The Big Push
by Bill McGowan
The first girl I ever had any kind of social interaction with (besides my five female cousins who lived a couple of blocks away) happened at a dance for the graduating 8th graders and alumni of the preceding class of Sacred Heart parochial school. So basically 8th graders and freshmen who had just completed their first year of high school. I do not recall going to the dance as an 8th grader – but that was probably because as a freshmen this was the first time ever for the dance. The dance was the brainchild of Sister Andrew and Sister Joseph of Sacred Heart Parochial School. These two nuns were the only hot nuns and the only young nuns who taught at Sacred Heart. They always hung out together. You could understand that. If you were a young hot nun you would not want to go hang out with Sister Regina – whose main occupation was not teaching but rather terrifying students. Sister Regina used to confiscate anything she wanted from the students – especially the baseball cards that we used in a form of gambling that took place during recess.
The game was called “scaling” and it involved a contest where students lined up behind an arbitrary line and flung the baseball cards toward the wall of the school. The closest card to the school wall wins all of the cards thrown. A card that was a “leaner” – leaning on the wall – was the ultimate winning toss. Often we played where there were windows – because that meant an extra metal grate you can slide you can through to get even closer! But really to win your card just needed to be closer to the wall than all the other cards. A perfect game for building – or dismantling – your baseball card collection.
By the way, Sister Regina also was fond of slamming a thin pointer into students’ hands for minor indiscretions like shooting spitballs. She was a keen observer (not!) with her huge magnified eyes that sat behind coke bottle glasses. One of her favorite reasons for baseball card confiscation was if your were late lining up to go back to school at the end of recess.
Back to the hot nuns. I hope you see why the hot nuns did not want to hang out with the likes of Sister Regina and her cohorts who were really fat and waddled around in their “habits”. The nun clothes were almost like the clothes many Arab women wear – except for the covering of the faces part. Nuns wore habits (still mandatory in the 1960’s) and black clothes everywhere except their face. For the hot nuns you could tell they were hot just by their face without seeing the rest of their bodies. Nuns even wore a black cap – similar to what many Amish woman wear. The hot nuns had nice faces and smiled a lot and they were kind to everyone. But their final act of kindness to me, and a few other people at the dance, I will always remember and be forever grateful.
I was at the dance for a while standing against the wall (a wallflower) trying to get my courage up enough to ask a girl to dance. There was a small group of about 6 or 8 of us including my cousin Noreen. Now Noreen could not be considered a wallflower – she had already danced – but she was in the group anyway. She was there for what I like to call the “Big Push”.
Sister Andrew was my favorite. She was more attractive that Sister Joseph. But she was my favorite because I remember she was my teacher in either the 7th or the 8th grade or maybe both grades. I am not sure if I had Sister Joseph as a teacher – there were two classes in each grade and Sister Andrew and Sister Joseph each had a class. Anyway there Sister Andrew and Sister Joseph were working as a Team at the dance. They must have known in advance when the last dance was coming up. So when the time came they pushed the small group of wallflowers like an NFL defensive line or offensive line – whichever does the most pushing. They pushed us into each other so that everyone ended up with a boy-girl pair. We did not even have to ask each other to dance when the music started for the last dance. Everyone in the small group just started dancing with each other like a reflex action. An outsider might have thought this looked like the nuns attacking us. But we knew what they were doing. Suddenly wallflowers turned into actual Dancers! I just wish they had done it sooner, maybe, – or maybe not – no I definitely would have – asked the girl I was with to dance with me again. They probably only thought of it at the last minute and I think that Sister Andrew was the one that thought of it. She knew that I was shy and socially awkward, especially with girls and made sure she pushed me into a nice girl. The girl I was pushed into was really nice. I do not remember her name – maybe I did not even ask what her name was. But she wore a shiny white dress – almost like a wedding dress. Of course minus the veil and fancy trimmings. She had redish auburn hair and I am pretty sure she smiled at me when we were dancing and I am pretty sure I gave her one of my rare smiles back.
My cousin Noreen, not really a wallflower, but still part of the Big Push, ended up with Richard Ryan – a nice guy. I don’t know if they ever actually dated.
Thanks Sister Andrew and Sister Joseph. But especially thanks to Sister Andrew – my favorite nun – who came through for me one last time in my time of need.
I actually saw the girl I danced with again a short time later at the Sacred Heart Bazaar which was a fundraiser for the school. There were small rides and games of chance and even some real casino like gambling for the adults. But she was with a small group of friends and I was also with a small group of friends so we just smiled at each other and said “Hi”. I looked for her later and hoped to actually talk to her again but tragically I could not find her. But I still had some smiles and a dance from her. I never saw her again but thanks to her and the kind nun (probably Sister Andrew) with and assist from Sister Joseph I began a long slow journey to actually talk to and dance with girls. I know my cousins helped, especially Noreen but most of it I had to learn to do myself.
One last story about the Sacred Heart Bazaar. My Uncle Tony emigrated to Staten Island from Lahardane, Ireland in the 1960’s. He was actually banned from the Bazaar by Father Kline who was in charge of the Bazaar. Uncle Tony was really good at darts and there were dart games at the Bazaar where hitting smaller and smaller targets yielded larger and larger prizes. Tony could consistently hit the small stuff which landed him giant stuffed animals which he gave to us cousins. Hence Tony was banned from the Dart games.