St. Agnes Academy was the high school determined to create “Women of Worth.” The all girl high school was directly across from the catholic Cathedral and next to the boy’s prep school that shared the same name. Some of the Providence nuns still wore traditional habits and all rules of etiquette were a very proper. While our freshman class likely all menstruated we were far from being women.
Study Hall for freshman was in the attic at high noon. The 1910 building had no air conditioning and we were in wool uniforms and full of adolescent hormones.
Our desks were solid oak variety with no moving parts. We were packed in the steamy space like sardines. I made a new friend that day. Sitting next to me was a girl named Jean. She was a little shy and serious, tentative about whispering during the silence. We bumped one another while shifting in our seats, knocking over books flying. This accident naturally required polite exchanges of ‘so sorry, let me help.’
We whispered inquiries about parishes and families. Jean was the fourth of five daughters. Her dad’s name was Hilary which I though was Hil-arious. He was the king of his castle. I was the eldest of seven, two boys and four sisters. Both of us had stay at home moms then called Homemakers. We both played CYO kickball, the only female sport in catholic schools then.
Jean’s family all attended mass together. Ours attended in shifts on a typical Sunday. My brother had to serve mass and I was in choir. My dad would often get up early and catch 6 am or 8 am mass. Mom would go a little later, often 10:15 the high mass. The divide and conquer approach to Sunday obligation allowed our mom a much needed break and some reflective moments away from the entire tribe.
Describing my dad fixing Sunday breakfast hooked my new acquaintance. My dad was a younger man than Jean’s dad, a big sturdy, athletic man known for carrying around a beef quarter on his shoulder without difficulty. He was Head Football Coach and teacher as well as a big kid at heart. We were raised in the house he where was born in so he was really ‘at home.’
When Mom was away in quiet solitude, Dad would put on 78 rpm records of Mitch Miller sing-alongs cranking up the volume on the Hi Fi (High Fidelity record player). He’d strip down to his boxer shorts; he was a furnace on legs, to keep his clothes clean. This is where academy girl snickering began- talking about underwear, our dad’s underwear. I remind you we were far from womanhood. The heat in the attic and talk of underwear fueled the story.
Back at breakfast we were all in high gear to the music, popping bacon and sausage and dad’s teasing. Someone had toast duty; others set the table, poured juice and milk. Yep, my dad, making breakfast in his boxers- big, loose, billowy, cotton print bloomers often with a dishtowel tucked into the elastic waistband. Those boxers could have housed our family for a camp outing. Jean was getting red in face trying not to laugh. Imagining my dad in his big boxers was almost too much for her.
Jean trying not to laugh just egged me on. No longer whispering, I demonstrated speed clearing, washing, rinsing and tossing dishes to the next kid to dry. Everyone in study attic was restless anticipating the bell creating a little more noise. Time was short. I needed a big close to the tale. I launched into song in the most jovial Sing a-Long with Mitch bravado, By the Sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea while pretending to speed wash. Just as the bell rung I followed with Ain’t We got Fun? Jean laughed so hard she was snorting. Snorting laughter sealed the friendship deal for me.