by Carlos Feliciano
Up The Tree
On The Roof
Peteís story of our Escape from St. Agnes is pretty accurate. There were several things my brothers and I didnít like about the place. One of these things was the food. It wasnít anything like what mom used to cook. Also, at home, we werenít forced to eat things we didnít like. One thing that comes to mind was turnips. It was very bland and tasted lousy, like most of the food at the School.
Within the first day or so, we had enough of that place, and decided to run away. We had to decide what to do about Pete. He really was too small to be going through a trip like this. He was only about 5 years old. Of course, Caesar was 7; I was 8; and Pat, the oldest, was only 10. In retrospect, none of us were really old enough to be pulling a stunt like this. Anyway, we figured that it would be even worse for Pete to be left behind in this strange place without the protection of his older brothers, so we decided to take him with us, knowing full well that we would have to take turns carrying him when he got tired.
As it turned out, The most ideal time to make our move was within the first 3 days. New comers to St. Agnes were first kept in quarantine for about that much time. After that, we would be separated, not by family, but by age group. The three oldest would be in one group, and Pete would be in another.
Quarantine was located in The Infirmary, a very small building behind, and out of sight of, the main huge building. There were never more than a few kids kept there at any time. At the front of the building was the Sick Room; a small room with a dental chair and equipment. It was mainly used for yearly dental and eye exams. If you had a serious health problem, you slept in the second floor dorm, or were sent to a hospital. We were housed at the rear of the first floor which had its own entrance, and faced away from the rest of the buildings. It was very easy to just walk away and be long gone before anyone noticed. Pete goes into great detail about the actual escape, so I wonít repeat it here, but it makes for very good reading.
St. Agnes, to me, was like a prison. Everyone looked the same. The really good, brand new clothes, we came with were taken away. I hollered at the Nun, hay, whereís my clothes? She said, oh! Donít worry. We have them safely put away for you. I asked, canít I even see them? She said, not now, but you will! But when am I going to be able to wear them?, I asked! Christmas and Easter, she replied. That meant never because, by that time, we would have outgrown them. It was just another way of making you look and feel like everyone else; not just during school hours, but always; like part of a herd; another way of robbing you of your individualism. Thereís a name for that. Its called Prison!
I used to always get into fights. Not only because I was bitter for being there, but I actually enjoyed it! And it wasnít only because I had two other brothers to back me up either, although that definitely helped! I remember fighting with this big Indian. He was the real thing. He would always be chanting Indian rituals. I donít remember what we fought about. Actually, there didnít have to be a good reason. Any reason would do! Anyway, Pat started fighting with him first, and got his butt whipped. Then I got up and said, youíll have to fight me now, and I got my butt whipped too! Then Caesar jumped in and got whipped. By that time Pat was ready for a second round. The big Indian backed away, with his hands raised over his head and, shaking his head, he said, oh NO! I ainít going through THAT again! I QUIT! You WIN! I give up! And he walked away. We never had trouble with him again. In fact, we became good friends.
There were too many fighting incidences to recount them all, but I do remember one with Calahan. He was the center for the football team. He could hold back the whole team. He was like a human steamroller. Anyway, he got the best of me. Later on that night, I was in the wash room with some other guys, brushing my teeth and stuff. In walks Calahan, hiding a bat along his side. Before I knew what was happening, Calahan and I were alone. He came toward me with the bat. I thought, oh, oh! Here we go again, but what does he need a bat for? He lifted the bat toward me, handed it to me and said, OK, you got one free shot, then weíre even. I took the bat and whacked him with everything I had. He said, oh man, that hurts! Now weíre even, oh man!. He left and went to bed.
You see, we brothers had quite a reputation by then. You might win over us individually, but in the end, youíll have to fight us all, and keep fighting us until we wear you out, then weíll kick the hell out of you. Calahan decided to take his licking NOW and save himself some misery later. As the saying goes, Discretion is the better part of valor!
UP THE TREE
At some age, about equivalent to Jr. High School, all the kids were given jobs to do. You might work in the sewing room, darning socks; one of the dorms making beds; the kitchen, dining room, laundry room, or a number of other jobs. These jobs were rotated each year. One job that seemed lucrative to me, and assigned to older kids, was the Novitiate. This was a building, down a narrow path, and about 200 yards from the main grounds. Postulates and Novices, (two levels before becoming full Nuns), were housed there until there could be room for them in the main building, or until they left the Order (quit or were rejected), or became full Nuns and transferred to other locations. Retired Nuns also lived there and had their own living arrangements. This area was out of bounds to us unless we were assigned to work there.
As much as I hated the food at the main dining room, I was bound and determined to work at the Novitiate. I heard that they served real food there. They had their own kitchen, and cooked for a smaller group, so the food tasted more home made. Even though I could get in real trouble, I decided to hang around there until I got a job. The nun in charge of the work detail, finally took pity on me and officially put me to work. I became, probably, the youngest kid ever to work there. This became a source of irritation to an older kid who worked there, because I was invading his domain, and also given other preferential treatment on top of that. This made him quietly fume.
Everything was going fine until one day I was told to clean a chicken for the next meal. The chicken stunk, and I refused to touch it. The Nun forced my hand into the chicken to get me started. I exploded! I picked it up and slammed it to the floor and really stomped on it, then I ran out. The Nun told the other kid to bring me back. I climbed way up a tree and refused to come down. The kid started throwing rocks at me. The nun stopped him saying, I told you to get him, not to hurt him. I stayed in the tree all day long and I started falling asleep. The Nun finally came out and promised that I wouldnít be punished, so I came down.
All was well again, except that, for days, nuns would come by the kitchen, peer in at me and giggle. It seems that the other nuns complained that night, because they werenít served the chicken they were expecting, and they were told the full story of what happened to it.
ON THE ROOF
Being off bounds was taboo for kids in my age group, or younger. One such area was the local village. But even worse, was an Army Dump that was located a couple of miles in the opposite direction. This was not only off limits, but trespassing on government property. That didnít stop us from going there on a regular bases. For some reason, the Army would throw away some perfectly good, even new, stuff. Maybe it was because they didnít want to collect, and reissue stuff, once it had been issued, and there was always a huge turnover of personnel at the base because of the war. We would find things like pocket knives, bayonets, flash lights, canteens, back packs, cases of C rations, new brooms, mops and pails, and more. On this particular day, the dump was being patrolled by the MPs (Military Police). When we saw the jeep coming, we all jumped into the woods and got away. I guess the MPs called ahead to the school and reported the incident. Before we could get back, the Head Coach, called a surprise head count, and we were busted. As we got back, we were rounded up. The Coach asked each of us where we were. The others were giving excuses that, I knew, the coach wasnít buying. I decided to cop to a lesser plea and lied that I had gone to the village. The Coach slapped me around a little and let me go. The MPs arrived and insisted I was there too, but the Coach said it wasnít me because I was in the village. The others were given harsh punishment. I got away scott clean!
We stayed away from the dump for a while but, after a time, we started going back again. Near the dump there was a 2 story building, and I decided to climb onto the roof because it made for a good look-out. The MPs came by again and spotted me and said Aha! We got you now! I ran from corner to corner looking for a way down. All I could find was a tree that was reasonably close. I leaped for a branch which bowed, and I grabbed the next branch and so on till I got to the ground, and dashed for the woods. I got clean away again, but it was too close for comfort, so that was my last trip to the Army Dump.
THE FINAL STRAW
Besides the regular school, there was something called the Shop. Here you learned how to make things out of wood using various shop equipment and tools. There was little or no basics taught there. No one really cared if you learned anything or not. The kids assigned there either had a learning disability or were incorrigible. I was assigned there and I didnít appreciate it. If they had taught auto mechanics, I wouldnít have minded, but they didnít, so I asked the school Principal to be transferred to regular school. She agreed, but when classes were reassigned in the Fall, I was still assigned to "Shop."
This particular day, the Principal was sitting on a chair near the school door with a High School graduate (who still lived there and helped out). I asked the Principal why she didnít transfer me like she promised, and she just smirked. That really angered me so much that I hauled off and slugged her, and she went flying backward onto the ground. The graduate was supposed to hold me Ďtill she ran inside and came back with a bamboo stick to beat me. This guy turned me loose and told me to run away and never come back because they were going to KILL me.
I quickly ran around the school begging for money to run. After hearing what I had just done, everyone chipped in their little pennies without hesitation. In no time I had bus fare. Another kid wanted to come along. We followed the train tracks that ran through the woods and lead to the village. This way, we could sneak into the village without being seen. We caught the bus and were off to New York City. Once the bus entered the city, I knew it wasnít going to stop until it reached the bus depot. I knew someone from the school would be waiting there to grab us and take us back. I told the kid, somehow, we had to force the driver to let us out before the depot. The kid was too afraid that he would get lost, so he wasnít going to get off. I told the driver that my hat flew out the window and my mom would kill me if I came home without it. The driver stopped and I took off. I made it home with no problem. The other guy was picked up at the depot, as I predicted, and taken back to the school. In the mean time, I had to go before a judge and explain what happened.
In retrospect, I donít know why this was necessary, because Iím absolutely sure that the School would not have made an official report. If they had, I would have gone before a local judge. In fact, once the Mother Superior heard of the incident, I would have simply been expelled. At that point, not even physical punishment would have been imposed. Physical punishment assumes that I would stay at the school, but be taught a lesson so I wouldnít repeat the incident. If I would have been expelled anyway, physical punishment would have been pointless. At any rate, it was decided that I would stay home and go to Public School in New York City; a decision with which I wholeheartedly agreed.
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