When I was 14, the family that owned the ranch my father managed, offered to send me to an all girls boarding school, specifically Saint Mary’s Hall , in San Antonio, Texas.
I had just finished eighth grade, and after a year of getting on the school bus at 6:15 am and getting home at 7:30 pm, this seemed like a good solution. The bus trip was 90 miles round trip.
Because I was in extracurricular activities in 8th grade, I rode the late bus every evening with the high school football players and band members who also lived as far away from school as I did.
The ranch was 45 miles from town, approximately 45,000 acres, and geographically was in 4 south Texas counties: Brooks, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, and Starr.
I had a choice, but I can’t say that at age 14 I was mature enough to understand what that choice meant. It must have seemed like a great adventure, and indeed it was.
I attended Saint Mary’s Hall for 4 years, graduated in 1969, and every summer my father said: “You don’t have to go back to that place if you don’t want to.”
My mother’s sage advice that first day I moved into my dorm, right before she drove away was, “There will always be somebody more homesick than you are. Find that person and help them.”
And so the 4 year adventure began, the history of which is far too long to recount.
In looking back today, I remembered some particularly important details.
We wore uniforms and saddle oxfords every day.
New students were only allowed to go home twice a semester, in addition to regular holidays.
My only way home was on a Continental Trailways bus. Someone from the school drove me to the bus station downtown San Antonio , ensured I had my ticket and had boarded safely.
I can still hear the sound of the air breaks of the bus , as it pulled off the side of 281, onto the shoulder , rocks flying, in Rachel, Texas.
There they stood: my parents and little brother , smiling and waiting, standing outside my mother’s gold Toronado.
They looked wonderful and so happy to see me. After getting my red and black plaid luggage, including my round weekender from underneath the bus, we would then cross the highway and eat at the Delicias Cafe. There I could order my favorite Two and Two: two enchiladas and two tacos.
Every Friday afternoon , boarding students lined up to write a check for their weekly allowance. We then walked to the nearest drugstore, looked at Revlon makeup, sprayed ourselves with Fame and Chantilly, ate pimento cheese sandwiches on toasted bread , ate potato chips, drank a fountain coke, and walked back to our dorm.
I wrote letters everyday to family and friends in large , loopy handwriting, used sealing wax, listened to the Four Tops, the Temptations, and anything else Motown and learned about people and how money doesn’t equal kindness or manners.
Money is not the universal language, courtesy and kindness are.
Our dorms my freshman year were older mansions on French Place near downtown San Antonio. They were beautiful. Each grade level dorm had a house mother and a very strict lights out at 10:00 pm.
I attended study hall after dinner every evening (except for Friday and Saturday) from 6:30-8:00 pm, and ate all of my meals family style with the other boarders in the school dining hall.
I’ll never forget seeing that large study hall room for the first time, with at least 200 wooden desks all in rows .Our names were on our desks, and each desk (the first day of school) had enormous ice house sacks on top of them.
I had no idea what they held. Then I realized, in shock that they held books- stacks and stacks of books- and not just one per subject area. Every course had a set of at least 3-5 books with English winning (of course) with what seemed millions.
It was the hardest academic rigor I have ever faced, college and graduate school combined. There was no coercion, no you can do it. It was on the edge of your seat thinking and reading and writing and discussing all day long.
More memories later on Joskes, white chocolate, my cursing History of Art teacher, wearing a mantilla and a trench coat to hide my pajamas to Christ Episcopal Church, and synchronized swimming.