School is out. Camp is in. There were at least three camps in full swing at Notre Dame this summer: Sports Camp for prospective middle-schoolers, Laptop Camp for incoming freshman and Camp Umoja, a full out day camp for children from Baltimore City’s inner city neighborhoods. The Umoja campers ranged in age from 6 to 11 years old and the camp counselors were none other than some very talented and dedicated NDP students. The day I visited, the sports camp had taken to the fields, the laptop camp had taken to the classrooms and Camp Umoja had taken to, well…just about everywhere else. I do not know the etymology of the word “amok” but the Camp Umoja kids were most thoroughly and joyfully running it that day. I had to admire the calm, cajoling tones of the NDP counselors as they gently but authoritatively wrangled the kids, ushering them from activity to activity. Let’s just say, there are a lot of places for a 6-year-old to hide on a 60-acre campus and from where I stood, it looked like more than a few of them were doing their very best to hoodwink their extremely patient (but clearly on high alert) teenage counselors. As of this writing, no children were reported missing and a good time was had by all.
Things were a bit calmer this month. Most staff sat quietly in their offices planning ahead to September…with the exception of NDP archivist, Jane Feldmann Cook and the entire Advancement team, both of whom had to move out of their offices in the old convent. The advancement team moved to temporary headquarters in the Sr. Helen Marie Duffy Conference Room halfway across campus in the West Wing. After more than 50 years, the retired nuns who still reside on the second floor of the convent are being brought into the modern world with new bathrooms, air conditioning, and other 21st century amenities. When the construction is complete, both the retired nuns and the Advancement team will move back to a far more comfortable home and efficient workspace, respectively. That leaves only Jane Feldmann Cook – sort of the Alex Haley of NDP – still displaced. She was last seen wandering the halls, a perpetual smile on her face, a box of priceless photos under her arm and muttering to herself, “This just might do!” as she peeked inside one broom closet after another.
So much for down time. The building is humming in preparation for the opening of school at the end of the month. There’s a palpable sense of anticipation and, yes, excitement about the place. PA systems and fire alarms are tested. Floors are waxed, molding is replaced, walls are given a fresh coat of paint. Middle school mom, Monica Zittle, and her daughter, Anna do a spectacular job putting up the front lobby bulletin board. Just inside the dining room, the entire faculty gathers for a two-day meeting, equal parts seminar, retreat, and pep rally. And veteran maintenance man and master gardener, Vinny Maranto is doing his best to fairly distribute his end-of-the-summer crop of prized tomatoes, squash, and zucchini amongst the dozens of staff who covet them. It is a variation on the loaves and fishes theme and somehow everyone is happy. Between moving furniture and replacing air filters, he stops at Sister Raymond’s reception window. Today, he has something extra special.
“You like figs?” he inquires.
“What?” says Sr. Raymond, not sure she heard right.
“Figs. You like figs?” he repeats.
“I don’t know. I guess so…”
Vinny’s figs are to die for and I feel like saying, “Sister, if you don’t want ’em, I’ll take ’em,” but before I can be so bold, Vinny presses on.
“I give you some figs,” Vinny insists to Sr. Raymond. “You will like.” Sigh. I was thisclose.
Tuesday after Labor Day. After a couple of half days last week, school is now fully in session. As I enter the building, I notice Sr. Raymond’s reception window is piled high with all sorts of packages, large and small. And no, it’s not more produce from Vinny.
“What’s all this?” I ask out of curiosity. Usually the area is pretty empty, with the exception of a sign-in book for anyone entering the building. Today there are brown paper bags, plastic grocery bags, small boxes and large cases cluttering the area. You can barely see Sr. Raymond on the other side of her window.
“Things the girls forgot…” Sr. Raymond explains with a “been there, done that” world-weary sigh.
“Left at home?”
“Parents had to come back with the stuff?”
“Kids not quite in the full swing of things, yet, huh?”
Sister Raymond just gave a “It’s Groundhog Day” roll of the eyes. Upon closer examination I see that the bags are filled with items like a forgotten lunch or gym shoes or saddle shoes (how do you get out the door without your saddle shoes already on?). There are also history books, laptops, and gym tunics.
“What’s in this one?” I ask, pointing to one that feels like it might contain an entire wardrobe.
“The father wasn’t sure,” Sr. Raymond shrugged.
“Just did what he was told by mom to do, huh? ‘Just drop it off. Don’t ask.'”
“Pretty much,” Sr. Raymond confirmed.
“What about this one?” I persisted, pointing to a nylon case the size of a Buick, sitting on the floor outside Sister’s office.
“Got me,” Sr. Raymond shrugged again.
Now, I can see how you might overlook something small, like say, a tuba, as you’re walking out the door, but you could serve dinner for 6 on this thing. Our best guess was that it was field hockey goalie equipment. Mainly because, well, it said so on the outside. Sister ushered me back to the inner sanctum of her 4 foot by 4 foot cubicle. I felt oddly honored.
“Check this out,” she said, pointing to a closet door. “Go ahead! Open it!”
I did. And inside were 3 sweatshirts, 2 blazers, and a sweater.
“Lost and Found,” Sister said, confirming my suspicion. The first day of school and Lost and Found was already half full.
“I give them to Monday,” I said encouragingly. “The girls’ll be back in the routine by then.”
“Nah. They’re great girls,” Sr. Raymond testified with pride. “I give ’em 24 hours. By tomorrow, I’ll be able to see through my window again. Mark my words.”
And so it begins. Another year at NDP. Another year for Bluenote. Welcome back readers!
Coming up: A post on this year’s theme, “Women of the Word” and “What’s In Your Locker?” – a sneak peak at some very creative small spaces. Plus what’s in store academically, spiritually, and extra-curricularly in 2013-2014. Stay tuned throughout the year for all this and more!