|"Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn"|
About, above, across, after, against, among, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beside, between, beyond, but, by, down, during, except, for, from, in, into, near, of, off, on, over, through, to, towards, under, up, with.
If your chest just tightened because you recognize those words are prepositions, then there’s a good chance you had Sister Lawrence in the fifth grade at Holy Trinity School in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee. And if you had Sr. Lawrence, you will not only be able to diagram every sentence in this entire column, but you will also have been through, or are in desperate need of, deep psychoanalysis or rehab. The emotional scars she inflicted for your inability to retain and repeat the memorization of said prepositions as she paced up and down the standing line of your class in an exercise of terror makes the stories of Guantanamo Bay seem to pale in comparison.
For me, as well as the many others whose older siblings brought home the horror of experiencing the fifth grade, entering Sister Lawrence’s class was a ritual akin to moving from the general population to death row. The actual physical move from the fourth grade classroom to the fifth grade classroom required that you relocate to a new corridor and enter a world known as the “upper grades” with the eighth grade standing at the very end like a winning spot on a game board.
Sister Lawrence’s philosophy was to strip you down forgetting about the building up side, which many of us found through alcohol or drugs in the ‘80’s. The result of her reign of terror was that you became bonded to your classmates in a way that only those who are in a hostage situation understand. There was no “cool,” “jock,” “weird.” We were all equally capable of incurring her wrath.
The only thing that gave anyone joy was the wall of windows that looked out across the front yard of a rogue house that came before the building of the school and onto the curve of road that leads cars from 9W to Linwood. I used to spend entire mornings staring out those windows imagining a life without fear. My best friend Rosie used to stare out the windows dreaming of becoming a truck driver as she envied the18-wheelers as they tipped around the bend of road.
That year was also the year that my mother became the school secretary. This tidbit of vital information came directly from a disliked classmate who took great glee in informing me of this during the summer before entering fifth grade. I nearly started a fist fight with her for telling such a lie, but when my mother confirmed it to be true, but had not yet told me, I knew it was a portentous beginning to an already discouraging year.
As luck would have it, my mother became very good friends with Sister Lawrence, much to my horror. I not only had to suffer through the school day with her, but off-hour visits to the convent and more-than-the-once-in-a-while-occasional drop-ins at my house. The first time my mother dragged me to the convent and I saw Sister Lawrence out of her habit, wearing a snappy housecoat and slippers it was like seeing porn. I couldn’t look, but I also couldn’t look away. There was something so unholy about it, yet oddly fascinating. Add to that her terse conversation informing me she was intentionally harder on me because of her friendship with my mother and didn’t want the appearance of playing favorites. Fantastic!
So each day in school I had to balance the horror of withstanding her class with the uncertainty of when our social circles would intersect and I had to pretend I didn’t want to run screaming.
Which brings me back to prepositions. As she stopped in front of me and barked the order to recite, my mind went blank. I could feel the discomfort of my classmates who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me on the line before the window. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, she screamed, “Idioms are a dime a dozen, but idiots appear to be free in this class!”
If you’d like to take a trip down prepositional memory lane, Holy Trinity is having reunion for all classes at the school on April 30th at 8pm following an alumni mass at the church at 7pm that will be celebrated by Father Dominic Lenoci, class of ’78. If you know of an alumni, please pass it on and contact me for more information.