In the Beginning

Everyone’s seen those books written by survivors of Catholic school. Well, I could write one. And my time spent in Catholic school would be only the beginning of my very long and winding sojourn to where I am today. But let me start at the beginning.

In third grade, my family had moved yet again to a new city due to Dad’s promotion; Mom enrolled me and my sister  in a Catholic school. Prior to this, religion hadn’t made much of an impact on me. But once immersed in the daily rituals and strong discipline, religion was suddenly a big part of my life. This was in Fond du Lac at St. Joseph’s School.

Monsignor Riordon ran a tight ship, as they say. He was an elderly, somewhat obese gray-haired man who visited our classroom regularly; we were all nerves when he showed up decked out in all his priestly regalia. He performed our daily Mass, the Stations of the Cross and the rosary.

I had early doubts about some things the Monsignor said and did. One for the first was his rule about interaction with the children who attended the Lutheran school across the street. I don’t recall how me and my friends ended up in a sidewalk discussion with several of them one day. But I thought they were nice.

Soon an edict came down from on high. The Monsignor said we could not talk to or play with the children across the street. They are damned, he said, because the Catholic church is the one and only true religion and everyone else is damned to the fires of hell. That just didn’t seem right but what could I do.

I recall the big deal about making our first confession. After the Monsignor’s tutoring we lined up outside the confessional and nervously waited our turn. The Monsignor had insisted that everyone commits certain sins and he expected us to confess them. We all fight with our brothers and sisters. We all forget our morning and evening prayers. So, each time I went to confession I had to lie. It only took me once to see the folly of this exercise. My doubts grew.

Once my friend, Faith, (what a perfect name for a good Catholic girl!) was seen riding on the handle bars of a boy’s bicycle. The Monsignor’s punishment was for her to walk the porch after school; this was a well-known punishment that we all dreaded and did all we could to avoid. What made it the worst was it was so visible. Those Catholics are really good at shame and guilt. And the Monsignor was a pro.

The porch was long and open, running along the entire side of the rectory. My friends and I giggled as we gossiped (sinfully) hearing that Faith’s parents called the rectory long after dark that night. Where was Faith, her parents wanted to know. Well, there she was in the dark still walking around in a circle. I recall it was quite a while before another student was seen out there walking the porch.

Any survivor of Catholic school has a vivid memory of that especially cantankerous nun. Sister Patrice was mine. Besides all the minor day to day insults and recriminations she meted out, I especially recall how she shamed me and my friend, Ruth Ann, for our performance at the all school talent show.

Ruth Ann and I had worked hard on our skit, a pantomime of a Broadway song. My mother helped with our costumes and our complicated choreography. Even though my very Catholic mother saw nothing wrong with our skit, Sister Patrice did.

When we gleefully responded to the applause and calls for an encore, Sister Patrice stopped us before we could begin the second number. She pulled the curtain closed and told us in front of the whole school that we should be ashamed of what we had done. The compliments from students throughout the rest of the day and reassurances from my mom, did little to take away the sting of Sister Patrice’s harsh words.

In ninth grade I began to babysit. One of my regular customers was a family with two small children who lived across the street. Imagine my shock when during the Monsignor’s Sunday sermon, he called out this woman by name. He said she was damned, would burn in the fires of hell, because she had gotten divorced and was now remarried to a non-Catholic and no longer coming to church.

How could God, I wondered, allow someone to act and talk like that. Why would God have people as mean as the Monsignor and Sister Patrice teach in a school. I felt guilty for having such feelings but could not deny them.

Mother tells me I was very upset when we didn’t have the money for me to go to the Catholic high school. I’m sure it was that I’d be losing touch with all my friends. I had little faith left by that time.

Mom also told me that two weeks into public high school, I thanked her for not sending me to the Catholic high school. Now I could talk to all kinds of kids whether they were damned or not.

 

damned or not.

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On Being Played

We are being played. The citizens. The Congress. The press. The whole world. All that individual who resides in the White House has to do is call a press conference which is really just the next episode in a reality TV show. Or hold a rally which is really just a meeting with a hand-picked audience instructed to stand behind him and simulate energy and excitement. Or make an unannounced appearance on the White House lawn to decry the fact that he can’t appoint his daughter to a high post due to nepotism.

Holding court makes him feel powerful and popular. Encourages him to make another faux pa which he considers a profound declaration from a stable genius.  Why feed his narcissism and negative tendencies?  I have a solution. Or maybe it’s just a way to take back our own sanity.

What if the press banded together and sent only one representative and one camera to the so-called press room. What if when he walked out onto the west lawn of the White House he’d find one reporter and one camera. No more shouting of questions and answers.  One reporter can spread the story to all outlets. We’d still get the news.

Take when his top adviser on prison reform came to lunch in the oval office wearing a MAGA hat, spouting his own mental health history, spewing his unusual opinions on racism and his outright, unabashed love for the host. I was aghast at the number of reporters and other observers busily snapping their cameras and taking copious notes.

What if there had been one reporter and one camera there. Imagine what could be done if all the manpower now expended in covering his fake news were put into reporting in depth the issues behind that hyperbole. Maybe educating the populace on basic civics which is no longer taught in school. How many were reporting on the hurricane or the possible kidnapping and murder of a journalist that day?

Should this happen it would be a challenge for the White House interloper; he’d turn this around to someone else’s fault, probably the press or those mob democrats. My hope is that it might erode his oh so fragile confidence. He’d be frustrated that he’s no longer getting so much of the spotlight. He’d equate it to poor ratings and have deja vu dreams recalling the collapse of the Apprentice. Perhaps, like bullies at the playground who don’t get their way, he’d pack up his toys and go home. I can only dream.

The Phantom Librarian

“Someone’s been moving books around,” Dave said with a puzzled look. He went on to explain that a set of books he’d moved to the new non-fiction shelf had been put back in the old place. Then he continued, the children’s books he’d stood up for easy access had been closed and turned down.  “Why would someone do that,” he wondered.

I was equally puzzled and joked that we had a phantom librarian. What to do? I offered a solution. He could put up a sign on the library door that the library committee, though there hadn’t ever been one, was having a meeting, inviting anyone interested to come. This might flesh out the culprit.  We both said it was nice that someone wanted to help and that this way the person could have an assignment instead of undoing the work of others.

Last year, Dave had taken over managing the library in our building. First thing he did was clear out some of the old and tattered books. Pat who’d managed the library before him would never have done that. She’d kept absolutely everything and kept it in very specific order. Which was why she fired me as a volunteer. But that’s another story. Once Dave took over, I offered him my services to maintain the magazine table. We laughed about my dismissal and he accepted my offer with no unrealistic expectations.

The second thing he did was move the romance novels out of the library but into other book shelves throughout the building; he was nice enough to put up a sign so romance readers could find them.  Actually, he’d originally wanted to just get rid of them. That was until I convinced him we had many residents who really liked romance and mysteries.

But before we could call a library committee meeting, the mystery was solved. You know the urban myth that hair dressers know everything. Not so much a myth. I visit the in-house beauty shop once a month and always chatted with Myleen about what’s new in the building. And she always knows.  All it took was my comment about our dilemma of the books. Myleen grinned and spilled the beans.

Myleen takes her towels down to the laundry room very early in the morning which takes her past the library. She often sees the same resident in the library. Once she stopped to say hello and was regaled with a story of how much this resident was doing to keep the library in good shape.  According to Myleen, she made it sound like this was her job.

It was with great pleasure, the next time I saw Dave, to report that I knew who the phantom librarian was. Sad thing was that this resident has huge memory issues and our problem would not be solved with reason and cooperation.

Once I knew who it was, it seemed so obvious. Why hadn’t I guessed. This resident has been a problem since she moved in last year. She incessantly knocks on her neighbors’ doors, frantically asking if they have seen or heard the noises and people that only she hears and sees. She’s thrown something at our maintenance man when he came to fix an imaginary out of order item. She’s also accused him of stealing. He’s quite beside himself since she retells this story to anyone who will listen.

I have it from a reliable source (rumors run wild here) that she would turn off all the circuit breakers in her apartment and then call the health department to report that the landlord refused to turn on her air conditioning. When most planned social events happen in the dining room, she’ll stand at the entrance and look lost until some kind soul invites her in.

Some believe that her inadequate memory and poor me attitude is for show. I got nervous when a few weeks ago she began to call me by my name. If her memory is so bad why does she always know who I am. And does this mean one of these days she’ll be knocking on my door. And if her memory is so bad why does she constantly repeat the imaginary theft story.

I feel really bad for this woman. But not so bad that I engage with her. I know someday I may be like her and be as lonely as she seems to be. She’s a lesson in patience and understanding. Empathy too.

Back to the library issue. AlI I told Dave was that she had memory problems so we’d have to work around that. The other news was that her family was looking for another place, a higher level of care. Which she certainly needs. Rumor tells me her family has the money but are dragging their feet. So, we continue to make the best of things. Just last week, I found a pile of magazines in the waste basket. I pulled them out and put them back on the magazine table. It’s all we can do, I thought, while shaking my head in dismay.

 

 

 

 

We Made Another One

Angie and Vern were a colorful couple in their late eighties who I first got to know at the weekly dinner in my building.

I admired Vern and Angie. They were very active and I’d most often see them as they were returning from their daily outing: lunch and shopping. That’s how I became accustomed to their familiar greeting.

“Well, we made another one,” Vern would say in a jovial, sing-song fashion as they ambled down the hallway holding their plastic bags of groceries and left overs. And then we’d laugh about the grim alternatives. Hardly a day would pass that we didn’t exchange this affable refrain.

But as time passed, attendance at the weekly meal declined until the building administration canceled the dinner. Our hallway encounters dwindled. Then, I heard Vern had a car accident and gave up driving. Finally, Vern was hospitalized and died.

Angie grieved mightily and her own health declined.  It was sad to watch this vibrant woman fade. I lost track of Angie until one day I saw her at the mailboxes. She smiled and asked how I was. I wasn’t sure I should say it. What if this brings up sad memories or makes her feel bad. But I took the chance.

“Well, we made another one,“  I said in my best Vern-like style.  Angie’s silence was only for a few seconds. Then for a short moment I saw that old Angie spark as she repeated the refrain with a laugh and shake of the head.  Most things change but some things never do.

 

 

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