…Then there was Jim Reynolds: a tall athletic young man who was very fond of Our Lady of Peace. I say this as he repeatedly repeated the higher grades of the Catholic elementary system, grades six through eight, a plethora of times. In grade seven, when I first ran into him, I do believe he was sixteen. He must have been for he smoked and drove a 56 Ford to school. That was cool: to park his beater with the grownups, the teachers, in the school parking lot. We knew he was a smoker for he always rolled his cigarettes up tight in his short sleeved white tee during the warmer spring weather. Buckingham’s, non filters, seem to come to mind as the cigarette of choice for all young punks at the time. Of course no one seemed to care or to matter in those unregulated second hand smoke days at our school.
A smallish baseball diamond was situated in one of the back corners of our school yard. During the late winter, early spring months, when the last vestiges of snow had all but disappeared and the ground was suddenly covered with trash and rock hard dog shit, we would pull out our bats and balls and set up a game. Teams were not a problem for we played “an up or out” rotational system of play. Somewhat like the Navy’s promotional and downsizing scheme, but I digress. One could remain at bat so long as one did not strike, fly or be thrown out. You had to be a good hitter to remain at bat. Once you were thrown out or struck out you were in the field and would remain out there until another batter suffered the same fate. Then rotate positions. The only exception to all of this was that if someone caught the ball in the air they would immediately go to bat and the batter would take their place.
Jim Reynolds may not have been too smart but he was tough. Street tough. And could he ever hit a softball. When Jim came to bat it was pure delight. He could hit, man he could hit: towering, out of sight fly balls that seemed to go on forever. No one could match his skill or catch his fly balls. If you were on base ahead of Jim you were safe by default as a home run was coming in very short order. I always tried to be on base just before he came up to bat.
He was a sight to behold. Standing there full of confidence, a smirk or smear on his face, his lips sometime adorned with a smoke out of the corner of his mouth. Of course he had to do this by stealth such that he wasn’t noticed by any of the lay teachers. Not the black and whites mind you for they refused to come out during recess, lunch time, before or after school. I think that this was the only time they could catch a few puffs of their own without being seen by the prying eyes of us turds – as they sometimes called us. They were probably at prayer but I doubt it.
So here was Jim. His whole frame permeated confidence, self assuredness with an air of arrogance: shuffling his feet like a rabid dog marking his territory after a good piss. The pitcher, watching him suspiciously as he readied his throw, knowing full well what the outcome was going to be and everyone else for that matter. Yet Jim, for all his size, and swagger and confidence was not a bully: a show-off perhaps but no bully. We all appreciated that. For he could have easily kicked the living shit out of any one of us if he so pleased for he looked the part. He was the “James Dean” of Our Lady of Peace. Slicked back brill ” a little dab will do ya” creamed hair, with a trace of growth above the upper lip, muscles bulging beneath his body shaped white tee. Blue jeans of course, with the bottom cuffs turned up about 2 inches, showing his bright white socks, as was the style in those days. He was cool, he knew it, and we all marvelled at that, but in a good way. All of us thought that above all else when we reached the age of sixteen that we would all look as cool as Jim but with hope upon hope to be in a higher grade perhaps.
The ball is ultimately pitched by the pitcher. It comes his way, straight across the plate. As if on cue Jim swings the bat with somewhat of a floral motion, picture perfect, as if in animation, stepping into the ball with his arms outstretched, his elbows locked, with his eyes focused entirely on the seams of the ball as it comes into his sights. “Whack,” ball upon bat, in the sweet spot, Jim’s cheeks and belly wobble like hard jelly as if his whole body’s energy force is transmitted down that bat and into the ball itself. The pregnant pause as Jim looks up to the heavens, arms outstretched as if giving lordly thanks and praise, dropping the bat to begin his cool saunter toward first base. He doesn’t have to run hard for he knows, yes he knows, that that ball is gone. Like God’s angelic rocket, or a holy ghost of a hit, it soars to the heavens above Our Lady of Peace’s schoolyard. And we, with our innocence and heavenly gaze, are entirely awestruck and enthralled at the power and the sheer majesty of it all as the ball rises up and into the blue cloudless sky. A pure white stitched canvass ball set against the backdrop of an apostolic blue, like Christ’s resurrection, rising then arcing its way across the heavens then down and out and through a second floor window of our school.
It was like this all the time. The nuns tried their best to curtail Jim’s prowess. Perhaps that’s why they were praying during recess, but to no avail. They would have loved to expel him but his parents were church stalwarts and sat in the front pew at the 1015 high mass. They were quite rich, quite influential and quite demanding. I am told that his mother was the civilian equivalent to Sister Mary Bernice. I would have loved to have seen that. It wasn’t long though before Jim did leave us. Trade school we were told. Trade school! That prison and so called parallel universe of Catholic elementary school life. Trade School! Failure in the eyes of the church. Trade School! We all shuddered at the thought. Trade School! Say your prayers every night. If you don’t you might just find yourself at Trade School. Of course, the female equivalent was Secretarial School, or worse, in later years, Home Economics, code for getting yourself knocked up! The rest of us, if we were good, worked hard, and said our prayers every night, would be blessed in more ways than one could possibly imagine at the time at the local Catholic private high school for boys. Generalists! Arts and Science! If we graduated from the local Catholic high school for boys we could aspire to be “Jacks of all Trades,” “Masters of Fuck-all” And for all of my efforts I became a real “Jack Tar”, although I wanted to be a proctologist. Somewhat like a plumber. Perhaps Trade School would have been a good fit for me after all.
I missed Jim after he left. When he was with us he sat in the back of our class. I can still see him sitting there in the tiny desk, his legs sprawled out, arms folded across his chest, with his Elvis like sneer snickering at no one in particular. He always had a cig ready to go behind his left ear. He was so cool, and quite funny. Like a class clown. Indeed he intimidated the teacher and swore like a trooper but he was very, very friendly to us.
Jim did leave a legacy of sorts. All the windows of our school that were facing the schoolyard were fitted out with metal screens. Even today, some fifty years later, those same screens adorn the windows at Our Lady of Peace School. Someone, not completely in the know, might surmise that vandals, petty criminal activity perhaps, presented a causal relationship to those metal screens. They would be wrong of course for whenever I look at the school today with their relative protective screened window coverings – for I knew the truth – I would nostalgically think of Jim and his baseball prowess…