Tag Archives: Catholic elementary school

Mr. Coffee and the Holy Water

My cousin Sue is 2 years older than me. When we were little girls we often played together. She was the one who always thought up things for us to do that might get us in trouble and usually did. She had that mischievous streak. My grandparents called her “the ring leader” and my mother sometimes called her “the sh*t disturber.” I remember when I heard my mother call her this and asked what it meant. She said it was someone who liked to cause trouble.

One day my cousin and I were playing in my room. We were going through the top drawer of my dresser examining the contents. I had a little plastic bottle that was meant to hold a small supply of Holy Water from the church. Holy Water is water that has been blessed by the priest and thought to have special powers to bless the members of the parish.

My cousin convinced me it would be a good idea to go to my local church and fill the bottle with holy water. So off we went to the church which was about 2 city blocks from where I lived.

We were at the back of the church trying to fill my bottle from the Holy Water font and we were probably being a bit too noisy about it with some spilling and giggling.

That was when Mr. Coffee the caretaker at the church spotted us and was in hot pursuit. As we exited the side door of the church I felt him grab hold of me and angrily ask what we were doing. He caught us by surprise. My cousin said he came out of no where. I guess he thought two little girls were capable of massive destruction and he was determined to put a stop to it. I was mortified. I tried to explain that we weren’t doing anything bad. My cousin shouted at him to let me go. I freed myself from his grasp and we ran all the way back to my house.

You have to understand my personality at that time. I was really the good little girl who was so serious and sensitive. I was very upset as we reported the incident to my mother. I spoke to my cousin about this incident and she remembered I was hysterical.

My mother called to complain about my treatment and explain how very serious I was about my religion, did not intend to do anything wrong and that I was terribly upset.

I was afraid Mr. Coffee would get me in trouble with the nuns at my school. I never heard anything more about it. I am sure I worried about it for quite a while.

It is funny what you remember from your childhood. I attended the Catholic School until the middle of 4th grade when we moved to the suburbs of The City. We referred to San Francisco as The City.

Another memory I have from that time is that we wrote J.M.J. on the top of all of our school work. This stood for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My father was Irish American and would swear sometimes. One way he would express exasperation would be to say, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

I don’t think I used this expression as a young adult very often. Except, I remember, when I was in labor with my son. As the pain became more intense and I experienced yet another contraction, I said to my Nurse, ” I’m having another one!,” meaning a contraction. She answered me with, ” Oh, are you having a contraction?”  I yelled out, ” Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what do you think I’m having?”

I had lost touch with my Irish American roots. My father never talked of any Irish history or culture. He was not religious. Then I watched one of my favorite films, “Only the Lonely,” directed by Chris Columbus and starring John Candy, Maureen O’Hara, Ally Sheedy, Jim Belushi and Anthony Quinn. It is about an Irish American family in Chicago.

John Candy is a policeman, Danny Muldoon,  and lives with his overbearing mother, Rose, played by Maureen O’Hara. And guess what? In the film I hear Rose say in exasperation, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” It took me back and I realized this is a common Irish American thing to say.

Well, I do highly recommend the film and not just because of that exclamation. It is a romantic comedy. It has some great music like Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and “Someone Like You” by Van Morrison.

220px-Only_the_lonely_ver1  Promotional Poster via wikipedia

Eureka Valley and The Castro

Eureka Valley

My early childhood memories are of living in the Eureka Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. My father’s parents came to San Francisco from Ireland and owned a house on Eureka Street. My mother’s parents came to San Francisco from Canada when my mother was 7 years old. We lived a block over from my father’s childhood home.

At that time, in the 1950s, it was a neighborhood with mostly an Irish, Italian and German ethnic makeup and Catholic. The neighborhood was self-contained in that our lives pretty much revolved around that area and we did not venture out of it that often.

My neighborhood world consisted of a public school, Douglass Elementary, a public park, Eureka Valley Recreation Center, the Catholic church and elementary school, Most Holy Redeemer, and our local movie theater, the Castro. My father told me our neighborhood had the most children in all of San Francisco.

I transferred to the Catholic elementary school in first grade. Then it was about uniforms with navy blue pleated skirts. White blouses with t-bow ties. Bobby socks and saddle shoes. Nuns dressed in long black habits with starched white wimples and heavy waist rosaries. Catechism and first communions, with white dresses and veils. Rosaries, prayers, and stations of the cross. I was taught religious tolerance and that other religions are different paths to God.

The Monsignor would come to our classrooms and read us our report cards. He pronounced my name De-BOR-ah, with a brogue. It was a time of high expectations and pressure for a sensitive kid.

It was a time of hula hoops, jump ropes and clamp on metal skates that you tightened with a key. I was not allowed to have a bicycle because of the city traffic.

We watched the Mickey Mouse Club afterschool every day and dreamed of being Mouseketeers, like Annette Funicello. I loved Spin and Marty, a short TV series that was part of the Mickey Mouse Club show. I really wanted a Mouseketeer hat with a pink bow.

Halloween in our neighborhood was a big occasion. There was a local five and dime store called Cliffs on Castro Street. Every year Cliff hosted a Halloween parade lead by a large mechanical dinosaur. I remember kids lining up in their costumes behind the dinosaur to march down 18th Street.

The Castro Theatre

The Castro Theatre was built in 1922. It has over a 1400 seat capacity with a mezzanine and balcony. It is still in operation today. I can remember going there for the Saturday matinee with the theater full of kids. The price of admission was 25 cents. Candy was 10-15 cents. Some of that sugary fare included Necco wafers, Rolo caramels, Charms squares, Milk Duds, Red Vines licorice and Juicy Fruits.

Some movies that were showing at that time were, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedies like Scared Stiff, Godzilla, Cinderella, and Lady and the Tramp. I would laugh hysterically at Abbott and Costello and Jerry Lewis. Some may remember Tobor the Great and ” Tobor is robot spelled backwards.”

Sometimes I saw really scary movies like The Fly ( 1958), The Blob (1958) and The Tingler (1959), a centipede like creature that lived on our spines and grew stronger with fear. The only way to keep it from growing was to scream. There was a scene with blood running out of a faucet and a bath tub filled with blood. In one part of the movie, Vincent Price announced the Tingler was loose in the theater. The scary feelings elicited by those movies would last for weeks.

My friends and I often went by ourselves to the movies, but I can remember my mother taking me as well. My mother took me to see Creature from the Black Lagoon, one of the 3D films of the 1950s.

We moved from San Francisco to the peninsula when I was in 4th grade. There was a waiting list for the Catholic school there so I was enrolled in the local public school. That was the end of my Catholic school experience.

The old neighborhood has changed since the 1950s and is now known as The Castro and for its history in the beginning of the Gay Rights movement. Douglass Elementary is now the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy.

Featured image “The Castro” by Lucy Orloski