Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween and the Nun's Apple

(Author’s Note: I have been advised by a really good friend that I should post some sort of “feel-good” entry. When I do, it takes me out of my Polish Holden Caulfield frame of mind. In deference to him, though, here is my attempt at a “feel good” story. As always, your comments are welcome.)

I’m not even sure why we walked out of our way to go to the convent on Halloween. Being good Catholic boys, I guess we felt it our obligation. So, through the Church parking lot we went, up the back staircase, behind the school and across the street to the big brick house that was the last one on the block. And just as you could count on seeing Monsignor Gehring loading his golf clubs into the back of his Olds Delta 88 on a nice spring day, the Sisters would give us our Halloween apple.

Maybe even at ten years old, we knew whose asses to kiss. We were ruled by these nuns. Sister Norah and Sister Patricia presided over us like the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse over Diamond Shoals. They taught us to read and write and were the judge, jury and executioner when it came to discipline. Corporal punishment was meted out faster than acid at Woodstock. Looking back, I realize the paddling on the ass and the rulers across the fingers were not meant so much for the victim as they were for the surrounding and suddenly tuned in kids. I heard a guy talking about torture one time, and he said the best method he knows is to shoot the guy next to the one you want to get to talk. Well, when the kid next to you just got his knuckles snapped for not holding a pencil correctly, it sure as hell gets your attention too.

One of the most interesting punishments came on the heels of an en vogue game where a bunch of us started bringing in cut-off straws to school and were spitting little purple berries out of them. It wasn’t long before the Sister’s picked up on this and the offenders (me included) were ordered to bring in two handfuls of these purple berries. That morning we all assembled in the front hall of the school and Sister Norah put all the berries in a shoe box, then in one sweeping motion sent them scattering all over the tile floor. Our punishment was to get on our hands and knees and pick up these berries…one at a time. Any attempt to pick more than one at a time would result in a do-over. Smartly, we picked up one at a time, our knees aching from the hard, cold tile. Excellent.

But here’s the thing, they were always right. Granted, as kids we didn’t always see it that way. We laughed at the smell of the cheap perfume and cursed them for the spankings. We never did understand why anyone would give a shit about how we held our pencils or if we could do the Irish Jig. But now, all these years later, it is crystal clear to me that outside of my family I am quite sure no one played a more important role in my life. Maybe they were even smart enough to know that if nothing else, they would give us some good stories to tell our kids. But what we never understood was this. Not only did these women give their lives over to God, they gave whatever was left to us kids; which turned out to be an awful lot.

We didn’t want apples for Halloween and we probably didn’t even eat them. So while we chuckled on our way back down the stairs and through the church lot, we were unknowingly outsmarted again…the Sisters gave us what we needed.


Kristine said...

Very well written Dave, and a good story to boot. I could really picture it in my mind.

lmm said...

Great story, it makes me want to share this and I will.

John Ettorre said...

From one product of Catholic grade school to another, I enjoyed this. It brought my own experience with the nuns alive for me again. As I've often said, Catholic grade school is just like being in the Marines: often painful during that time, but a character-building exercise that participants inevitably tend to look back on with fondness and appreciation.