Dies caninculae… 

It won’t be long before that old familiar ring of the school bell is sounding for my daughter. Right now everything is perfect in her potential third grade world. She sleeps late, stays up late, goes to the pool, gets off to the Jersey Shore to visit my parents, eats well and just really is enjoying the respite from academic life. However, I fear the time when the days will change in a few weeks. There are already a couple of indications that the summer season is coming to an abrupt halt. For one thing over the weekend my daughter is getting fitted for a new school uniform. That is a sure sign that things are going to change soon.
When my brother and sister and I were getting ready to go back to Saint Gabriel School in August, the sign was always very clear. We spent our summers in Avalon, New Jersey and spent most of the time on the beach. However when August came around, you knew school was not far off when two things happened: First, my mom planned a drive to the shopping mall in Pleasantville, New Jersey, and she started us on the “roughing it” stage in regards to food in the refrigerator. What that meant was that whatever was in the refrigerator would have to last us until we got back to South Philadelphia in a few weeks and the return to school. Well needless to say, I still have reoccurring nightmares about such gustatory delights such as “hot dog casserole” and “for the week” beef stew! I am not saying that my mother wasn’t a good cook, she was (and is) it’s just that these two dishes were sure signs of impending academic exercises at the hands of the I.H.M.nuns.
For the most part, the trip to the mall, (now Shore Mall) in Pleasantville, New Jersey meant of course new school shirts, new pants and some new accessories for the school bag. My memories of this activity are always sort of mixed…after all I was a “husky” type of guy. That meant, I could never fit into the usual stuff from Sears or Penney’s…my sartorial supplier was, Scotty Togs, on

Catherine Street

, or

Christian Street

(I cannot remember)! I also look back at those days with sheer horror and agony, especially when I actually look at the outfits we wore, large stripes on the pants, bell bottoms etc.
Of course my daughter doesn’t have to worry about the bell bottoms or the stripes, just the plaid uniform jumper (which takes effect in mid-October), some shorts, polo shirts and new shoes and sneakers. It was always a feat (not a pun) to get us back into shoes after running around at the beach for three months. My sister adapted quite easily. She was happy wherever she could find someone to talk with! My brother however was another story…he feared and dreaded school, he disliked the routine, disliked the uniform of Catholic school and quite honestly preferred to occupy his time with other, more important and interesting things. Well as the dog days (dies canincullae) loomed… we were outfitted, restored to a regimented eating schedule and menu and prepared to go home to Gray’s Ferry.
My daughter is really not too aware of what is in store for her in third grade. I suspect the modern equivalent of long division, some fractions, more spelling words, religion homework, gym and once again a school uniform. However I think the worst thing ever experienced by myself or my siblings is that overall loss of the feelings of absolute freedom as a new school year approaches.
When I was in grade school, I dealt with the horrible “butterflies” in my stomach by christening every nun I ever met on the first day of school. Thankfully, my daughter has a stronger intestinal constitution. However, time is coming when all of the usual rules will apply to all of the usual suspects as we anticipate the return of the school bells. Hopefully a few things will occur in the McNichol household this summer as we count down the days to school. One thing is the annual and obligatory visits to the beach for the last few weeks of summer; another is the compulsory shopping for school supplies and a new uniform. One thing I really hope doesn’t happen is this…hot dog casserole! I have to keep my mother and wife off the phone for the next few weeks, or else I will have to endure the old routine of, “roughing it,” in preparation for a new school year. Giving up the fun and the sun and the beach are things that I can give up for another year…but don’t take away my snacks, my cookies or my television remote!!

Read more about growing up in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood in South Philadelphia @ graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com


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