Mack Williams: My ‘Hail Mary’ play up West Innes Street

  • Posted: Monday, May 20, 2013 1:06 a.m.

Every now and then, one hears about a student sneaking out of school, leaving the grounds while not being seen, using “stealth,” but low-tech, unlike that involved in the fighter plane.

I myself ran away from school several times, but wasn’t put in danger of being sent to “Stonewall Jackson,” the training school on a par with another oft-used threat back then, and even now: “the Bogeyman” (more recently referred to by Stephen King  as the “Tommy Knockers”). Institutional rehabilitation by the state was not in my future, because the school from which I ran was private and parochial: “Sacred Heart Catholic School,”  then located on North Fulton Street.

My brother Joe attended Sacred Heart , then switched for high school to Granite Quarry High. He enjoyed Sacred Heart and was very academically successful, so my parents thought that it would be a good idea for me to begin first grade there in 1957.

In spite of my parents’ hopes, things did not go well, as one of the nuns was from another country and somewhat swarthier than I, her combined “foreignness” (to me) making me somewhat fearful of her. That sort of thing is a sure sign of prejudice in the case of an adult, and similarly “uncute” when present in the person of a small child.

I am much less ashamed of my fear of the clothing the nuns wore at the time (the full habit), for that apprehension and dislike was directed only toward  what was being worn, not the wearer. At this point, I can’t even remember exactly why the nuns’ clothing frightened me, because when I presently form the mental image of a nun, wearing her traditional “uniform,” the words “saint” and “goodness” immediately come to mind.

Despite my personal “issues,” a pleasant picture  remains in my mind of a part of my school day there. I seem to remember a room lit with a shaft of light, as in those shafts of light seen in some painting of the interior of a medieval cathedral. A snack lay before each of us on the table around which we were seated. That snack consisted of cups of milk, and I think, animal crackers. The nun was leading us in prayer, and all eyes were closed except mine (or else my mental “picture” would not have been taken ), making it seem that even at that early age, my soul was already in jeopardy.

One day, my fear inspired me (an inspiration to be repeated several times) to “escape” from school. Escaping from school is the last resort, after the playing of hooky has either failed, or wasn’t feasible in the first place.

Despite my brevity of years, I evidently had “mother GPS,” knowing that upon my escape, all I had to do was run back up North Fulton Street, cross West Innes (a sign of good road-crossing skills, because even then crossing West Innes was no picnic), head up the sidewalk to the Square, turn right and run down South Main to where I would eventually come to where my mother was at work at W.T. Grants. At this present point in time, I don’t remember if I used stealth in my leaving, or just bolted out of Sacred Heart’s door.

Running played a big part in this, especially due to the nature of the person who was always sent by the school to retrieve me: a Sacred Heart football player. During those several occasions of my running, I don’t recall whether or not the nuns sent the same player after me each time, or if the duty was rotated among several players, sitting on the “sidelines,” waiting to be sent into the “game” at different times by the “coach.” 

My sense of direction past the initial part of my run up West Innes was never actually tested, because each time, I never made it much past the Capitol Theater. In trying to calculate the physics involved for the reason of my apprehending always taking place around that spot, I have finally come to the following  conclusion: “A great number of small strides, no matter how great that number, will always be overcome by a lesser number of larger ones.”

I still have a visual memory of the Sacred Heart football player gaining ground, with me as the goal line (or at least, first down). Each time I looked back, he was getting closer and closer. Like that last ditch effort in a football game, this was my “Hail Mary” play up West Innes Street.

To paraphrase Cassius: “The fault, dear Brutus, was not with the school’s stars, nor mine, but in myself.” As I previously said, this sort of behavior was repeated several times; and shortly following its last repetition, my parents enrolled me in the first grade at Granite Quarry School.

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