This is an old one . I saw that there will be a Kite Day at the Santa Monica pier soon , and that reminded me of the old St. Clement’s Kite Day , and of my old colleague Sister Agnes . And some others around that school . Neither the school nor any of these characters in the story are still around . Only the memory remains .
We had Kite Day at Saint Clement School each year in June. The school , on Third Street in Venice , was three blocks from the beach . The whole school would take a day off , walk to the beach , fly kites , picnic , bask in warm comraderie , run and laugh . The teachers and attending parents would bask in the surety of a successful gesticulation of knowledge and wisdom within these young minds over the upcoming summer vacation .
Fun. It was meant to be fun . And it was a school tradition.
Unfortunately the whole Kite Day was under the direction of , yeah , Sister Agony , because she was in charge of Student Council . It was a Student Council event. Fun did not play a significant part in her life. Sister Agnes would not have recognized fun if it had sauntered up , perched on her shoulder , and tweaked her nose . Fun could have ransacked her room in the convent with her sitting in there because fun was invisible to her . Fun ! Did Jesus have fun hanging up there on the bloody cross ? Think about that . Fun was not important to our Agony .
There must have been fun somewhere in her early life . Deep down she must still have the memory . But the fun in her life had long since been strangled and chased away . Quashed . I’ll give her this much : probably not her fault .
So it was easy for her to cancel Kite Day , one year when she was behind on her grading . She was too busy . She told Principal O’Donnell : No Kite day this year. Definitely not. But it’s a tradition he told her . Definitely not , she repeated. She had other things to do .
For once O’Donnell stood up to her . Insisted . Must be done ; tradition . O.K. , we’ll go a little later in the day so you can get some of your work done. A couple of hours later in the day . But Kite Day must go on ! They wrangled and rampaged and Kite Day was delayed a week , then two . Agnes had ninety or a hundred pounds on O’Donnell and was a hardened street fighter . O’Donnell was rangy and determined but inescapably cowardly . She had the nun habit and the steel of self-righteous confidence on her side . But O’Donnell had the pastor on his side , crusty old Bill Williams .
We called Father Williams Bingo Bill after he made the school children sit out in the rain eating their lunches instead of allowing them to come into the church hall , as had always been done before . Father Williams had , after all , just purchased brand spanking new tables for bingo and he didn’t want those kids messing them up ! No way ! Bingo was gonna be a big moneymaker for the parish . Better those three hundred children sit out in the rain than trust them at his new bingo tables . Bingo Bill had priorities .
But Bingo Bill , in this case , joined forces with his principal O’Donnell and insisted that Kite Day must go on. It was tradition. O’Donnell and Bingo Bill may have forged the alliance over the double scotches they drank on parent council nights . They had a habit of going to dinner together before the meetings . Hours before the meetings . Sometimes O’Donnell came back so sloshed that when he stood up to address the parents , most of whom didn’t speak English , he didn’t make any sense . Once he rambled on for ten minutes or more , the scotch talking , spouting drunken jibberish. Ruben Gonzales , the translator , had to improvise . To his credit , he stood up calmly and told the audience : El senor director dice Hola . And then he sat down . On with the parent meeting . Bingo Bill never spoke at the meetings .
So Kite Day happened . Sister Agnes had been out-flanked and overrun . But she wasn’t giving in . She snarled in writhing anger and planned her escape . She still had the hammer of God hidden in her habit.
Kite Day came . Morning assembly . Agnes at the bent bullhorn . Holding the microphone on its piggy-tail wire . Announcing : Kite Day will start this year after recess. Only those students with a kite will be able to go .
O’Donnell was over there near the school office . Surprised teachers turned to watch his reaction. Did he know ? Did he approve this outrageous new rule ? Was he gonna make a stink about it ? Would he , as usually happened , wimp out and let her get away with it ?
I estimated about fifty kites . Only fifty kids out of three hundred would be allowed to go to the beach ? On Kite Day ? Sister Agnes spoke up . Her bullhorn blared . She had heard the gasps , seen the reaction . And she was fighting back . You have to have a kite to participate in Kite Day . It’s Kite Day ; you’re supposed to have a kite. No kite , stay at school . Regular school day .
Oh , though , this was new shit. Last year about fifty kids brought kites. The year before about the same number brought kites . Every year we all went down to the beach. To have fun . It’s Kite Day . You remember how you were when you were a kid ? These kids looked forward all year long to Kite Day . Waited all year . And here it was Kite Day morning .
And Agnes Jean stole Kite Day .
Disheartened students and teachers ( who were destined to the classrooms too ) shuffled into the rooms . The gloatation of arrogant pride rose from Agnes’ face like steam . Elsewhere gloom had settled on the scene . Shock . She averted her eyes from the cowardly O’Donnell , who stood in wimpish defeat . He was not worthy even of her glare . He had been out-maneuvered by his nemesis nun again . He cowered and accepted his fate .
But remember : I was at war with Agnes . Guerilla war . All is not lost .
O.K. , kids , today we are going to make kites . It will be a math lesson . Geometry and fractions .We have a finite amount of poster board and only so much string. We need to make 250 kites by recess . Can we do it ?
Smiles . Smiles all around : they knew. The classroom crackled for the next hour or so with a risible yes .