Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Memory Lane Week: Boarding School

saint marys hall

(This week, as I re-enter the wonderful world of blogging, after long, beautiful spring days of working in my yard, home, and spending time with friends and family, I am taking a walk down memory lane.)


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 in the matter, 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.

Boarding School

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.

In looking back today, I remember 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 to the ranch 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.

I 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.

Those 4 years of memories also include:  

*taking a San Antonio city bus to downtown San Antonio to go shopping

*discovering white chocolate

*synchronized swimming

*baby oil and mercurochrome

*playing spades after school with my friends while drinking Dr. Peppers and eating Cheetos

*talking about life (boys) for hours

*studying, studying, studying

*wearing a mantilla to Christ’s Episcopal Church


*dancing at Eastwood Country Club (not a country club).



Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

What an interesting life!

Thanks for sharing those memories....


Tricia said...

I really enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane! We are about the same age, so many of your references were familiar. How brave you were to leave home at 14! And what wise advice your mother gave you about homesickness!

Meggie said...

Your "down memory lane" reminded me of my high school days, although mine was not a boarding school. It was a parochial school belonging to our church. It included lots of books...it was an intense program. I am still grateful for those years of learning.

Glenda/MidSouth said...

Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane. I also like your Mother's advice.

Mary Ann said...

I loved this post. I had a scholarship to an all girl's religious high school, but backed out at the last minute to go to the local religious high school... I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I gone to the first choice. I feel like we know you so much better from this post... and I graduated in 68!

Blondie's Journal said...

When I was about nine years old, I read a fictional book about a girl that went to boarding school, hated it, and then made friends and had the time of her life. I lived through my books so I dreamed of going to boarding school (and summer camp), but being one of seven children, I wasn't going to have that luxury! That said, I so enjoyed hearing your memories! It's probably everything I dreamed of back then and had you written a book, I would have eaten it up!


Deb said...

that explains why you are so independent...what an adventure...

pbrenner said...

Oh my gosh, what fabulous memories! I also attended high school in San Antonio (John Marshall and Keystone) ... aah those were the days. Thank you for bringing back some of my own wonderful memories! And I hope your recent family time was wonderful,


Jane said...

I enjoyed reading your post. The all girls high school I attended had boarders but I lived in town (we were called day-hops).
You were one brave 14 yr. old setting out on that 4 year adventure!!

Pura Vida said...

Nostalgic. So well written of course ..you learned a thing or two at that place! But most of all, just so darn real. It made me feel safe, like it's possible that most of the world is really like this...it just doesn't make the headlines, but it should because every single thought you expressed is so important.

Donnamae said...

What a great four years that was! Great to have you back...I missed your posts! ;)

Dewena said...

I started to comment on your most recent post and then scrolled down and saw this one that I had missed. I loved reading this because, like another commenter, I had always dreamed of being able to go to boarding school, specifically Ward-Belmont in Nashville. The girls and the school seemed so fascinating reading about them in the newspaper. And by the time of a young teenager you're already wanting to stretch your wings and the apron strings. And girls in novels who were at boarding school seemed sophisticated. Of course, so did Nancy Drew, poor motherless girl, and I wouldn't have traded my mother for anything.

I think this experience probably educated you in so many ways that you wouldn't have been otherwise, even if you did miss your family, challenging your intellect being a huge benefit.

I loved reading about this!

trash talk said...

The anticipation in the latest installment of the serialization of your life is more fun than waiting for the next Flash Gordon at the Ritz Theater.

pooks said...

What a wonderful opportunity and fabulous memories. Thanks so much for sharing them. I'm just curious--were you Episcopalian?


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