John Grindrod: Looking back on a mother’s consternation

By John Grindrod - Guest Columnist

Of course, on this day, even those of us whose mothers long ago traded in their loving arms for sets of celestial wings think a lot about the women who carried us far beyond the nine-month gestation period. When we were wee, they were there to help us navigate the occasionally choppy waters of pre-adolescence, there to provide encouragement when it was needed, there to offer a gentle rebuke when it was necessary and there to wipe the occasional tear and help us learn that there will be those times when the world won’t always spin exactly how we’d wish.

For my own mother, a Nova Scotian by birth but an American from the age of 6, when her family made the move to the southern part of the continent, specifically to Lawrence, Massachusetts, hers was a challenging task raising the younger of two, especially when the older was a girl, my sis Joanie, who’d pretty much already cornered the attention-getting market in the positive categories. Those categories would include stellar grade cards, an orderly bed chamber and her demonstrating abilities in the areas of working and playing well with peers and treating all adults with the utmost deference.

Of course, the challenges Mom had were with me, three years younger, and looking to fill any niche I thought I saw to garner some attention. In my case, I saw an opening in the entertainment field. Not that Sis was lacking in personality, but she didn’t seem to have much interest in playing the role of class clown, either within those sandstone walls of St. Charles School or on Green Bus Number 2, which I considered an extension of the stage that were my early classrooms.

In my 1960 parochial education, each grade card that came like clockwork every six weeks not only had grades for academic subjects but, at the very bottom of the card, grades for both effort and conduct. While the effort grade was generally pretty good because my mostly long-suffering Sisters of Charity and occasional lay teachers couldn’t really justify low effort grades when my subject grades were actually pretty good, the conduct grade was always poor. Victories, I considered D’s, although, I’m pretty sure, not by Mom.

While I’m not sure the six different times I got an F in conduct was a school record, I knew among my misbehaving partners, no one could match that. Fortunately, my miscreant ways were scattered over several years and grade levels, so my mother did find some relief, but there were several times, with the first occurring in the second grade, when she was summoned along with the young author of those failing conduct marks to a classroom conference with that year’s teacher.

If I close my eyes, I can still recall the look on Mom’s face, one a mixture of sadness and compassionate understanding for the teacher. I remember I had one teacher who produced a metal box with index cards. She pulled out a healthy stack of offense cards dedicated to me, a rap sheet of sorts, each card with the date, time and a synopsis of that day’s misdeed. I never disputed the details, for they were pretty doggone accurate, and, to be honest, when read to me, my offenses still seemed pretty funny to me, although surely not to those who looked at the world through adult eyes. I always felt so very bad for Mom, but somehow the pity I felt never seemed to translate to any long-term rehabilitative efforts.

The only reason these conferences didn’t begin in the first grade was not because my behavior was much better then. It’s just that what I was doing was someone else’s problem, an exasperated nun whose name I’ve long ago forgotten who did her best to teach me in St. Christina’s Parochial in Chicago in those days before our move to Lima in June of 1958, about 10 weeks before I entered Sister Joseph Andre’s class.

Of course, there were always some punishments Mom levied at home after these conferences that followed each failing conduct grade through my early years. And, since these times encompassed the late 1950s and early 1960s in parochial education, those parental punishments came long after what was inflicted by teachers, both clerical and lay alike, on the days of the offenses.

These were teachers who believed that misbehaving Catholic boys may very well be spoiled if there weren’t pretty frequent open slaps of a palm across the face or yardsticks serving as rods across the rump. What those teachers didn’t know is we little fellas who sought attention didn’t mind those corporal moments, and the measures they deemed appropriate were indeed more acknowledgment than deterrent, at least to me.

At any rate, if Mom were still here today on this Mother’s Day when finally most of my rough edges have been smoothed, I’d surely apologize for putting her through those St. Charles times, moments when she was asked to provide insight and answers to her only son’s teachers’ questions, answers that were as enigmatic to her so very long ago as they were to me.

By John Grindrod

Guest Columnist

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

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