Nostalgia’s on overdrive today as some mysterious force lured me down Memory Lane. This is my old Catholic grade school, up high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, butting up to a national military barracks and cemetery. The school shut down years ago – replaced by a private academy that operates there now – but the church remains open. (At least I think it does, by the looks of the mowed grass and the sound the bells made at 2 o’clock.)
It’s strange to be here as a 42-year-old woman in my minivan, and not a pigtailed little girl clad in the red-and-blue plaid jumper that signified our parish. It’s ghostly here today. Where are the children doing cartwheels on the blacktop? Where are the lunch ladies doling out rectangular pizza and spoonfuls of peaches on melmac trays? Where are Kathy Stengel and Mike Buckley kissing in the eighth grade coat closet behind the chalkboard?
I can see in my mind like it was yesterday bobbing for apples in a plastic kiddie pool during some festival. I can smell the ham and bean soup simmering during the annual November turkey shoot, when my big burly softball coach stood behind me to absorb the recoil of the shotgun on my shoulder while I aimed at the target. I can practically feel my left collarbone snap when the big red ball, kicked from 30 feet away, hit me in the back and knocked me flat cold on my face. I can taste the fear in my spit when a gaggle of girls from my second grade class drew together in a ring around me, hands clasped to keep me locked in – and I punched and kicked until I made my way out.
And so began my years of “punch first, ask questions later.” This place made me scrappy, that’s for sure. And nowhere did I feel scrappier than on this soccer field. I was a goalie with a big ego and a bad attitude, a combination I haven’t completely let go of all these years later. I can see myself positioned in the center of this goal – low crouch, ready to pounce, thinking nothing was going to get by me.
Funny, I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I’m remembering these things now with an unprecedented clarity.