The Bricks of My Foundation

Little Jimmy

Childhood was a time of simplicity

No cares, no woes, no anxiety.

When the world was neat and good to all,

When the universe was a chart on our classroom wall.

Childhood was a time when we lived in dreams

Our future hidden, behind steel mill steam.

When everyone appeared to be our friend

We didn’t have to consider what would happen in the end.

Childhood was a time when life was full of colors

We’d all depend on our devoted mothers.

When sorrows never knocked at our doors

We didn’t need to be concerned of wars.

Childhood was a time when school was benign

When desks were wood and in a straight line.

There were no such things as obligations

No need to fear life’s regulations.

Childhood was a time which is now long gone.

All of our friends and family have all moved on.

Childhood will never come back we are told,

But we’ll all have the memories, until we grow old.

It seems that I managed to get stuck behind a school bus every day last week. In our area, school began for all of the schools on Monday, August 26th. As I sat watched the kids climb aboard the bus, I thought that they looked so tiny while trying to board the huge school bus.

I couldn’t help but think about those first few days of the school year when I attending Holy Name SchoolHoly Name Grade School in Duquesne. Regardless of what grade I was in, I was immediately hit by the sensory impact of walking into the building After weeks and weeks of playing outside in the fresh(?) air, my nose was hit with the smell of fresh floor wax, oiled chalkboards, freshly wet-mopped wooden floors and the scent of Ivory soap from the nun’s meticulously scrubbed hands.

Week in and week out, the building always smelled clean. Between the good sisters and the dedicated custodian, they scrubbed, polished, and buffed our cathedral of learning to within an inch of its life!

I have written about Holy Name Grade School many times before, however I was reminded just how important those grade school years were to my life, to all of our lives recently. I was cleaning up the area around my front porch last week and came across 4 bricks that put an immediate smile on my face. I like to refer to them as “the bricks of my foundation.”

Back in 2005, while visiting relatives in Duquesne, I was headed down South 1st Street toward Grant Ave. when I came to a screeching halt in front of the Post Office. I was witnessing the demise of my childhood school. Just like the saying that I had heard so many times before, ”I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t turn away.” As I stood there on the sidewalk with my mouth gapping open, I watched as an enormous crane moved from side to side, swinging brutally at the building, until huge chunks of plaster and brick fell to the ground. Piece by piece, my own cathedral of learning was dismantled. The huge windows that once served as the canvas for our Christmas artwork clung to the structure, Bricks of my Foundationrefusing to release their grip from the buildings framework. As the building’s back walls were completely eradicated and the individual classrooms lay bare for the world to see, remnants of desks, chalkboards and the glass block windows of the school hall were exposed.

I managed to work through the initial shock of what lay before me, and walked to the side of the remaining skeleton and decided to grab a tangible piece of my youth. A pile of bricks had fallen outside of the construction tape barrier that surrounded the school. I grabbed four bricks and sadly walked back to my car. I couldn’t watch any more. The 93 year old piece of Duquesne history met the same fate as the Duquesne Carneige Library did over 37 years earlier, reduced to rubble. I tossed the bricks into the back of my car, gave my alma mater one last glace and drove away just shaking my head.

Every trip I’ve made back to Duquesne since that day included a drive past the empty, barren plot of land where once stood Holy Name School. Nothing has been developed since it was torn down 8 years ago. Surrounding plots of land that were once occupied by other icons of my youth, such as Elsie’s Avenue News, Reed’s Insurance and Adler-Green’s suffered the same demise as Holy Name.

Despite the dismantling of my boyhood haunts, I still have those four bricks to serve as a Holy Name Steps without Circlereminder of the foundation of learning and life in general that they once were part of. The education that I received at Holy Name has stuck with me since childhood. Lessons imparted have been a part of my life since that time.

I’m reminded of a wonderful book that was published in 1989 by Robert Fulghum, titled ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.’ In the book, the author explains how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, i.e. sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living “a balanced life” of work, play, and learning.

I reviewed his list of “lessons learned” again, and soon realized how accurate his thoughts were. Combined with a few more “pearls of wisdom” that were within the lessons imparted to us at Holy Name, they really were at the foundation of how I‘ve lived my life.

Allow me to share:

These are some of the things I learned in grade school:

• Share

• Play fair.

• Always remember that God, your mom and your dad love you.

• Don’t hit people, fighting is bad.

• Clean up your own mess.

• Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

• Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

• Eat your vegetables.

• Honesty is the best policy.

• Pay attention and follow directions.

• Take time to play a little even, when you’re learning.

• The greatest literary works in English and American literature were all created with the same 26 letters we learned in first grade.

• When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

• Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the paper cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

• Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the paper cup – they all die. So do we.

• Say your prayers.

• Love God and Country

This entry was posted in Church and School - Holy Name, Duquesne Buildings, Life in General, Miscellaneous, Visits to Duquesne. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Bricks of My Foundation

  1. Frank Mullen says:

    Jim, Your poem about childhood is perfect. Why do I say that? Because I was taught by an English literature professor, Dr. Koppenhaver, at Wittenberg University, that poetry is “saying as much as possible in as few words as possible,” and to me, you said it all, perfectly, with economy of words and precision in your message’s ability to touch the heart. Congratulations.

  2. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    Larry, It was good to hear from you — I will send you an email — where have the years gone? Frank Mullen, my brothers did say that about you and probably with good reason. Jim, Thank you so much for taking the time to write this blog. You have brought tears of joy and smiles to all of our eyes. Memories so great.

  3. Larry McConnell says:

    wonderful post again Jim-Bob, you are so right!-those 8 years at HNS were the best foundation any one could have-I love the picture-i could pick out Pat Byrne and Frank Mullen immediately-i am in the back-i recognize most of the rest but can’t remember the names-does anybody know who that is in front in the rain suit?

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      Larry, Sooooo good to hear from you. Apparently you have hooked up with DH, late. I sent that picture to jim and he posted it about a year ago. We think the kid in the rain coat is Bobby Reagan. He is Marty Reagan’s younger brother. What do you think? !!!!! My brother, Tom helped me to identify these kids. He would have been in eighth grade when this picture was taken. I know that your were in my brother Pat’s class along with Raymond Mackey , Billy Stanley, Bobby Gibney on and on. That is Billy Stanley behind Clifton Pitts. My brothers always said “Frank Mullen is such a nice kid”. Isn’t funny how we remember those little things in life? Your mother was the H.N. cook. My mother and she were good friends. I wondered why you haven’t posted. Where do you live and when did you get a glimps of the DH. You have been missing a great thing. Jim does such a great job of making us laugh and bring out those “tears of joy”. Check out a post a few months ago. Jim identified those kids on the H.N. back steps.

      • Larry McConnell says:

        Hi Colleen-I did reply way back then-do you remember I asked about your older brother-I remember where you lived and your mom and dad also-do remember me being at your house?-I have been following the DH for quite a while-a friend of mine in Tampa told me about the site-that was George Gyduska-he lived on St. Agnes Lane-where are you Colleen? I am in the middle of South Carolina-moved here in 1987 after the mills went bust- I had over 19 years service at DUQUESNE-I was very sorry to hear about Pat–I would be glad to hear from you and any one else who shares the memories – my

      • Frank Mullen says:

        Colleen, I cannot express to you in words how much it meant to me when I read, “My brothers always said, ‘Frank Mullen is such a nice kid’.” Of course, I’ll never know what caused them to have that viewpoint, but it sure feels good to learn I gave a positive impression back then – at least, to your brothers. It was very kind of you to write that here. Thank you very, very much.

  4. Your memories and the man I was once married to are vastly different!!! I REALLY LIKE YOUR MEMORIES!!!!

  5. Jack Schalk says:

    Bricks are a tangible part of our memories and they keep youthful thoughts alive.
    I have a brick from the old Forbes Field that reminded me of watching Roberto Clemente and the Pirates so long ago. It is now in my sons custody as we are all still Pittsburgh sports fans with a heavy leaning to the Steelers. You should see his game room.
    The intangibles are a little harder to pass on but the lessons learned In Duquesne schools should be doled out over a lifetime. I learned a few hard lessons while growing up but thanks to my family and some benevolent Duquesners , I survived.

  6. Harold West says:

    I love that book. I like the part of giving people a box of 64 Crayola Crayons. The audio book read by the author is fantastic. He sounds like Mr. Rodgers with a really deep voice.

  7. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Jim, I liked the poem. You know after I left that old school I went to DHS and then to college and finally grad school. Spent years teaching and coaching. Worked for Chevrolet and big pharma. But, to agree with your point, that old school along with her nuns, priests and the good people of Duquesne, taught me 80% of everything I ever needed to know in life. My old Irish grandmother once said that a big man needs a big foundation. And, although I never attained that status, HNS provided just the right foundation for my life. So thanks for reminding me of how blessed we were and are. Just keep doing what you do. We all need to be reminded from time to time.

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      Nice Bob, I remember your motther, my mother Jim’s mother and so many others volunteering in the HNS Cafeteria with Mrs. McConnel . It was a good foundation for a $10.00 “Book Bill”.

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Hi, Colleen! I also recall your mother. Yes, they all pitched In to help. They were, and still remain, a big part of our foundation. It is said that as long as we remember them they’re never really gone. Just like our school in Jim’s story. On another note I recall, that when you were in 8th grade and I in 7th, having a serious crush on you. But then, I’ve always liked older women! 😅 Hope you are well. Bob

      • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

        Bob, I do remember that crush, FYI I think I was the youngest person in my class. Do you remember Cindy Simko and me calling you and Gino on Friday evenings when I would sleep at her house? I recently had a party the evening before my WMN high school reunion and I invited Frayo. He did come to the party and we had so much fun! Of course my childhood BFF, Dean Bradley was there, so why would’nt we have fun?I have a photo that I am going to send to Jim. I hope he posts it.

      • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

        Sorry Sisters of Saint Joseph — I meant to type WOULDN’T

  8. Frank Mullen says:

    I can see, Jim, why you saved those bricks, of course. If I were there, I’d have been scrambling for some myself because those bricks remind me of the people – adults and playmates – of our youth. The expression, “You’re a brick,” or saying somebody is the “salt-of-the-Earth” comes to mind when I think of our hometown, Duquesne (and all the hometowns up and down the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Youghiogheny river valleys.) In my mind, those people were the brick-solid foundation of a successful, clean, and ethical, moral life, the salt-of-the-Earth, solid, hard-working folks who knew how to treat others and how to conduct themselves with simple and crystal-clear dignity. They were people one could believe in, and we all did, I dare say, believe in what they taught us, both in words and by example, every day. Nowadays, I am not sure one can easily find their like again. Certainly, the way of life we experienced then is gone forever, IMHO.

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      Frank, Soooooo true

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Colleen, did we have phones back then?? LOL! That’s 50 years ago. I can’t remember the phone calls. But if yinz called me and Geno, I’m certain that it was the highlight of our youth! This is what I so love about Jim’s blog. Memories! What a slice of life. Thanks. I remember when you and Cindy were best friends. 😉

  9. sally morini says:

    I was in Duquesne and saw the rubble that was once Holy Name School and I picked up a brick for me and took one to my brother in Syracuse. Good memories, keep the stories coming.

  10. Sam Gizzi says:

    Excellent article. My brother, four sisters, and I all attended Holy Name School grades 1 through 8. My brother and I were altar boys, and I sang in the choir. Those were wonderful years for all of us. It’s a terrible shame what has happened to Duquesne over the years.

    • Colleen Byrne Travis says:

      I was in Duquesne going to a funeral viewing when Holy Name School was being razed. I was wearing nice shoes and clothes and didn’t get any bricks. I wish I had.
      The group picture was taken by my dad. My late brother Patrick is in the front row far left wearing a plaid shirt. I think My brother Tom was a “safety” or he would have been in the picture, too. He was probably on one of the corners watching the kids come back to school from lunch. There were a lot of kids who walked home for lunch.

      • Larry McConnell says:

        Hi Colleen-I recognize most of the kids in the picture-I saw Pat immediately-does anyone know the little fella in the right front in the rain suit?-I am wondering, why the rain suit?-Sorry you didn’t get a brick-if I had known I would have made an attempt to get there!

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