Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Hackett schools were horrible when I was going there, so after the seventh grade my parents decided to look for alternatives. My friend's parents actually bought a house in a good Fort Smith school district, but there were some domestic issues involved as well and his mum and dad actually preferred living apart.
The only other legal alternative was for me to attend Saint Anne's High School, the only Catholic high school in town. Arkansas is only about 3% Catholic, so even to have a Catholic high school was sort of amazing. The problem was that Saint Anne's started at ninth grade. We went for an interview and the principal decided that I had sufficient background to bypass the seventh grade.
Saint Anne's was wonderful! I had lots of great friends, many with whom I still keep in close contact. One of the few things that I do on Facebook (other than announce when my posts are published) is to keep in touch with them. I even have one of the nuns as a friend because she was one of my teachers then, and she is my contact for other nuns who are not so much on the computer.
My guess is that she took her name from Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. He was a Catholic bishop and was declared a saint on 18390526 by Pope Gregory XVI.
I had LOTS of really good teachers, most of them nuns, but a few lay people. The nuns are the most memorable. Tonight we shall learn about Sister Ligouri Chafe. She taught history and, of all things else, mechanical drawing! I had her for world history, and she was really, really good. Here is a contemporaneous picture of her from my yearbook. For comparison, here is also a picture of me from the same book. I was 1/3 of the all drum pep band.
The picture of her was taken in March 1973. The one of me was taken sometime betwixt August 1972 and May 1973, so I was either 15 of had just turned 16 years.
Sister Ligouri was born in Ireland sometime around 1760, or so it seemed at the time. She was old, but as sharp as she could be. Notice the thick glasses, standard for cataract surgery patients at the time before the advent of artificial lens implants. Do not be fooled, she could see very well as will be pointed out later.
There were two convents in town at the time. One, Saint Scholastica, was Benedictine. The other, Saint Anne's, was a Sisters of Mercy one. The high school was originally a boys' school operated by the Sisters of Mercy, but when the girls' school closed, operations were moved to Saint Anne's and it became coeducational. Many of the Benedictine nuns came there as well, but Sister Ligouri was a Sister of Mercy. They wore blue habits with white highlights whilst the Benedictines wore black habits with fewer white highlights.
Sister Ligouri was very old school, always referring to us as "boys and girls" collectively but by either Miss or Mister [last name] individually. She was a stickler for schedule, admonishing us as the bell rang for start of class, "Come on, come on, come on, boys and girls, take your seats and we shall start the lesson!". I wish that I had a recording of the cadence that she used for that, and she used it every day. We did not have assigned seating (except for one day for one student, more later).
I still remember how she started the lesson after introducing herself. "History is DYNAMIC!". Now I knew what dynamic meant, and had a bit to trouble with that statement. She went on to explain that even though the actual facts are immutable, we do not know all of them and that as new information is brought to light, our understanding of history must change. She also explained that our understanding of motives behind decisions are really opinions of historians, and those opinions change. That was pretty deep stuff for a ninth or tenth grader, but it made an impression on me. My takeaway life lesson from that is that it is important to reexamine everything on a regular basis and make sure that your conclusions are still valid.
Sister Ligouri kept excellent discipline in her classroom. She was not overbearing, but firm. She had that "look" when the students were getting out of hand and the class would instantly become quiet. She was not one just to read from the book, but we had our reading assignments and darned better have read the material or we would be embarrassed the next day. She gave excellent lectures and was more interested in the whys about events rather than specific dates unless those dates were intertwined with the whys. She was excellent.
Not only did she teach us history, for the ones open to it she taught us how to think critically and, for lack of a better term, learn how to learn. She was much less an advocate of learning by rote but rather learning by understanding motives and putting the facts together with that framework. I owe her a large debt, and hope that this little tribute does a bit to repay it.
She was also really funny, laughing often and loudly. Once I wrote a paper about armor, and at the time I still used the UK spelling convention. I guess that my handwriting was not as legible as it should have been, because she interpreted my "armour" as "amour". She wrote a funny comment on my paper, but I still got a "A". I really wish that I would have kept my high school papers. Parents, keep them for your kids and give them to them after they get older. They will appreciate it unless they have a miserable high school experience.
Here are a couple of funny recollections about her. One rule in all classrooms at Saint Anne's was that there was no eating. It was hot one day, and Tom Peaveyhouse thought that he sneaked an ice cream sandwich into the classroom. He took a seat near the rear of the room and put the just opened and one bite taken treat under his seat in the book compartment until she turned back to the chalkboard.
He ate one more bite of it and put it back under his seat, and Sister Ligouri looked at him and said, "Mr. Peavyhouse, come up to the front of the row so you can see the board better!". Tom hesitated, and she started with the "Come on, come on, come on!". He took his book and notebook and went to the front of the room, and would look back at his former desk. As the hour went on, he got to see the ice cream melt and drip out of the desk, then run down the floor. About every minute he would turn his head to look, and I could see that little smile on her face every time that he looked. Thick lenses or not, she could see well!
The other funny story has to do with the Christ the King Carnival. For those of you that are not that familiar with small, local Catholic churches, many of them have an annual (some more often) fundraiser that they call a Carnival. Christ the King was one of three Catholic churches in Fort Smith, and was the home church for many of my friends. I always went to the carnivals, and the side benefit was that I looked a bit old for my age and could get a beer or two for helping the men set up the keg. I would usually operate the icepick to make the block of ice into chips to cool it.
I was dating the future (and now former) Mrs. Translator in 1975 or 1976 and took her to the carnival. It was an entirely new world for her because she was brought up as a fundamentalist Assembly of God person. She was amazed at the raffle ("Isn't that gambling? That's a SIN!") and seeing Father Davis walking around drinking a beer. Talk about culture shock!
I saw Sister Ligouri and took her to meet her. Sister Ligouri was was playing bingo, and shortly after I introduced them she won. She jumped up, and in just about the same cadence as, "Come on, come on, come on!", she shouted, "I won, I won, I won!" The former Mrs. Translator was amazed that such a sweet little old lady could be so excited by winning a bingo card. It was amusing to me to see Sister Ligouri to get so excited as well.
I suppose that was the last time that I saw her. I was getting older, with a serious love interest, college, and work, so I frequented the Fort Smith Catholic community less and less. The former Mrs. Translator and I married in 1977 and moved out of town, and lost touch with most of the nuns. Some school friends went to The University of Arkansas, so I still had a bit of a connexion.
In the past couple of years I have been reconnecting with a number of former teachers and friends from Saint Anne's, mostly via Facebook. I went to the 10th reunion in 1983 (why I was graduated in 1973 rather than 1974 is another story), but circumstances prevented me from attending any others. Facebook has been a real help for this, and I also give notice on it when a new blog is posted.
In future I plan to write about some of my other teachers from Saint Anne's. Most of them were outstanding. All of them were memorable, and they and the students as well treated this non-Catholic kid really, really well.
I went half the day today without my wrist splint! I put it back on to finish this piece to improve my keyboard accuracy, but will take it off as soon as I am done. Progress is becoming more rapid now, and I am really, really happy about that.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
The Stars Hollow Gazette,