“I’d like to be tidy, said Hen, I try, but I guess you can’t be what you aren’t.”

I woke up to a blue sky and a sunny morning. It was late, as late as I’ve slept in for a long time, but I didn’t go to bed until close to three. It was just one of those nights when Hypnos and Morpheus were elsewhere. I didn’t mind. I kept busy.

It’s a stay home day with lots to do around the house. I have to pay the bills, a drudgery I hate, and I need to take the screens off both doors and replace them with glass as the back door stays open so Gracie can come and go, but it was really chilly last night so I eventually had to close that door. Gracie, of course, then wanted out over and over again. She rang her bells and kept ringing them until I got up. Sometimes she didn’t even go out. The rest of my chore list includes changing the litter boxes, watering the plants and doing the laundry. It’s a long list, and somewhere in there I’d like to fit in a nap, maybe I can put off the laundry.

It rained most of last night. I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, and I could hear the rain on the roof. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was a steady rain.

Last night, with all that time on my hands, I went into my memory drawers and thought about when I was in grammar school. I remembered my first couple of grades when we had desks which probably dated from the opening of the school in 1910. The desks were wooden and were attached to the floor by screws through the bottoms of their metal legs. The chairs were also wooden but had metal parts which ended in circles flush with the floor and these were either screwed or nailed into the floor so they didn’t move either. We had trouble finding our books which were stored inside those desks. We had to bend over to look and sometimes we’d have to pull out a book or two before we’d find the right one. On the top of the desks were the grooves for our pencils. We didn’t use pens in the early grades. On the floor, below the chair, was where we’d put our lunch boxes. Our jackets were always in the cloak room.

When we got older, our rooms had newer desks. Those desks were also wooden, a blond wood, but the tops lifted and we could see everything kept inside but then so could the nuns. They weren’t happy with messy desks, with desks filled with crumpled papers or pointless pencils, so we had periodic clean our desk afternoons, usually late on Fridays when the nun had probably already lost our attention. One boy would slowly walk up the aisles holding the basket, and he’d stop at each pair of desks to give us time to throw everything away. The basket would get filled so the basket boy would have to take it to the basement to the trash barrels then he’d come back and do it all over again: up an aisle and stop, up an aisle and stop then back to the basement. I always wanted to be the basket person who got to leave the room, and I’d raise my hand and wiggle it in the air hoping to be chosen, but the nuns never chose me or any other girl. It was not a fit job for a  young lady.

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10 Comments on ““I’d like to be tidy, said Hen, I try, but I guess you can’t be what you aren’t.””

  1. Caryn Says:

    Hi Kat,
    I went to public school. We had the same desks in some of the rooms. In other rooms (later grades) we had those newer blond wood desks and modern chairs that weren’t screwed down to the floor. The tops of the desks didn’t lift up so you still had to bend down to see where you stuff was. I also recall older metal and wood desks that had a lift up top and a seemingly bottomless capacity of storage. It was probably 1st or 2nd grade because I associate them with little metal boxes of 8 spanking new crayons. I have no idea why.
    We had the basket boy, too, although we also had the basket girl. Our teachers never had any problem with fitting a job to a gender. We all had to do it.
    It started sunny but now it’s grey and cool. It’s my birthday so I’m going out for some wine and special food. Don’t know what yet. I’ll figure it out on the fly. 🙂
    Enjoy the day!

    • Happy, Happy Birthday, Caryn

      I hope this is a wonderful day. Treat yourself royally as this is the most special of all days-it belongs only to you!!!!

      I think the nuns were more traditional thought even my seventh grade lay teacher couldn’t understand why girls wanted to play basketball. It was, according to her, a game for boys and not girls. I remember she asked me in couched language if I had my period yet. When I said no, she remarked that it would change everything, and I’d not want to be playing basketball.

      • Caryn Says:

        I hated basketball because they wouldn’t let us play it with the same rules as the boys. 🙂

  2. olof1 Says:

    Thankfully we had those blond desks already from the beginning. We had to be able to move our desks since often worked in groups and placed our desks together for weeks at a time.

    We never had a basket boy or girl, we had to walk all the way to the basket ourselves 🙂 But I rarely had anything to throw away, I didn’t like a messy desk 🙂 I’m still like that today, I really don’t like a messy work place. To bad I don’t mind a messy home 🙂 🙂 🙂

    My dogs have stopped waking me up in the middle of the night now, they realized that only Sune gets a treat when he does his business outside in the middle of the night 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Have a great day!

    • Christer,
      You are younger than I so you didn’t have to suffer those old wooden desks. Group learning was never a big thing when I was a kid; it was when i taught though.

      It was only during desk cleaning that we had a basket person. The rest of the time we also walked to the basket to toss away paper. I liked going to the basket as I got a chance to move instead of sitting at my desk for so long.

      I’m glad the dogs have figured out the treat system!

  3. Hedley Says:

    Ahhh, lid desks, I remember those clever boys that made marble runs from rulers and books – drop the marble in the ink well and watch it traverse the interior of the desk.
    The lids were perfect weapons for the teachers, for whom sadism was part of their formal training. Nothing like slamming it down on the hands of the boy showing off his really clever marble run.
    Fountain pens with italic nibs, totally useless for us left handers, the never ending fun of a divider – let me put my name permanently on this desk lid AND stab the kid next to me.
    The Latin classes, thank God I dodged Greek. Gobs of semolina pudding at lunch which wasn’t edible and being beaten for switching a fork….I didnt want a bent pronged fork.
    Oh happy days, and all this before I passed the eleven plus and headed for Dorking Grammar School

    • My Dear Hedley,
      We never had the rolling marbles. I think most kids were a bit afraid of the nuns and even more afraid of their parents when they heard.

      I never saw a desk slammed. The nuns would never physically punish us. I had a fountain pen but it had a lever to fill it and the nib was permanently attached.

      I had 4 years of Latin in high school. I really liked it. Greek wasn’t an option: never offered.

      I loved school.

  4. Bob Says:

    When I first went to school, in NYC, we had the same desks that you described. I think PS 96 in Brooklyn was built before the turn of the 20th Century and hadn’t been remodeled. Later we had the metal desks with the attached writing surface suspended from the chair with an arm on the left side. There was a shelf under the seat to place your books. The student could only sit down or get up on the right side. Some of the older classrooms had the desks with the half writing surface on the right side. We lefties were out in the cold. To this day I write with a pen or pencil by curving my left hand around over the top of the paper because the teachers didn’t know enough about lefties to have us turn the paper in the other direction. Remember, you and I are from the era when left handiness was considered something bad. If I had attended Parochial school the nuns would have tried to beat it out of me with a ruler. 🙂

    • Bob,
      I think both our schools date from the close to or just after the start of the last century. I know exactly what you mean by those other desks with the arms on one side, the right side. I never thought how awful it must be for lefties sitting in those chairs.

      I remember lefties being forced to learn to write with their right hands. They always looked awkward.

      In all my years of parochial education, I never saw a nun hit a student, yell but never hit.

      • Bob Says:

        I think the nuns gave up corporal punishment during our parent’s generation. The Dallas School district permitted principals to paddle Elementry and Jr. High kids in the 1950s.

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