Sr. Kathleen Marie was the first real heartthrob of my life, after Mom, of course. I was smitten by the tall, thin, young blonde Irish nun and began festooning the top of my assignment sheets with cartoon ‘gifts’ such as hearts, flowers and coins. About the third time she firmly ran them through with a red-pen ‘X’. Welcome to first grade, fella.
She also tried to pull me over on a couple of other quirks that would indicate the psychological direction I was taking in life. My insecurity required attention and I was forever either cutting up in class or acting like the Frankenstein Monster on the schoolyard. I also took to putting together makeshift Monsters for show-and-tell. When I took to talking to them instead of classmates at recess, Sister Kathleen squashed that routine as well. Eventually I fell in line, yet continued to lose my place by following the lead of my first boyhood chum, Edward Colander.
Ed was a tall skinny kid who bore a striking resemblance to Alfalfa of the Little Rascals. He was a real dork and a prankster who was forever getting me in trouble though I was only six months younger than he. His Dad was a big doofus who I suspect was much smarter than he let on but got no respect from his peers in the ‘hood, my Dad included. His Mom, Mary, was a street-wise peasant with a loud mouth who had an earthy sensuous quality about her, like many Italian women in the neighborhood. His brother was an endearing little kid whose world somehow went sideways, resulting in a pre-pube drug addiction which turned him into the local laughing-stock and whipping boy known as Dilapidated Joe.
Ed was forever looking for a prank and scheme to pull off, and more often than not I was either his cohort or target as the case might be. As I had a proclivity for channeling at even that tender age, I was imitating Ed at home and school, which aggravated Mom and Sister Kathleen no end. So it was no surprise to anyone but me that, at school’s end, we were split up as Ed was assigned to class 2-2. I got 2-1 and the trauma of my young life under Sister Rose.
Sr. Rose Marion was a wizened, hunched-over battleaxe of a woman who was the first of the SPS ‘serial killers’ I had the misfortune of serving time under. Obviously Sister Kathleen saw the need to split Ed and me up, yet in doing so I was cast into the lake of fire, in which Sister Rose was the chief demon. Her favorite tactic was slapping one’s face with both hands, which made the double-slam worse as the jaw could not recoil. All in all, she wasn’t as bad as some, including Mrs. O’Shaughnessy in fourth grade, who would take students in the hall and bounce them like ping-pong balls off the wood-finished walls; or Sister Mary Vincent in sixth grade, who would beat your outstretched palms with a thick ruler; or Sister Elizabeth Marie in seventh grade, who used the boys’ neckties like dog leashes. These frustrated women had no qualms whatsoever in subjecting victims to vicious tongue-lashings as they saw fit, and the daily ordeals were often as psychologically punishing as physical.
My own psyche was so delicate through these tender years that my greatest dread was not of the nuns, but of what would happen if word got home. Just as at school, there was not as much physical punishment as psychological, and I had fearful reactions to the thought of being masticated by my parents. There was a psychological dissonance created by this perfect self-image my Mom reinforced, conflicting with the fact I was trapped in this scrawny body and tormented by a spirit of rebellion that made me a chronic underachiever. Throughout the years, Manny chalked it up to a lack of discipline. I realized over the decades that it was his negligence in stepping in as a role model and a patient, loving voice of reason. We never really did discuss it, however; the damage was done and it did no good to open old wounds that had finally healed in time.
(To Be Continued...)