by Diane Norek Harrison
SOUTH AMBOY-The now-closed St. Mary’s Grammar School on Second Street first opened in 1958. I started first grade in 1960, early on in its inception. Back in the 1960s, I couldn’t wait to see the large glass showcases on both floors decorated for all of the holidays. They were so much fun to walk past and stare at the displays.
The last Christmas celebrated at St. Mary’s was in 2006, before the school closed in 2007. My cousin Deborah Cooney Marion told me that the showcase displays continued that year.
The 2006 Christmas display was done by the custodians of the school. There was a huge display with old model trains and an entire village. It was gorgeous. She recalls one year with huge snowmen and the floor covered in packing peanuts for snow. Several grades had snowmen projects or drawings for more snowmen than you’d ever seen. Another one was carolers and again tons of singing angels and all around a manger scene.
It was nice to hear one of my fondest memories of St. Mary’s was still a tradition all these years later!
Also, when attending St. Mary’s in the 1960s, we would have a Christmas show for the parents. I remember the butterflies in my stomach, but my cousin Deb and I were more scared of falling off the extremely crowded risers. There wasn’t an inch of space to spare for fidgeting. If we were the next class to perform we would be getting ready backstage waiting for our turn. The rest of the classes would be waiting in the cafeteria or a classroom. One year, don’t remember what grade, my class sang “Here Comes Suzie Snowflake” dressed in snow-white gowns.
Deb also remembers the thunderous applause from the legions of parents was deafening and thrilling as you belted out your carol or two in some simple costume. One year she sang ‘Wooden Soldiers on Parade’ and all the boys were soldiers and marched in front of the girls who were dressed as dolls with red rouged cheeks and lipstick! One year she had to wear nightgowns or PJs and slippers with a teddy bear or dolly to sing ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’ or ‘Up on the Housetop’. Another year, they all had to make white sheets into angel robes and spray paint cardboard wings light pink. A tinsel halo on a wire hanger completed the ensemble.
During these years Deb’s three children, as well as my nephew and two nieces, attended St. Mary’s. She remembers there was only one year she ever knew there not be a Christmas show and that was the second to last year. We were plagued with some stomach flu or something and so many children were out sick, they had to cancel it and instead had a spring concert. Mostly, they just wore their holiday clothing, but sometimes wore scarves and mittens, or held some small prop.
Sister Yvonne would have her first graders recite “The Night Before Christmas.” Always there would be a live Nativity scene with a baby doll in a manger and maybe stuffed animals. Her daughter, Debbie was thrilled to be chosen as Mary when she was in second grade. So that year instead of writing cards, Deb had to make a Mary costume. Mostly, they were held in the Little Theater, but sometimes in the gym.
Many years there was an afternoon and evening performance to accommodate the crowds. The allotted tickets per family resulted in lots of trading and it always worked out in the end. When her son Eddie was in fifth grade, the show was scheduled for a Tuesday night, because it was the only open night for the theater. Because several boys in his class played in a basketball league in Iselin on Tuesdays, they scheduled their class last and we shoved all those sweaty boys into one vehicle to race them to the school as soon as the final buzzer sounded. To boot, they had to wear sweaters and hats for their act!
Deb’s 10-year-old daughter, Connie, was attending St. Mary’s when the school closed in 2007. Connie remembers they didn’t have a classroom party, and only had snack time to trade their Christmas cards. Santa would still arrive and ask the teacher for permission to disrupt the lesson for a short time to have each child come to him for a candy cane, usually with the legend of the candy cane attached. There were two years that the Cardinal McCarrick High School students, formally St. Mary’s High School, threw a great party for the grade school. Connie’s class went to a high school classroom for treats, crafts, and a Polaroid picture with Santa.
Thanks Deb and Connie!
Bob Pawlik hands a baby a Christmas present at a South Amboy Lions Club Christmas party in the mid 1980s. Photo courtesy of Bob Pawlik
I am always looking for any holiday memories or past material. Send at any time to be used at the appropriate time of the year. If you have your own memories or past information for Carteret, Edison, Metuchen, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy or Woodbridge you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send copies of your material to me c/o CMD Media, 1139 East Jersey Street, Suite 503, Elizabeth NJ 07201.
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