Hail the Cross
“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “ if it was so, it might be, and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
I didn’t in however many million years think I was going to be a St. Mel’s man. I always thought I would go to Lakewood High School, because I lived in Lakewood, and because everybody I knew was going there. So, I didn’t think too much about it.
Mel’s was Mel’s and Lakewood was Lakewood. No problem there.
I was in seventh grade when my grandfather and grandmother began talking about it. It came out of the blue, although it shouldn’t have. They wanted me to go there because it was a private school, and a Catholic school. All of their kids had gone to Catholic schools, except my Aunt Lizzie, who had to finish her high school at a public school when St. Peter’s downtown closed for good.
They probably ran out of money since they were almost in the ghetto.
I didn’t really know anything about going to St. Mel’s. I had never thought about it. But, I mostly didn’t want to go there. I wanted to be with my friends. You can be stupid with your friends, never having to explain anything. I didn’t believe many of my friends were going to be going to St. Mel’s.
Grandpa and Grandma and my parents wouldn’t stop talking about it. They wore me down. Finally I thought, whatever, they want me to go, and it’s a really good school. There’s probably no getting around this, anyway.
“OK, whatever you say, I’ll go,” I said.
I had never paid attention to St. Mel’s, although it’s only a few miles from where we live. It’s next door to City Hall and the Police Station. My dad and I had driven past it many times, but I had not paid attention to it. I hadn’t given it a glance. I had definitely never been inside. My friend Allan’s older brother went there. He told us about it. Allan and I are both there now.
But, I still didn’t want to go.
The school is in the shape of an M, at least if you see it from above, or see a picture of it taken from a drone. The legs of the M face the lake, which is on the other side of the practice field, across Clifton Boulevard.
Clifton Boulevard is the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, although it’s really just a wide street, and then north of that is Lake Road, and after that all that’s left is big old flat Lake Erie.
There used to be Indians living on the lakeshore and they wore bobcat tails on their heads. Erie means long-tailed in their language, even though bobcats have short tails. The Indians had their own way of doing things. The explorers who came exploring trapping hunting didn’t call it Lake Erie. They called it Cat Lake.
The first freshman class didn’t go to St. Mel’s because there wasn’t a St. Mel’s, yet. All one hundred of the guys had to take classes at the Lakewood Catholic Academy down the street for two years until the work on the first schoolroom was finished.
When my uncles went there enrollment was almost two thousand guys and it cost three hundred dollars a year. It was a comprehensive school back in the day. Now there are less than half as many as back then, half of them are in the pre-engineering program, and it costs more than thirteen thousand dollars a year.
That’s why most of my friends don’t go there.
It’s not a comprehensive school anymore, either. It’s a college prep school. If you look at it from the front it’s a small campus. It doesn’t have as many guys as most public schools, maybe eight hundred. They are all guys.
It started with the Holy Cross Brothers from Notre Dame, who were the Fighting Irish, although they came from France. The French Revolution was their archenemy. Their motto is “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope.” There used to be plenty of Brothers at St. Mel’s, but there are hardly any of them left. Most of our teachers are lay teachers now.
The school used to be for working class guys, but that’s changed, too, which is funny because St. Mel was a blue-collar guy.
His mother is called the Mother of Saints because she had seventeen sons and two daughters and they all became saints. Mel worked in Ireland with his uncle St. Patrick. They built churches and monasteries. Mel supported himself by manual labor. He worked with his hands. He was like a plumber or a car mechanic would be these days. Whenever he had money or good stuff he gave most of it away to the poor.
Nobody smart does that anymore, especially not at St. Mel’s. NO CHARITY is the rule, or at least as little as possible.
He’s a saint because he could perform miracles, like plowing up live fish in the middle of farm fields. He had the gift of telling fortunes, too. I can never predict anything. It’s probably better that I can’t, anyway.
What would be the point of trying anything?
St. Mel’s feast day is a holiday for single people. It’s supposed to be all about the good things of being single. You send yourself St. Mel’s Day cards and have parties. He’s a great patron saint to have if you’re fourteen-years-old.
There’s a big sign at the entrance to our parking lot that says EDUCATING THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF YOUNG MEN.
We’ve had 400 National Merit Scholars and 34 State Champions, we’ve won 28 wrestling state championships and 11 hockey state titles, and now we’ve got basketball, baseball, rugby, volleyball, and track and field state championships, too.
You don’t want to ride the bench at St. Mel’s.
St. Mel’s wins a boat load of championships. That’s why they keep score at our school. It’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that. At St. Mel’s we say go bigger or go home.
Most of the school is on the older side, but it’s all updated, with new computers, new smart boards, and new tech stuff like that. We have the Dahl Leadership Center, which is more-or-less new. Then there’s the Howe Center, which is even newer. It’s the engineering part of the school. The computer classes are there, too.
It’s very cool. NEW is what WORKS. It’s what makes the world work.
We have a small football field at the back where the JV team plays and the varsity team practices. St. Mel’s is small because it’s on such a small campus. There isn’t any room around the school to buy extra space. We’re on the edge of the street and then there’s just a bunch of large apartment buildings. They would probably be too expensive to buy and tear down, although the school obviously has plenty of money.
I’m sure they have a little cash left over after paying everybody.
WE ALL KNOW THAT!
A couple of years ago a new chapel was built at the side of the school. It has a gold dome, just like Notre Dame. St. Mel used to build chapels back in the day, although I don’t think any of them had gold domes. Inside the chapel is a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus on the cross. The same man who makes all the head busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame made the Jesus statue.
It’s like our gold dome Jesus is an ALL-PRO.
My dad and his parents and all their family wanted me to go to St. Mel’s. I was worried I was going to be away from my friends. But, once I applied, and the more I thought about it, the more I got into it.
I started thinking it might be a good thing. It’s not that public schools aren’t good, but St. Mel’s would definitely be a better school.
Actually, public schools suck.
I liked public school less and less the more and more I was there, especially later, the older I got. The lessons were always getting to be less smart more dumb going on retarded year after year. I’m glad I got out. I feel like I escaped what I was, or was becoming, or I escaped someone else’s choice for me, like I found an open door.
After my dad applied me to the school we started getting mail. We got a butt load of it, which means they must spend a butt load of money on us who are the freshmen. I got mail every day when I was in 8th grade. After being accepted I got even more, most of it about so much crap. I got bushels of forms, too, and I had to fill all of them out.
Not everybody gets in. NO WAY! A boat load of guys apply to St Mel’s, way more than a thousand, maybe even thousands. I don’t even know how many. At the public schools everybody in their own city goes to their own school. But, at St. Mel’s they drive from all over, from Parma, Maple Heights, even Twinsburg. One guy lives an hour and fifteen minutes away. And, he’s a freshman, like me.
St. Mel’s is a small school, but it has international programs, so even more guys try to get in these days. I had to take many many tests. Some of them were easy, but some were hard. Most of them were just the standardized ones, the ones everybody has to take, like math, science, and English. There wasn’t anything stupid, like history.
I didn’t know I was going to make it at first. And, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I was all along almost wishing I wouldn’t get in. But, when I kept thinking about it, I thought I would still have all my old friends, because we all live in the same city. We live really close to one another and we would still see each other.
So, I kept thinking about it, and I finally knew since I would still have all my friends, St. Mel’s might be a good place for me to be. It’s a good education. Everybody talked it up and not nobody didn’t say it was bad. I thought to myself, I’m going to make a bunch of new friends, too. I started to get excited about it.
It’s a great school, after all. I found that out. At St. Mel’s they always say, if you believe in us, we’ll believe in you. I’m glad I made it. I made a bunch of new friends, too.
Many of my friends from the Lakewood middle schools applied to St. Mel’s, but only three of them made it. It’s competitive getting in, but that’s good because it makes you stronger and better. It makes you more determined. You have to watch out for the CHOPPING BLOCK.
That’s what everybody does at St. Mel’s. They chop the other guy. That’s why we win all the state championships.
I met new guys in my classes and we started talking. We’re all friends now. I still see some of the guys that went to our Lakewood schools, although I see them less. I talk to them, text, and stay in touch. We meet up sometimes and have lunch.
We have lunch at Panera Bread. I have an allowance, so I get money to go places. It’s the bare minimum, $40.00 a month, which is $1.50 a day. It’s nothing, really. I can’t make lunch on $1.50 a day, but my grandmother gives me money, and my dad gives me cash on the side. A couple of times a month he gives me pre-paid credit cards for $50.00, or more.
Sometimes he gives me $100.00. It’s for wherever I want to go and whatever I want to do. I work around the house for him. I fold clothes, wash dishes, and clean the cat crap. I do a butt load of stuff. I vacuum while they’re all sitting around living it up, all except my dad. The rest of them don’t do much, especially not Jack. He does nothing and my step mom stands up for him no matter what he doesn’t do. I get grief no matter what I do.
Sadie’s lucky. She knows it and I know it. She goes to the opera school at Baldwin Wallace College and lives in an apartment with her friends.
My dad does everything, cleans everything, and runs around all the time. He works all the time. He doesn’t get any downtime. Sometimes he relaxes and sleeps. Whenever he has a day off he makes my bed, even though I usually do it, for Scar the Beagle, so he can lie on it and be comfortable.
Blackie doesn’t like that and will stare him down.
St. Mel’s was new to all of us in our freshman class. We were all from different places, from all around Ohio, from everywhere. One of my friends is from Hinckley, wherever that is. It’s weird in the beginning because you don’t talk to anybody, not at first. Then one day you notice you’ve become friends with people you just met.
I made friends on the first day of school, actually.
The first friend I made was Hunter. He was getting in and out of the locker next to me. He’s the kicker on one of the football teams, a really good guy, and smart, too. Since our lockers were right next to each other we started talking immediately.
A friend is somebody you like to talk to. They don’t always have to say nice things to you, but, more-or-less, they do most of the time.
But, you can’t be friends with everyone. The guy in the locker on the other side of me is Ethan, who’s a big fat black guy. He’s really big, more than six foot, maybe more. He’s not mean to me, not exactly, although he is. Ethan is just not that nice.
Nice is when you are kind to other people, in general, not just your only friend, in particular. Mean is when you are a jerk-bag. Ethan needs to learn to be a nice person. Nice people are kind, modest, and caring. They are all those things. There are a load of people like that, but there are a load of people who aren’t.
Oh, YEAH! There are more people who aren’t kind.
You have to be careful about being nice. You don’t want to be cut down. Ethan, it’s just the way he is, and the way he speaks and acts towards other students. He cuts you down whenever he gets the chance.
We all go to our lockers at St. Mel’s at the same time, after the fourth period. We leave the books we had and take our other books. You go to your next class, sit down, talk to your friends, and get through the class. You don’t notice it, but you actually have your day.
St. Mel’s wasn’t the school I wanted to go to, but now I call it my school. Some people call it the facility, but most guys call it St. Mel’s. Cooper calls it THE ORGANIZATION, but that’s Cooper, always slapping his nuts. No one calls it Catholic School or High School.
When we’re on the loose my friends and I just call it Mel’s.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.