like me…” or some such nonsense.

What is the thing, by the way, with all beavers being named “Bucky” and all dachshunds having a name reflecting the fact that they look like a sausage?? Aren’t we glad that we, as humans, aren’t named for our most obvious physical feature?

Anyway, I adopted the beaver as my creative outlet. In my mind, his name is now something a little less about the teeth and more about respecting his gender-variable status. Maybe Lance.

I watched the re-sale shop for items that might appeal to him, in the triple-X size. I stitched fabrics together at home. I fashioned costumes out of plastic trash bags and foil gift wrap and poster board. I put together a box – labelled “Beaver-Wear” – of all of his costumes.

I dressed him for the seasons the way the nuns used to dress the Baby Jesus.

Maybe even a bit more flamboyantly.

For New Years, the beaver is a middle-aged drunken version of Baby New Year, with a glittery sash marking the year, an off-kilter crown and curled-ribbon confetti.

He has worn a stove pipe hat for President’s Day.

He’s the cutest, furry Cupid for Valentine’s Day…and on, and on.

I like to think it makes people a little giddy to see him re-dressed, the way I used to feel coming in to the classroom (one hundred years ago).

I know it makes folks smile.

I left the hardware last Spring – just about the time I got really good at it – and moved on to other things.

I re-learned jobs that I used to excel at before computers entered the picture. I found that – though I may be an old waitress – I am not too old to do the job. I set my sights higher, when other careers opened up. I kept going.

The beaver looked a little sad, whenever I stopped in.

He wore a camo jacket that the owner bought just for him, and put on a jaunty hat for St. Patrick’s Day…but the flair just wasn’t there.

I am back now, just temporarily, working one day a week at the hardware store…to supplement my income in the off-season.

Yesterday, I dressed the beaver up for Easter.

Isn’t life grand?

Back in Time



My youngest sister, Amy, and her husband, Dennis, raised four beautiful daughters in their blended family.

Two of those girls are getting married this Fall.

I traveled last weekend back to my hometown for the first of these weddings.

Lapeer, Michigan.

Immaculate Conception Church.

It’s October. Of course there were ghosts.

Ghosts, in the form of memories and feelings and deja vu moments.

Immaculate Conception Church sits on the main street downtown, just a couple blocks from the business district, and next to Bishop Kelley Catholic School, where I attended first through eighth grade. Every school day started at the church, for morning Mass.

The church has changed over the years.

I’m old enough to remember when the Mass was said in Latin. I can still recite some of the prayers, and I still think “et cum spiri tu tuo” has a nicer ring to it than the modern, “and with your spirit”. The altar faced the back wall, then, and most of the Mass was said with the priest facing the altar, away from the congregation. A long communion rail divided the altar from the rest of the church. I made my First Communion kneeling on the velvet covered bench at that rail.

Though marbles were strictly forbidden at school, we brought them anyway. For secret games of “Odd, Even or Nothing” or for trading on the way to school, or elaborate games with the public school kids while we waited for the bus. Once, during the quietest, most solemn part of the Mass, the clasp on my clutch purse gave way, allowing one hundred and twenty marbles to spill out, bounce onto the bench and floor, and roll out in every direction. Every student turned to look. The peaceful expression of a nun at prayer changed to the scowl of a predatory bird. Even the priest turned to see what the noise was. Still, it may not have been completely clear that I was the cause of the ruckus…except for my best friend collapsing in giggles beside me, as I turned fifty shades of red.

Once, when Mom was indisposed, having just had a new baby, Dad brought us to church. We were a bit late in arriving, so stood in the side aisle. My sister, Brenda, and I – oblivious to our surroundings – were deep in whispered conversation when Dad poked us. Startled, we looked back at him. He was agitated, whispering angrily, gesturing wildly toward the front of the church. “Oh!” we thought – in unison – “Did we miss something? Were we supposed to go to the front?” And we proceeded to walk up the aisle to the front of the church…where we realized our mistake. The ride home that day was filled with my father’s loud voice accompanied by exasperated head shakes about how we talked as if nothing was going on and didn’t pay attention or help with the little kids and when he told us to look to the front, we walked to the front…

When President Kennedy was shot, we all left our classes and walked to the church to pray. It was there that we learned he had died.

Death was not a stranger to us. When a person died without family or friends to pray for them, the kids from Bishop Kelley School were gathered in the church – like paid mourners – to attend the funeral and pray for the deceased.

Our family has had its share of funerals there. I was twelve, I think, when my baby sister, Darla, died. I kept my eyes on my mother, one pew ahead. Though her back was bent, her head bowed and her shoulders quaked with her sobs, Mom was the best anchor I had in this strange new world of grief.

We’ve had a few weddings at Immaculate Conception.

My Dad walked me down the aisle there, dressed in his suit and tie, with a flask in his pocket as security against his nervousness. He pulled it out, on the church steps after the ceremony, to offer the priest a swig.

Of all my sisters married in that church, Sheila’s wedding was the most memorable. She wore the dress and veil I’d been married in. Dad walked her up the aisle. When Sheila let go of his arm to walk, with her future husband, up onto the high altar, Dad’s foot was on the end of the fabric train behind her. The entire church gasped. Sheila stepped up. The six hook and eyes that secured the train to the waistline at the back of the dress gave way. The train dropped to the floor. My father – I will never forget the look of near panic on his face – picked up the fabric, hung it over the pew in front of my mother…and went to sit on the groom’s side of the church. This was only one in a whole unbelievable string of unfortunate events that made Sheila’s wedding a legend in our family. We were still reminiscing – and giggling – about it last weekend!

My friend, Linda, was married there. I – eight months pregnant and dominating every picture with my large belly – stood up with her.

My daughter, Jennifer, was baptized there, with my parents acting as her godparents.

The church has had several remodels. The confessionals – there used to be two – are reduced to one, with a real door instead of the velvet curtain from my childhood. Cameras, facing the altar, perch on top of the small room. The stations of the cross have been given a bright new paint job; the pillars have the look of marble; gold and aqua patterns adorn the ceiling over the altar.

The stained glass windows remain the same. On the left, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove; on the right, the Lamb of God, both surrounded by sun rays and bordered with gray clouds. Leaf shapes and fleur-de-lis patterns in shades of gold and red and green fill the smaller surrounding panels. So many memories bask in the filtered light from those windows!

Last weekend, we added a few more.