One Givernaud Child's Memory

by Jim Brown

We will call him David. For personal reasons which have nothing to do with any grudge or embarrassment about living at the Village, David asked that we not use his real name. In fact he was very fond of the Village and the memories he shares with us now. David had a lot to share about his life but for now I will focus on 1962-68 when he spent his entire time at the Village in the Givernaud Cottage.

JIM: Any memories come to mind when I mention a typical day at the Village?

DAVID: I remember now the swing set. On the other side of the Givernaud Cottage, not the playground but the other side. We used to call them "the big swings." They had little play tables set along side the building where we could sit. The big swings would face the woods. I remember being out there a lot playing.

J: How old when you entered the Givernaud.

D: Four. My mother put us there. She couldn't take care of me. My father left us. By the time she was 22 years old she had four kids and she wasn't married. My father was married at the time they met.

J: Were all four of you put in the Village?

D: My baby sister never went to the village. She stayed with my mother. She worked and had somebody watch the baby.

J: When you first arrived at the Village what were you thoughts entering that huge unfamiliar place?

D: I remember crying because my mom was leaving. I do remember crying but as resilient as kids are I guess I got over it soon enough and I met other kids.

J: How would you describe yourself as a kid? How did you fit in with the social scene?

D: Yeah, I was finny, I was probably the center of attention, I was always a very happy kid, always smiling, laughing. Well I guess that what drew people to me. The good and the bad. Because I remember Sr. Felix was my protector. She would hover over me all the time like she was specifically assigned to me.

I remember, it was before I left the Village, I remember going to Sr. Feliz's house in Burlington. She had a cousin named Bunny and I remember being in Bunn's house and it was before we left the Village. I remember watching Gargantua on TV and I remember King of the Road playing on the Radio. These are the types of memories I had but even after I left the Village, Sr. Felix and I kept in touch. And when she left the convent she used to take me to her house quite often in Burlington and I would spend the weekend. I would go to her cousin Bunny. I remember her twin nieces June and Dray.

J: Do you remember the Kindergarten?

D: Kindergarten I don't remember. I do remember second grade. I sat in the back of the class. I remember those yellow shirts we had to wear — see through ones you know. (Laughs) I don't remember first grade so much.

For some reason Sr. Maria DeGretti sticks in my mind. I want to think she may have been my first grade teacher or something?

J: What do you remember of some of the rooms in the Givernaud.

D: The big shower room. Bathroom with the big tub — looked like a fountain and like a little wading pool with white and blue speckled tile.

I remember it was a time to send kids out to be cut who were not cut for health reasons. It was a big circumcision boom. I was already cut. And they were coming back in a few days and they would be all laid up for a while. I never understood why. The health scare wasn't a big issue back then. There wasn't AIDS or any of that stuff and I don't know what the reasoning behind that was.

J: Did you ever spend time up at the infirmary?

D: I had ring worm. I spent like close to a week. And when I busted my shin open. Sr. Feliz rode me on the bicycle all the way up the hallway. I remember the old nun who worked in the infirmary. She got mad. I don't know if it was the late hour or because I disturbed her or what but she smacked me. And Sr. Feliz hauled off and told her don't ever hit me again. Otherwise she would have to deal with her.

J: How about punishments?

D: I was well behaved, but the only punishment I remember is being constantly being smacked on the hand because I wrote too small and because I was a lefty.

They had this paddle for spankings. I remember they had this intercom system in the dorms. If they heard you talking or whatever or fooling around in the dorms the nuns would come flying down in their robe, and (Laugh) down to the dorms.

There was a speaker and microphone in the ceiling of the dorms and in the nun's sitting room there was a sloped box with a grill on the front with buttons down the side to talk or listen to each dorm.

J: What trips do you remember?

D: I remember Palisade Park, going more than once. I remember taking the coupons out of the back of comic books for the five cent rides. I could hear the song now and then, "Come on Over." We couldn't wait till we got there. We'd get off the buss and go right for the salt water pool or the big black Octopus when you walked in. We had to go around as a group although we didn't have an adult with us like a nun or something. It might have been a young volunteer.

J: What other trips do you remember?

D: I remember going on begging trips with the nuns. I remember going to the World's Fair. I just remember the big globe. And I remember going to Shae Stadium. I remember it was a rainy day and we were all the way up at the top and it was rainy and damp up there.

I remember going to camp. Camp Notre Dame for a week or two weeks. I remember the cabins and this guy Robear. We made a song about him, "Robear Robear lost his underwear. Oh where oh where could they be."

On the web at: www.campnotredame.com

J: What do you remember of the Village bus?

D: Green seats, yellow buss. (Laugh) When I went to Immaculate Conception, I remember the smell of the diesel every morning — the fumes from the bus. Sitting there idling. I remember in the cold the smell of the exhaust.

For a period of time certain children were taken off premise to attend "outside school" in neighboring communities.

J: Even though you were too old to be in Givernaud, how did you feel that you were still in the baby cottage?

D: I didn't think much of it as that was where all my friends were. Everybody that was there when I got there was still there. I guess obviously for the same reason.

J: How many were actually Givernaud age kids, two or three years old?

D: I don't think there were that many. I don't remember seeing any infants at all.

J: So really the Givernaud Cottage became an extension of the junior boys and girls cottages. There was many more older children than the complex was designed to accommodate and there was no room in the Junior, Intermediate, and Senior cottages for the younger kids to move up.

D: They had more kids between the ages of say, six and nine than any other kids there.

J: Remember the chapel?

D: I remember making my first Communion. I had a dark suit jacket, I had the Bible that they gave us, and I think it had a red edging on the pages. An I remember the rosary beads. I also got a scapula.

J: The Village had the metaphor of being a small village of separate buildings they had its own store, the barbershop...

D: I don't remember the store. I've seen it on the website but I don't seem to remember a store.

J: Perhaps in Givernaud you did not go to the store. For the older kids, they got a fifty cents allowance which they could use to buy pencils, school supplies, and candy. lot of the items in the store were like five cents.

D: Now that you mention pencils I do seem to remember buying pencils for two or three cents.

J: The store was not like a store like we would think of. It was actually a small concrete block room with a window and door that faced out into the main corridor. It was next to the library along the hallway between the gymnasium building and the school building. Inside was just a single glass display case and a money box where the nun would collect money.

D: I remember that money box. A square box with a slit on the top. I remember putting money in it.

J: The idea of the store was to teach the children how to use money and responsibility. It also gave the kids incentive for good behavior. Every time you would misbehave, they had a punch card and every time you did something wrong you got a punch on your card. A punch deducted five cents from your allowance of 50 cents.

D: They were a yellow or light green color and you would punch around the edges. There were little numbers along the edges. I remember it was not a round hole punch but like a clover shape.

D: I'm trying to remember how may sponsors I went with. I remember the one who's backyard I burnt down. That one is the most vivid. (Laughter) They lived right near the Village on Piermont Rd. They had a kid about my age perhaps a tad older. I remember going in their house and we were having breakfast or something. They didn't have sugar, they had Saccharin before it was called Sweet'n Low. Well I thought it was sugar. And I put six or seven packages in my cereal and when I went to taste it, it was the most godaweful bitter stuff. (Laughter) So she got a little mad at me over that.

So then we [I and her son] went out to play and it was a fall day. There was a large backyard with lots of woods. It was blustery and the leaves were on the ground. So I guess I had gotten some matches from inside the house. Or had a magnifying glass, so I said we will start a fire and burn some of the leaves and we will keep our hands warm. And a gust of wind came and blew the fire. The other leaves caught on fire and the trees started catching on fire and we couldn't put it out, it was bigger than us, and... (Laughter) So I ran back in the house and the lady is on the phone. We were trying to get her attention and she is shoeing us away and shoeing us away and finally she screamed at us, "What is it? What is it?" We finally turned around and started pointing at the fire. (Laughter)

J: Did she know you set it?

D: Oh yeah, we told her what happened. It didn't happen by itself. (Laugh) Needless to say they didn't take me again.

J: Any other fun or interesting stories of things that happened?

D: No, other than me trying to play Superman and busting my shin open. I was in one of the playrooms and of course me being me being the center of attention I put on this cape or small blanket or something and I had a hat on and I got up on one of the book shelves along the window and I was going to jump from there to one of the tables and pretend I was Superman but I missed it, the table and I hit the edge of table with my chin and busted it open. And the blood was coming down and everything was all swelled up. Well I was unbreakable. I didn't brake nothin'. (Laughter) Sr. Felix hollered at me at first but afterward she laughed. She thought that was pretty comical.

J: What led up to your being able to leave the Village?

D: My mother met a friend who was very concerned about us and helped her manage caring for us on her own.

That much said, that was probably the more stable and happy part of David's life — the time he spent being the center of attention as an innocent fun loving kid at St. Joseph's Village.