Boarding School Blues: Ch. 60
By Louise Peloquin
Ch. 60: Back?
Editor’s Note: With this installment, Boarding School Blues comes to an end. Many thanks to Louise Peloquin for sharing her writing with us. Beginning on December 16, 2020, with Chapter 1, she regularly contributed a new chapter every two weeks. But even though this story may have concluded, Louise will continue to contribute to richardhowe.com albeit in a different form.
The atmosphere at SFA evolved over the last school term. Some boarders did not meet the academic criteria for weekend leave. Others, like Andy and Titi, lived too far away to take advantage of it. The tight-knit community spirit loosened, causing spleen and occasional spats.
On Saturday mornings, Blanche’s “have a nice weekend” to those left behind lacked conviction.
“Yeah, yeah” was Andy’s inevitable response while Titi added “get us somethin’, like caramel popcorn, if you go to that candy house place. They’re my favorite. You can’t eat that stuff any more cuz of your teeth but I sure can.”
Blanche would turn to closed-faced Andy and ask “what’s your favorite?”
“Anythin’s my favorite, as long as it’s sweet” she’d respond. “My Mom used to say oranges were treats but that was back in prehistoric times when she was a kid. We’ll miss ya PF. Hangin’ out ain’t the same without ya. Madeleine always comes ‘round to bug us but she gets big time boring when she talks about that new whatchamacallit dude. She’s obsessed. Not good. Don’t ever wanna be like that. Ever.”
The crisp clicks from Sister Gerald’s clapper ordered the departing girls to proceed, in silence, to the front hall whilst refraining from dragging their satchels on the freshly-waxed oak floor.
Blanche’s thirty-six hours home consisted in helping her brothers with schoolwork, reading to her sister, participating in domestic chores and squeezing in some study time. Dilly-dallying was impossible.
Fortunately, some Saturday afternoons, her father would drop her off at C’s house on the way to the hospital for patient rounds. He had resumed his medical practice, albeit with a lighter load.
Together, Blanche and C developed very effective multi-tasking skills. Discovering top ten hits on the radio, baking cookies, practicing dance steps, memorizing history dates, committing poems to memory, learning new vocabulary and so much more. It made for a magnificent mélange of activities.
Each used her forte to serve the other. C, who was excelling in biology, took great pains to guide Blanche through the intricacies of small mammal anatomy in the run-up to dissecting a fetal pig in biology class. Blanche was dreading it.
“I don’t know how I’m gonna do it C” she admitted. “So gross. It’ll turn me off of ham sandwiches forever, and maybe even bacon too. Yukko!”
“Worry pas PF” was C’s comforting response. “We’re dissecting partners remember? Leave it to me and we’ll ace it. The only bad thing is the formaldehyde smell. It’ll be way stronger than the frog juice stuff. But I know what to do about that too. Right before class, we’ll dunk a cotton ball in Yardley’s lavender toilet water. I’ll hide my teeny weeny bottle in my pocket. We’ll stick a piece of cotton up our nose. No one’ll see it and it’ll kill the smell.”
Blanche chortled in acquiescence as C continued. “I’m on top of this biology stuff. But can we take a look at math now? I’m kinda not too sure about those parabolas. Lemme kill the radio so we can concentrate.”
While Blanche took out her notebook, C switched the transistor off and placed a “Help!” 45 on the turntable.
“The Beatles always help me concentrate” she asserted. “Want a gingerbread man from the Yum Yum shop? They’re fresh from yesterday. Math is tough stuff and a snack always helps. ‘Help, I need somebody! Help, not just anybody.’ We need Mr. Ginger!”
While dunking gingerbread limbs in ice-cold Hood’s whole milk, the girls tackled parabolas while tapping their feet to Ringo’s beat. Abstract concepts had never been as palatable nor had homework been so much fun for either of them.
The school year took on a faster pace as weekends home became routine. March brought its share of snowfall and blizzards gave way to flurries of heavy, lacy flakes which covered the ground with dollops of slush, irresistible stomping grounds for children of all ages. February-born snowmen hunched over with the weight of wetness and even the most expert hands could not propel squishy snowballs sticking stubbornly to their mittened hands. Blanche and her buddies returned to their pine grove hideout during weekday recreation periods with lengths of toilet tissue to wipe the sludge from their shoes before reentry into the school capsule.
The English class syllabus included an e. e. Cummings poem which instantly triggered the girls’ appetite for returning to a not-too-distant childhood by stepping into puddles. Their world had become “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful”. (1) March emancipated the girls as it had Mother Nature. The sun’s golden rays coaxed crocus shoots to pierce the wet ground and eavesdrop on the adolescents debating about bands, boys and sometimes, books.
The first annual SFA spring fashion show was on the agenda for April. After Madame Greenwood’s November conference on comportment and elegance, Andy, responsible for “embellishing the grand room” per Sister Théophile’s order, worked, in uncharacteristic discretion, on set designs. Her post-breakfast employment duty had become fashioning multicolored tissue paper into flowers, painting old boards into rainforest background panels and transforming newspapers into flashy papier-mâché tropical birds. Any material contributed to meeting the required specifications of aesthetics, originality and, of course, thriftiness. Sister Gerald had even splurged on the purchase of thirty varicolored balloons to further enhance the festive decor.
A couple of weeks before the big day, Sister Roger was in the gym assigning tasks to willing fashion show volunteers only to be interrupted by Sister Gerald’s strident voice over the intercom.
“The headmistress is calling all students to the reception hall immediately.”
Up the stairs went the girls, two by two and in silence.
“Young ladies” Sister Théophile declared from a lectern placed in the middle of the room, “it is with great regret that I must cancel the first annual Saint Felicity Academy fashion show. However, this unfortunate news comes with a silver lining. In her capacity as a Boston Tourism Management School educator, Madame Adeline Greenwood, has been convened to the Cannes Film Festival (2) in the role of style consultant for the young stars of the silver screen. Our present disappointment wanes as we know that our dear friend will return to our institution for a series of autumn conferences leading up to a Noël-themed fashion show. Therefore, we can but praise the Almighty for His continued blessings. When one disappears, another emerges.”
The headmistress continued. “I might add that Madame Greenwood’s background was a boon. Indeed, not only was her eye for elegance recognized by the Cannes organizers but her fluency en français also served as an undeniable asset. Do you see how one’s cultural heritage opens professional doors on the international scene? I shall add a very personal detail shared with me by Madame. She will pardon my indiscretion given that revealing it can be a source of inspiration to you all. Indeed, Adeline Greenwood has undertaken the legal procedures to reclaim her family’s surname, ‘Boisvert’, thus overturning the regrettable anglicization which occurred decades ago. The French will consider her a distant cousin with a family tree rooted in seventeenth-century Normandy. In this manner, she will serve as a most attractive addition to the Riviera entourage. Furthermore, she is the first Franco-American involved in the Cannes Film Festival. Food for thought young ladies, n’est-ce pas? That will be all. You may resume your activities.”
Blanche turned to Andy. The word “disappointed” didn’t do justice to the look on her face. English class vocabulary terms like “crestfallen”, “woebegone” or “disconsolate” were more like it.
Blanche noticed that the headmistress eyeballed her fashion show decor manager. Sidestepping towards Andy, she trumpeted “Andrea, I am well aware of the magnificent accessories you have relentlessly been creating to embellish our grand room. Know that your efforts have not been in vain. We shall use them for our piano recital in May and for our senior prom in June. Your decor will enhance our musical performances and will allow our seniors and their gentlemen escorts to waltz in a gymnasium turned into a midsummer night’s dream. Merci ma chère fille.”
The unexpected praise did more for Andy than any discourse on ladylike posture. She straightened up on the uncomfortable folding chair and, for the very first time, blushed.
“How come your face is so red all of a sudden?” Blanche whispered. Andy’s look didn’t kill. It silenced.
As announced, the May piano recital took place in a reception hall festooned with painted panels, flower arrangements and garlands left over from past Noëls. Andy succeeded in harmoniously blending the reds and greens into the overall decor.
Performers were listed on the program – adorned with Andrea Tremblay’s wavy doodles – according to proficiency. No longer a beginner but far from virtuoso status, Blanche Rejean’s name appeared somewhere in the middle. She managed to crank out Debussy’s “Arabesque” with trembling fingers and sweaty palms.
Sister Trinity, the music teacher, had encouraged her to do away with the sheet music. Painstakingly, Blanche had learned the piece by heart. When the terror of playing in public set in, she held her hands in the air for a few, very long, seconds. The following measures were her favorite and allowed her to execute the final note. Enthusiastic applause from her best buddies, her parents and siblings helped her depart from the grand piano without tripping on the newly-waxed floor.
In June, pop quizzes gave way to final exams and honor roll nominations. Perseverance and determination boosted Blanche’s performance and she finally made the cut in French, English and social studies. Inaccuracies in translations, false labelling of pig innards and incomplete equations disqualified her for Latin, biology and math. Sister Gerald could very well have included her on the religious studies list but decided against too much visibility for Blanche Rejean. That didn’t phase her in the least. However, not being on Sister Roger’s phys ed list was a big disappointment given that she had perfected her dribbling skills. No matter, Maman would be more impressed by “serious” subjects like languages and history even though Blanche insisted that scoring hoops was way harder.
During the third week of June, after all the fuss over exams and honor rolls, SFA held its first senior prom. Sister Théophile reckoned that her young ladies would benefit from such an event, much like debutantes across “the pond” at the opening of the social season. Preparation would not be tedious or costly given that Andrea Tremblay’s elaborate props would transform the gym into a garden of Eden, albeit sans serpent.
And so it was that the headmistress’s will was done. Twenty-odd seniors in not-too-revealing chiffon dresses danced in the not-too-dimly-lit gym with their tuxedo-clad escorts to tunes chosen by SFA’s very own DJ, aka Sister Roger. Her playlist provided enough swing for jive but not enough for hip-swivelling and leg-shaking à la Elvis. Nevertheless, the DJ, a diehard fan, paid homage to “The King” by choosing one of his tunes for the evening’s first slow dance.
You saw me crying in the chapel
The tears I shed were tears of joy
I know the meaning of contentment
I am happy with the Lord (3)
“Waitresses” Blanche, Titi, and Andy, recruited to serve platters of Sister Mérida’s maple cream cookies and bière d’épinette (4), witnessed the DJ’s transfiguration as her hero’s honey voice filled the gym.
“Get a load of that guys” whispered Andy, holding her tray of biscuits dangerously askew. “Can’t ya see good ole Rog’s hips swayin’ under that black skirt? Way to go Sista!”
“Shush Andy” Titi chided. “The headmistress is right there and she’ll kill the fun if she hears ya. I thought watchin’ the seniors dance and us just passin’ trays around would be a drag but this is far out. Look! That snob Saralee is gettin’ pretty hot and heavy with her dude. He’s not my type but OK-lookin’ I guess. This prom is more excitin’ than the movies. Can’t wait to be a senior.”
Blanche was observing Sister Théophile. Comfortably placed in the plush armchair brought down to the gym from her private chambers, she had the look of an old cat with her eyes half closed and her hands gently folded on her lap. Had she been a feline, she would certainly have been purring loudly.
In an instant however, a very different sound exited from her lips, an irritating tisk-tisk-tisk directed towards the DJ.
Sister Roger must have immediately grasped her superior’s message because she lowered the volume and bellowed “Young ladies and gentlemen, remember to leave breathing room between you for the Holy Spirit!”
The announcement prompted Sister Gerald to switch on a few lights and order the waitresses to distribute more refreshments. From that moment on, Blanche saw that the headmistress adopted her usual stiff posture.
“Well that bubble is burst big time” Andy commented. “I wonder if Théo’s still gonna be around by the time we’re seniors. Don’t headmistresses move on to other schools already?”
Titi and Blanche didn’t have the chance to respond because the DJ had slipped on a new single on the turntable and pumped up the volume.
To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven (5)
“Ladies and gentlemen, here are holy verses to quicken your dance steps. Enjoy!” Blanche admired Sister Roger for transforming an awkward situation into an opportunity to further the fun.
The unusually successful evening ended with the seniors, their escorts and everyone else in attendance raising their spruce-beer-filled paper cups and join in singing the class of 1966 chosen song. A bizarrely melodious mix of sweet sopranos, rich altos, booming baritones and a couple of astounding contraltos belted out:
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
For your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone (6)
On the last day of boarding school, while hauling suitcases, duffle bags and trunks all hastily packed with frayed school clothes, Blanche, Titi and Andy exchanged addresses on corners of well-used notebooks and promised to write at least once a week.
“Listen up guys” ordered Titi. “We gotta keep on sharin’ what’s goin’ on in our lives. And we gotta keep up the gossip. Otherwise it’ll get stale. Ain’t anythin’ more boring than stale gossip. Got it? Hey! Don’t forget!”
“Titi, you never been the type to sweat over stuff. Don’t ya know that summer flies by and we’ll be back in this place before we even realize we left? Boy oh boy, sometimes I think your grey matter is goin’ down the drain. Whatsamatta with you right now dude? You ain’t peelin’ onions. Packin’ ain’t supposed to irritate the eyeballs.”
Blanche saw little invincible Titi turn into little vulnerable Titi and it made her tear up too.
“We’re all gonna be together again in September, right guys?” squeaked Titi. We’ll never walk alone, right?”
“We’ll be in the sophomore dorm. Madeleine said the mattresses didn’t smell as musty as ours. I guess they’re newer. Not that the Sand Man visits me much around here” Andy commented. “Worry pas Titi. We’ll be back here before ya know it.”
“Back to boarding school?” Blanche asked herself.
1)“in Just-“ by e. e. Cummings (1894-1962). Originally published in 1920.
2) The first annual Cannes International Film Festival was officially opened on the 20th of September 1946 at the former Casino of Cannes, with films from twenty-one countries.
3) “Crying in the Chapel” by Artie Glenn was recorded by his son Darrell Glenn and released in 1953 to reach number six on the Billboard chart. On April 6, 1965, Elvis Presley’s interpretation of the song was issued on RCA’s “Gold Standard Series.” It became his first million best seller since “Return to Sender” in 1962 and his greatest chart success over a six-year span.
4) Spruce beer is a beverage flavoured with the buds, needles, or essences of spruce trees. Non-alcoholic in this context.
5) “To Everything There is a Season” was written by Bob Seeger in 1959. Lyrics are from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible. The sequence of the words was rearranged for the song. It became an international hit in late 1965 when it was adapted by the American folk rock group the Byrds and reached number one on Billboard Top 100 chart on December 4, 1965.
6) “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, first released in 1945, is a famous song by Rodgers and Hammerstein and part of the musical “Carousel.” A version by the Mersey Beat band Gerry and the Pacemakers was recorded in 1963 and soon became famous with football, AKA soccer, fans. This is most famous with Liverpool Football Club.
Author’s acknowledgment: Blanche thanks richardhowe.com for posting her adventures and allowing her to share the boarding school blues.
Read Chapter 3: Readying
Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!
Read Chapter 5: Arrival
Read Chapter 6: Settling In
Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong
Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers
Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall
Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres
Read Chapter 11: Cinephiles
Read Chapter 12: Camera, Action, Lights
Read Chapter 13: Reconnecting
Read Chapter 14: Back to the Fold
Read Chapter 15: In the Night
Read Chapter 16: Parlez-vous?
Read Chapter 17: On the Agenda
Read Chapter 18: Dress up, sit up, chin up
Read Chapter 19: Post Conference Assessment
Read Chapter 20: Orderliness
Read Chapter 21: Inspection
Read Chapter 22: The Inner Sanctum
Read Chapter 23: Going Home
Read Chapter 24: Merci Mon Oncle
Read Chapter 25: The Food Fairy
Read Chapter 26: Bon appetit!
Read Chapter 27: Friends
Read Chapter 28: A Grocery Stop
Read Chapter 29: Tempus Fugit
Read Chapter 30: The Chapel
Read Chapter 31: A Nice Kind of Weird
Read Chapter 32: Mnemonic Device
Read Chapter 33: Cuisses de grenouille
Read Chapter 34: Run along now
Read Chapter 35: Consequences of playing hooky
Read Chapter 36: Good Vibes
Read Chapter 37: Never too many, never too much
Read chapter 38: Dust Bunnies
Read Chapter 39: I’m into something good
Read Chapter 40: Wistful and Admiring
Read Chapter 41: “Anywhere Out of the World”
Read Chapter 42: “If you really want to hear about it”
Read Chapter 43: “Why don’t they go and create something”
Read Chapter 44: Squiggles, snowmen and angels
Read Chapter 45: A Measure of Mirth
Read Chapter 46: Advienne que pourra
Read Chapter 47: Smile upon our joys
Read Chapter 48: “Venez, venez, venez!”
Read Chapter 49: “C’est si bon”
Read Chapter 50: Naughty or nice
Read Chapter 51: We all fall down
Read Chapter 52: The Eve of Destruction
Read Chapter 54: Airlock
Read Chapter 55: Here Lies . . .
Read Ch. 56: An elixir and a frappe
Read Chapter 57: We can work it out.
Read Ch. 58: Peeps & Twinkies