Wednesday, May 03, 2017

“We girls of Notre Dame Academy…”

Last Saturday, I went to my – gulp – 50th high school reunion.

I went to a small Catholic girls school. There were 84 girls in my class, and 20-ish of us showed up for our luncheon. We had the list of who had died, and there were nine names on it. Someone said that, in the actuarial sense, 11% dead by now would be about right. But it sure sounds high to me, especially since one of that 11% is one of my oldest and dearest of friends, who died a couple of months after my husband in 2014.

In a class of 84, you may not be friends with everyone, but you know everyone, and something about them, and here’s what I remember about those who are gone.

C1 was too cool for school. I wasn’t particularly friendly with her, but a couple of my friends were, so I hung out with her a few times. My mental image of C1 is of her with a cigarette in hand, looking cool – or trying to look cool. The report is that she ended up with a drug and drinking problem that she kicked. But she’d done some damage to herself, and died of cancer in her 50’s.

C2 was an odd sort for our school, which was the “fancy” school for the Irish aristocracy, and lace-curtain wannabes. (I was there on a scholarship.) She was from a very prominent Worcester WASP family – old money, DAR, etc. We never knew what her problems were – the rumor was that she’d been kicked in the head by a horse as a girl – but she definitely had social, physical, and learning issues. (Maybe the horse rumor was correct. I just looked up her obit, and it said that in her younger days she’d been an equestrienne.) I’m thinking now that she may have been “on the spectrum.” She was extremely awkward on all fronts. A couple of us ate lunch with her most days, but she didn’t have much of a social life. I remember reaching out to her during a vacation once to see how she was doing. Her family had gone skiing and left her at home with the housekeeper. C1 was definitely a outlier, but I will say something. No one was dying to be besties with her, but I don’t recall anyone being mean to her, either.

K was a doll. Really smart, really sweet. A very gifted artist. We weren’t especially close, but the brainy girls were all in the same orbit, so we were definitely friendly. Breast cancer. In her forties.

L died a few years back of multiple myeloma. Oddly, one of my friends from high school also has multiple myeloma, and she was treated by the same doctor as L was. My friend’s father also died of this disease. And what’s really odd is that my friend’s father picked up L and drove her to school every day, as she lived right along their route into Worcester. Was there something in that car, which was an Austin Mini Cooper that my friend’s family had brought back to the States after her father was transferred back from England? You gotta wonder.

While C2 was the oddest-girl-out in my class, G may have been the biggest within-the-norm oddball. On the day that JFK was assassinated, when everyone else in my Massachusetts Irish-Catholic little school was beyond herself with grief, G told me that she was relieved. “At least now, we won’t have a Kennedy-archy.” The other thing I remember about G was a time when our homeroom class was out in the convent garden with Sister Josephine of the Sacred Heart – a nutter if ever. Anyway, a big bunny rabbit hopped by, and Josephine asked, “Girls, does anyone know how to get the bunny to come over to us?” To which G answered, “Make noise like a carrot.” To which Josephine responded, “Oh, G, do you know how to do that?” Sure, Sta. Sure. G died in her early fifties – cause unknown. (Someone in the alumnae office found a sparse obituary.) Her mother had died of cancer our freshman year, and our class went in uniform to her funeral Mass. It was a brutally hot day, and we walked back to school – a couple of miles, in our heavy serge uniforms – stopping at S’s house along the way, where her mother gave us all water.

S was the first person in our class to die. An aneurysm, someone thought. I really liked S, a very funny girl. Our senior year, we had to write a poem in English. S got an A for submitting “And My Bird Can Sing,” by none other than John Lennon. Sure, it was cheating. And it was too bad that Sister Kathleen William, a superlative teacher, fell for it. But it was funny – especially since S had been John in a freshman year quartet who played Beatles songs at one of the school’s shows. (My poem – which also got an A – was about an anti-war march I’d seen in NYC. My poem included the word shibboleth, but not in a rhyme.)

D was someone I knew from grammar school. While I wasn’t close friends with her, one of my good friends was, so we did plenty of things together. Her father schlepped a bunch of us to school on a regular basis freshman and sophomore years, saving us from having to take the 6:45 a.m. bus every morning. Then D got her license – the only person I knew who could drive a manual. (Not a stick shift, mind you. This was a lumbering station wagon with a gear shift on the post.) D’s father was a Protestant, but, as the nun’s in grammar school pointed out, he was a “nice” Protestant, as he had hand- crafted the lovely velvet-lined wooden carrying case used to hold the giant rosary and plastic Madonna statue that was sent to some lucky home on a regular basis to encourage the family rosary. (I can tell you that, as religious as my parents were, the sight of one of their kids bringing that rosary home was not a welcome one.)

M was on of the funeral parlor daughters, part of the Worcester Irish elite. So she had the Bermuda bags, the Papagallo shoes, the Villager outfits. Not that I wanted to be like her, but I could have done with a few of her outfits. M was one of the few girls with a car of her own. A Mustang. In 1966, this was a really big deal.

And then there was my Marie, whose friendship I wrote about here.

I had a very nice time at my reunion. It was fun to see all those girls of Notre Dame Academy. Most  - but not all – who were there had stayed in Worcester. Most – but not all – had become teachers or nurses. One of the Maureens had been both. Most – but not all – had married and had kids (and grandkids). And all were involved in some type of human service career and/or were volunteering, which I guess says something about “we girls of Notre Dame Academy.”*

* These were the opening words to our alma mater, the words written by my friend Kathleen H, set to the tune of “The Boys from Wexford.” It replaced “Hail, Notre Dame,” set to the tune of “America the Beautiful.” Somewhere along the line, our song got dumped. Modern girls rejected lines like “in union is the strength of man” and “to light the light of brotherhood in each and every human soul.” Can’t blame them there. We’ve come a long way, baby.

No comments: