By Tim Hayes

Eight years of Catholic elementary education sure served me well as a young lad.

That’s not to say my little parochial school didn’t need to do some breakneck, heavy-handed, guilt-sodden fundraising on a regular basis, however. Because, trust me on this, we certainly did.

It started with the annual Bazaar, a major socio-economic milestone in our neighborhood community, held each February. Here the normally stoic Dads of classmates, guys in suits and ties and somber prayerful expressions at Mass, somehow overnight became the most expressive carnival barkers, enticing passers-by to plop down their cash to match the number where the spinning wheel would land. The Bazaar was a happening, Baby.

Hundreds of sweaty Catholics, squeezed into a sweltering gymnasium thanks to the chronically unpredictable steam boiler (two settings: “Sahara” and “Broken”), plodded numbly past each other, playing games of chance, the Fish Pond, darts, buying other Moms’ funny-tasting cupcakes at the Mothers Club Bake Sale – all in a communal effort to keep the church and the school running for another year, and give poor Father some peace of mind up at the rectory.

And it didn’t end there. In a program that no one in his right mind would conduct today, each student received a stack of “Chance Slips” – long pieces of paper with lines for people to write their name and phone number, if they agreed to buy a “chance” to win the big parish raffle. Chances sold for a dime a line, or a dollar for the whole sheet.

But here’s why no one would ever do this in 2014, or ever again. We, the students of our elementary school, were expected to go door-to-door and solicit people on our own. Six- and seven-year-old kids, knocking on doors, including even the (gasp!) occasional non-Catholic door.

Can you imagine the liability today? The parish couldn’t possibly sell enough chances to afford the insurance! Back then, though, we lived in a different world. A nicer, safer world in so many ways.

My favorite fundraising activity, though – even if I didn’t realize the purpose behind it at the time – came when some fellow second-graders and I got to come to school early every day for a week and eat cereal.

Years later, I learned that our merry band of munchers served as part of a national blind taste test for the introduction of “Boo-Berry” cereal. All we knew was that we had boxes upon boxes of unmarked cereals to pick from, every day for a whole week, and no grown-up would ever say no! Not all children could handle this level of freedom and autonomy at such a tender age, you understand. Yet such was the burden my friends and I carried.

As I recall, Frosted Flakes remained a big hit. The terrible, cardboardy, twigs-and-bark brands got ignored, of course. This weird blue one had potential, though. It was plenty sweet, I knew that for sure.

The early classes following our morning sucrose-and-juice revelry must have been a sight, as a handful of gastric guinea pigs shake-rattle-and-rolled through spelling and math, eyes darting, teeth chattering, feet twitching until the tsunami of sugar rolled through our metabolisms and the subsequent crash hit just before lunch.

Prowling like roving bands of emaciated scavengers, we sniffed around that makeshift cafeteria for more free cereal over the midday meal. Junk junkies looking for their next fix. Twas not to be found, though. Those unmarked boxes of temptation had been locked up until the next morning, when we could again ignore the dry drab dullards and dive head-first into the frosted cornucopia of so-bad-for-you-but-so-good-to-eat cereals.

Being educated by nuns, and lay teachers who thought just like nuns, we knew to always be polite and give a nice response to our elders. Or else. That’s probably why all the reviews we gave to the people with clipboards were positive, no matter if we thought their funky blue cereal tasted like corn syrup-coated crap. Which, of course, it was and still is.

That’s why we liked it so much. Duh.

Preservatives and sugar be damned! We were sacrificing our digestive systems for the parish, doggone it! General Mills kicks a few bucks to the school in return for a week of free cereal – all you could eat, and no questions asked, no less?

Such a sacrifice. But, hey, as your offspring dump their weight in Boo Berry into their bowls each morning, jazzing themselves up like bottle rockets about to shoot into the stratosphere? Feel free to blame me. I gave the green light 50 years ago.

And kids? You’re welcome.

Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes