BLOOMFIELD, NJ — For nearly half a century, the first person students saw when entering the Bloomfield High School guidance department was its secretary, Patricia Carter — the daughter of an Olympian; wife to a former Bloomfield Recreation Department director; and mother of the current BHS football coach.
Carter, who retired in December, recalled this past weekend some of the people she knew during 47 years on the job while some of her other recollections went back even further.
“I had six children,” she said this past Sunday, June 3, in her Roseland home. “When my oldest girl was a sophomore is when I began work at the high school.”
Carter was born and raised in Bloomfield and graduated from BHS in 1949. She was on the substitute teachers list with the Bloomfield Board of Education in 1971 when the schools superintendent, Edgar Stover, told her about a job opening. It was for the position of secretary to the guidance department.
“My hesitation was that it was a job for 12 months a year,” she said. “I couldn’t be away from my kids in the summer. I spoke it over with my husband. He said to give it a try. Forty-seven years is a good try.”
The principal was Harry Rice when she began work and there were six guidance counselors; now there are eight and too many principals to remember, she said. The guidance office moved around a little, too. It was near the auditorium, but now is near the cafeteria. The school has gotten a lot bigger and manual typewriters and carbon paper are gone. But she still remains friends with Doris Bill, someone who was working in the guidance department when she arrived. They were friends and classmates in first grade when they attended Sacred Heart School. But for Carter, the great daily constancy at the high school was its students.
“I always said, with the kids I was guaranteed a laugh a day,” she said.
Carter is a born storyteller and she told one.
“There was this kid who always came in with his shoelaces untied. My father was a stickler about that.”
And for good reason. Her father, Johnny Gibson, was a runner who competed in the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics in the 440-yard hurdles and for a time held the world record in that event. Back to the story.
“I would tell this kid to tie his shoes,” Carter said, “and he’d say, ‘yeah, yeah.’”
One day, she looked up from her desk and there is this boy again.
“He was on crutches,” she said. “And he said, ‘My shoelace got caught on the screen door when I was going into my house and I broke my ankle.’”
Her response was, well, what did I tell you?
She told another story. This was about an incident when she was a BHS student. Mice were released in the school cafeteria.
“It was bedlam,” she said.
But no one was talking or knew who was responsible for the prank. Carter said she found out a little later.
“We had gym exhibitions three times a year,” she said. “My parents and I came to the school.”
Carter said she always believed her father knew everyone in town, so she never did anything wrong for fear he would find out.
“A janitor came up and said, ‘Hey, John, me and your son got to be good friends.’”
Her father was surprised.
The janitor then continued, saying that he and John Jr., are such good friends that they eat lunch together every day because he and another boy are banned from the cafeteria for setting mice loose there.
“That was the punishment, he had to eat with the custodian,” Carter said.
“My brother said it wasn’t so bad because they got to drink chocolate milk. Can you imagine what the punishment would be now?”
Also as a BHS student, Carter competed in the only girls’ sport offered at the school, the renown archery team of Edith Russell. Carter was on two national championship squads.
“It was just bows and arrows and no sights,” she said. “Not like today. You had to discover your own point of aim.” Speaking of which, Carter did not know what to do after graduation.
“I had no idea what I was going to do,” she said. “Back then, girls were just starting to go to college.”
Then one day soon after she graduated, her father told her to get dressed nice on Saturday because he and her mother were going to take her someplace. Carter said she always did what her father said to do. So, on Saturday, she got dressed nice.
“We took a bus to East Orange,” she said.
Carter remembers in East Orange they headed for the Jolly Tar Gift Shop and she is thinking: Why here? But they were not going to a gift shop. Her destination was the door after the shop, the Berkeley Secretarial School.
“My father said, ‘This is what you’re doing for the next year,’ Carter recalled. “I said, ‘OK.’”
Carter grew up on Belleville Avenue and moved to Llewellyn Avenue after she married. The Llewellyn Avenue house has been in the Gibson family for over 100 years. It is now in the process of being sold. She loved looking out the window of this home to see Watsessing Park.
She never drove a car. But whoever drove her to work at the high school would pick up a girl living down the street. This girl came from Haiti. Her name was Maria.
“She started coming with us,” Carter said. “But Maria didn’t talk to anyone.”
Carter and a guidance counselor, Manuela Gonnella, got this girl involved with school activities. Then came the time when Maria had to graduate.
“She wanted to be a nurse,” Carter said. “I told her Bloomfield College had a nursing program. I said that we’d go to the college for its open house.”
It was not a bus ride to East Orange, but a walk to the campus. Carter said that Maria was able to get a scholarship and work at Annie Sez to pay for her education. She invited Carter and Gonnella, who still works at BHS, to her college graduation.
There were other students and other stories Carter related. One time her office phone rang and the caller, then a college student, did not have to say a word. Carter knew who it was by his chuckle and that he needed help on a school assignment.
With a chuckle herself, she requested his identity withheld because his name would be recognized. She then related the following conversation — in dialogue.
Caller: “Heh, heh, heh.”
Carter: “What time is it due?”
Caller: “Seven o’clock.”
Carter: “I work until four.”
Caller: “I’ll be there.”
Carter: “One thing.”
Carter: “You have to call my husband and tell him I’ll be late for supper.”
Caller: “Oh, oh.”
“He’s funny,” Carter said of the caller. “We had a lot of good times.”
She retired because of health issues. Seated in a rocking chair constantly in motion, her feet propped on a small stool a BHS shop teacher made for her that she kept under her office desk, Carter said she has to keep busy. She has gotten back to crocheting.
“I never liked to think about retiring,” she said. “I said the good Lord will tell me when it’s time. Well, the Lord has spoken.”
Her replacement in the guidance office is Michelle Carshia.
“She’ll do great,” Carter said. “She has a nice way about her.”
Et tu, Patricia Carter, et tu.