chicken skeleton
Chicken skeleton (

In eighth grade, Sister decided to give several guys in the class an assignment: they were to get a whole chicken (including the head and the feet), get all of the skin and muscle off of the bones, then reassemble the bones into a full skeleton. Tim was the head of the project, and Mike and two guys named Tom were his project team. This meant Tim did 90% of the work, and the other three provided comic relief.

They got off to a good start, getting the whole chicken from a local Kosher meat market, getting all the skin off of it, and letting the bones dry thoroughly. They also did a good job getting the legs and pelvis assembled. At that point, the project bogged down, because now they had the spine and ribcage to rebuild, and then they had to put the whole thing together correctly so it actually looked like the skeleton of a chicken instead of like some mutant species from an alien planet.

There were, naturally, plenty of hijinks and hilarity. At the point where they had the ribcage assembled and had to piece the whole thing together, Mike took the skull and set it on the pelvis. “There! Instant chicken!”

Tim held up the ribcage. “What do we do with this?”

Mike took the ribcage and jammed it between the legs. “Instant chicken with portable toilet!”

Of course, they were doing all of this during a supposed “quiet study” period, so of course we all found this highly amusing. Sister was less than entertained, and as the project had already taken twice as much time as she thought it should have, she started pestering the guys to find out when they would be finished.

It took them another two weeks to complete the skeleton, with Sister nagging them along the whole time, but they really did an impressive job. Not only were all the pieces in the right place, they had managed to get everything put together so that it looked like a chicken, with the spine crooked in all the right places and everything.

Not 24 hours later, Sister decided that it was impressive enough that she wanted to show the seventh grade. This meant carrying the thing upstairs from the second floor to the third. On the landing between the second and third floor, the skeleton slid off the cardboard to which it was (not very well) attached, fell onto the concrete floor, and shattered into a thousand pieces.

Tim and the rest of the team that had put the thing together were furious, as you can imagine, but they were unwilling to vent their spleens at Sister or the principal. I don’t think any of the parents did, either. They should have.


Another Stream of Consciousness entry in Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. She has all the rules here, and you can also find links to other SoCS entries in the comments.

Writer’s Workshop: Surviving High School

It’s Thursday, and the Thursday Ten today is a departure from the list format. Instead, today I’m going to do a prompt from Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop that involves the number ten:

A 10th grade memory.

My alma mater, New Trier West High School, Northfield, Illinois, featured in the movie Uncle Buck.

I’ve done just about everything I can to wipe the memory of my sophomore year of high school (i.e. 10th grade) out of my mind. Drinking heavily doesn’t do it, I’ll just let you know that because I’ve tried and it just makes things worse.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. I did meet my best friend then, and we’re still friends 44 years later. (Hi Mark!) And it was an interesting experience for a number of reasons.

Sophomore year was my first year at New Trier West (see above). I had spent the previous year at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, and the previous nine years (K-8) at St. Ignatius Grammar School. In other words, after ten years in Catholic schools (Jesuit Catholic schools, no less), Mom decided to buy a house in the suburbs and send us to public schools.

This was a huge difference for us. It would be nice to wear what we wanted to school, and for me, after having gone to an all-boys school the year before, it would be nice to see girls at school again. (St. Ignatius has since gone coed.) It would also mean dealing with a lot more diversity than we had. Not all the kids would be Irish and Catholic (or Polish and Catholic, etc.)

It was not an easy transition for me. I seemed to stick my foot in my mouth every time I opened it, I spent the year feeling out of place and out of my element, and by April I hated school and wanted to drop out. I was sixteen, and that used to be the point at which a kid could say “screw this noise, I’m outta here.” That, of course, wasn’t going to happen. I’m from a family of educators, and my mother was adamant about finishing high school. Besides, it was eighteen, not sixteen.

One night, I woke up and it came to me: This is a game. They’re not going to let us do anything meaningful until we’re eighteen, and they can’t just let us run wild or we’ll get in trouble, so they need to put us somewhere we can’t hurt ourselves too badly. So, they invented high school and made it look like more fun than a barrel of monkeys (e.g. Dobie Gillis, Wally Cleaver, Frankie and Annette, Richie and the Fonz, the Sweathogs, Saved by the Bell, etc. – pardon the anachronisms). Then promise us that if we do well we can spend the next four years after that in college, supposedly getting the skills we need to get decent jobs. The trick was to play along. Humor them. Find yourself a place in the High School Hierarchy (Jocks, Brains, Dopeheads, Greasers, Socially Responsible, Theater People, and Everyone Else) and do what you can to survive. In just over two years, you’re out of here, and off to college to play a diferent game.

Realizing that helped me get back to sleep that night, and helped me get through the next two years.

Sent to the Principal’s Office

I suppose I was supposed to do this yesterday, at least according to Mama Kat’s directions. I’m a day late. Sue me.

Mama Kat comes up with prompts every week on Wednesday, and invites her readers (e.g. me) to choose a prompt, write about it, post it their blog, and add the link to her Linky. Anyway, this week she has six prompts, including this one…

Tell us about a time you were sent to the Principal’s office.

I was a good kid, and never got sent to the Principal’s office (believe it or not). Kept after school, yes. Grabbed by the cheek by the Principal and made to bleed because I was horsing around during Confirmation rehearsal, yes. But never actually sent to the Principal’s ofice.

Instead, I was summoned to the Principal’s office.

We were in class one afternoon, and the intercom switched on.

“Mother Juanita?” the Principal said.

“Yes, Reverend Mother?”

“Would you please send John Holton to the office, please?”

Immediately every eye in the third grade was on me. “Yes, Reverend Mother,” my teacher answered, caught my eye, and thumbed me toward the door. I sat in the back, so I had to pass every kid in the room on my way out.

Our school had two buildings, an older and a newer one. We were in the newer one, the office was in the older one. They were connected by a bridge, so I had a short hike to the office. There was a statue of Our Lady of Fatima standing in the middle of the bridge, and I stopped to say a prayer. The look on Mary’s face told me, oh, you poor bastard, you’re in for it now.

Anyway, I get to the office, and Reverend Mother was standing there. “Oh, there you are,” she said. She handed me an envelope. “This is for your mother.”

She had called me to the office to give me something to give Mom.

Understand, she could have bought the envelope herself; she toured the school twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon, she could have stopped by our classroom and given it to Mother Juanita to give to me. Or, for that matter, she and the other nuns went back to the convent for lunch, she could have given it to her then. Or she could have brought it the next day; it wasn’t as though it was anything critical, like a new heart or anything. Just something she thought Mom would like to read, as it turned out.

So, I go back to my classroom and tuck the envelope into my folder to bring home. Everyone is looking at me again, until Mother Juanita told everyone to face forward.

When I left school that day, everyone wanted to know why Reverend Mother called me to the office. And I mean everyone. Seems her request for my presence was broadcast to the entire school, as she was relatively new and didn’t know how to use the intercom to call to just one room. So everyone heard me being called to the office, and I had to tell everyone that it was just to get an envelope for my mother. Who, I prayed, would send me to Kilmer, the public school in the neighborhood, from then on…

A trip down Memory Lane, thanks to Google Maps

Source: Google Maps
Source: Google Maps

In the late 1950’s we moved to Indianapolis because Dad was promoted to Branch Manager for Continental Casualty Company (now known as CNA). We lived in a duplex on the east side (down the street from Kroger, which I have verified is still there), sharing the building with a nice couple who were the landlords. It’s the first place we lived that I remember really well.

One of the things I remember was that there were stairs leading from the dining room to the second floor. The bathroom was right in front of you, and to its left was my room. It was a cool room: there were two windows and a door that led out to a porch where we used to sit. The other day, I was goofing around with Google Maps, found the house, and managed to navigate to the alley in back, where I could see what had been my room. And, thanks to screenshots and cut-and-paste, you can see it, too.

The first time I traveled to Indianapolis on business (this was 30 years ago), I looked up some old neighbors. I had the wrong name of the street, but found them, and when I drove down the block, I found our old house. I stopped at the neighbors’ house, and once I introduced myself (it had been 25 years since seeing them), it was like old home week. She had kept up with everyone and told me where all the kids I used to play with lived and what they were doing. I didn’t realize she had kept up with my mother all those years, and knew that Dad died and Mom had remarried and had another son. And here I thought I was bringing big news…

Have you ever used Google Maps to get a look at places that you used to live, or other landmarks that you remember?