Remembering Remarkable Experiences in a Lighthearted Mood

by on December 30, 2010 · 16 comments

in Culture, Education, From the Soul

I hadn’t written anything for a while and decided, in a spirit of fun, to check into “” and craft a piece based on whatever I clicked on, which just happened to be: “List seven remarkable experiences in your life. Then write about each experience in the next seven days.”

Well, I nixed the” seven days” aspect of the assignment and opted to simply see if I could think of some noteworthy goings on in my seven plus decades of living.

The first remarkable experience that came to mind, for some reason, was a vision of me on my very first day of school, looking up at the statues that lined the entranceway. One featured Christ, nailed to a cross, “for my sins” I was told, which made me think, this man had to die because I stole a peach off Mrs. Warner’s peach tree? What’s wrong with this picture? Next was Mary with a look on her face that seemed to say, in retrospect, “How in the hell am I going to explain this situation to Joseph?” And then there was Blessed Martin de Porres, a black saint, the school’s namesake, who looked like he was about to bust a soft shoe tap dance move.

Remarkable experience number two, came right after number one, in rapid succession, in the form of an immense dark shadow. It was the school principal, an impressive being who had a big head, thick linebacker type neck and shoulders, Bubba like beer belly, gorilla looking thighs, ass kicking legs and snow shoe feet! And let, me tell you, as I found out several times before the day was over, she was mean! Sister Mary Benedict.

No sooner than I was wondering how she could talk with all that fire roaring out of her mouth (Hey, that’s how I recall it out of the fear at the time), remarkable experience number three un-folded. Rusty, the meanest dog in the neighborhood, a creature who, it was said, collected letter carrier and meter readers’ butts as a hobby, had somehow gotten loose from his yard (probably chewed through the steel fence) and charged onto the school grounds and headed straight for Sister Mary Benedict. Foolhardy idea if there ever was one. Before he, or any of us kids watching, could go “Oh! Oh!” SMB had reached under her habit like the fastest gun in the west, coming out with a yardstick, and whacked Rusty across the nose with a force that still makes me wince. Rusty was so caught by surprise he didn’t know whether to yelp or fetch or heel. He did know not to take anything approaching another step towards our principal.

Little did I know that later on I would be introduced to that woman’s long ruler. But in the meantime, the next remarkable experience, mild in nature, entered the scene. It simply defied logic, even for an innocent little dude like me because, you see, in my classroom there was a little fan blowing across a shallow pan of water, as if that was going to affect the temperature in a classroom in Tucson, Arizona in late August or early September. I mean the fan was even going: “Damn, it’s hot in here.”

Before I knew it I had dozed off to sleep in the heat. And I remember, in my dreams, hearing a “Whack!” (RE5) sound just like the one that robbed Rusty of his self-esteem earlier in the day and I awakened, screaming and holding my right hand, wondering where a couple of my knuckles had gone. “Were you asleep?” “No, sister!” “Don’t you lie to me!” “Whack!” “There is no sleeping at Blessed Martin de Porres! Scrape your knuckles off the blackboard and return to your seat! I’m letting you off easy this time.” Did, I hear her right? Easy? At the moment I couldn’t think of a punishment that could top practically losing a hand. That would be some kind of remarkable experience.

The sixth remarkable experience, a secret I’ve held in all these years, for my own safety, is the satisfaction of having formed a “finger” underneath my tee shirt directed at you know who, over and over again, during all the years I was at the school, and never being caught. Maintaining one’s dignity comes in many forms.

As one who has had who knows how many remarkable experiences in my life, I had no idea when I began this writing exercise that I would limit them to one day, but obviously that day stands tall in my mind. But the most remarkable experience (el numero siete) of the day was realizing in my heart and soul, at some level, that something wasn’t educationally sound or healthy about Blessed Martin de Porres School’s approach to teaching. I knew at the end of that first day of school that I would teach some day, feeling that learning could be fun and exciting. And I was so right as I’ve had many a remarkable experience in classrooms turning kids on to the 3 R’s and life.

So all is forgiven. An extraordinarily remarkable day directed me towards a life I’ve loved by showing me what not to do. That, in and of itself, I think, is remarkable.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace December 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm

This one left me smiling Ernie. Thanks.


Ernie McCray December 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Hey, I wrote it with that in mind. You’re welcome.


Barbara Metz December 30, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Brings back memories. I went to Mother of Sorrows School. (Plenty of guilt there!)
But I have to give the nuns some credit. I think there were 60 kids in First Grade.
Happy New Year, Ernie!


semidoc December 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Yeah-it brings back memories, having gone to elementary school at St. Peter and Pauls in Tucson, but it did some good too (made me competitive and prepped me for college, unlike the sebsequent public schools. Ouch! -Sister Agnes Regina (beware of those nuns with double names.) -Joe


Ernie McCray December 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Hey, I hear you, amigo. When I entered the public schools in the 4th grade I was amazed, and I’m not knocking my Dunbar School teachers, with how much I knew as compared to a lot of my classmates. And, while I’m at it, I loved one of my double named teachers, Sister Mary Andrianne (who remained a life long friend of the family) and my triple named teacher, Sister Mary Agnes Helen. With all the love I got from those two, the experience at the school was colored almost completely by SMB. She had a major major problem with human relations. If she makes it to heaven, God better run (smile).


Reneé Weissenburger December 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Oh, Ernie, this is lovely! My favorite bit is the soft-shoeing saint. I think all saints should know how to dance. Thank you.


Ernie McCray December 30, 2010 at 11:48 pm

What a better world it would be if all the saints cut a rug.


Marilyn Steber December 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm

HA! guffaws and congrats. Great story.
My nun story is about Sister Mary Conception. Honestly. I saw child cruelty at Blessed Sacrament Academy in Birmingham, and a belt wielded by a nun already absolved of Sin is a terrible sight. And we were warned not to tell on pain of eternal damnation.


Sunshine December 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm

ernie, once again i read your words with easy and delight. how extraordinary that you could read a simple suggestion to ‘list 7 remarkable experiences’ and found so much meaning in those on your fateful first day of school. so many people simply forget to notice such things. thanx for sharing the impressions these experiences had on you then and for deciding right there and then that education could be fun and exciting. The instructors that presented education to me in that manner over the years are the ones i learned from the most.

while i never went to a catholic school (public school was good enough for me& my siblings my parents decided) I did attend a catholic wedding once. tons of guilt permeated the air yet the place was exquisitely decorated. never have understood all the guilt that the catholic religion radiates, but it must stand for something. growing up attending the lutheran church we just sang a lot of hymns and had special shoes that were worn only on sundays for 2 hours.

ah the joys of early memories. thanx for writing again ernie. happy new year!!!


Shirley Robinson Sprinkles December 30, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Ernie, I had a dog named Rusty. SMB wouldn’t have scared him off with a weapon as weak as a yardstick–she would have needed a ’45! Happy New Year, Buddy.


Ernie McCray December 30, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Happy New Year to you, too, old pal.


Virginia Franco December 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Well Ernie,

All I can say is, ‘ouch’ again! SMB must have traveled the circuit in public school too.

Thanks for the memories,



Sue Ann January 1, 2011 at 12:16 am

Most memorable? Ocean Beach, July 4th, 1984…Wow!


Ernie McCray January 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm

We wait anxiously to hear about what happened in Ocean Beach, July 4th, 1984 that made it a memorable “Wow!” moment in time.


Nancy January 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Enjoyed the read despite the pain it talked about; it made me realize how smart my
first and second grade teacher was in the Catholic school I attended in rural Wis.;
Sister Cosmos was a sweetie and was the wonderful first teacher for over 20 yrs. for
many students, but we had some duds after that; esp. the principal who would give sermons about the girls shouldn’t be boy-crazy, and she’d actually say that men would come to her in the future and ask ” how was so and so”, and she’d have to say “she was boy-crazy.” She was a toughie on the boys, but would hit them in the cloakroom, not in the classroom, to avoid the witnesses. We who attended Catholic schools definitely have some stories to tell.
Thanks again for your wonderful “lighthearted mood,” Ernie


annagrace January 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Here’s one Ernie, that I have been thinking about. I was in second grade, in the public school that abutted our back yard. The boiler on the furnace went out one cold snowy day. It was absolutely unthinkable to send us all home, even though circa 1956 we all walked to school and we all had stay at home moms.

Instead, we sat in our wool leggings and winter coats and rubber boots on those tiny 2nd grade chairs in the basement, huddled around the rheumy cyclopean eye of the dying boiler. Our teacher Miss Stanley, who only wore purple or black crepe and had her black hair braided across her head and was 40-40-40 straight up and down, read Alice in Wonderland out loud to us. She read for days, while the boiler was being repaired. It was the most unimaginably wonderful thing. I sat rapt on that tiny chair for hours and hours giving myself up to the sheer magic of a white rabbit and a Cheshire cat. Needless to say, I was really primed when Grace Slick came along over thirty years later (Go ask Alice, when you’re nine feet tall!)


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