Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Protestant In Sister Francis' School

Virgie's writings about the school she attended made me think of this column I wrote awhile back when I was working as a newspaper editor. The nuns who taught us were kind and loving, but that doesn't make for good copy. So, I had to change it up a bit. Don't worry ... I've gone to confession!

When one of my friends found out I was writing a column, it was the Battle of the Alamo all over again. She was full of ideas for topics, and telling her she couldn't help me was like telling Elizabeth Taylor she can order only one wedding cake at a time.

"After all," she reminded me. "We've been through a lot together."

She didn't have to remind me.

My friend, Charlene, and I have known one another since the second grade when she beat the tar out of me and then made me kiss her. She was new to our Catholic school, and when Sister Josita presented her to the class, she added in a whisper that Charlene was a Protestant.

The class murmured apprehensively, and we looked at her as if she had sprouted an extra head. Oh my. A Protestant. I had heard of them, but as far as I knew, I had never been this close to one, much less spoken to a member of that much-discussed group. My grandma made sure of that. One of her cousins' brother-in-law's aunt dated one, and Grandma said she died insane. There are just some things God can't overlook, Grandma warned.

"Now, children," Sister Josita said. "Charlene is no different than any of you, and I'm sure we'll all do our best to make her feel welcome."

Uh huh, I thought. That's probably what the Central High teachers said about the Little Rock Nine.

Charlene was placed in the seat next to me, and I looked at her closely to see if there were any identifying marks indigenous to her group. A Protestant. Hmmm. Maybe she'd bring a meat sandwich to school on Friday, and I could relieve her of it. Remember, this was before Vatican II. Fridays were meatless then, and the nuns were plain hell.

At recess, I sauntered up to Charlene who was standing alone, the Catholic girls in their white knee socks and plaid skirts discussing her from a distance. Mary Margaret, the leader of the first- and second-grade girls, had forbidden her army of pious monsters to talk to Charlene.

After Charlene knocked me to the ground and established the pecking order, we were friends, walking the perimeter of the playground under the snake-like eyes of Sister Francis, the principal, whose only purpose on earth was to keep me from becoming a convicted felon before I reached the age of 10.

Those are her words. She once had me write on the blackboard 100 times, "I am solely responsible for the agony of Christ." And she had me believing it until I met Charlene, who was way ahead of the game.

Charlene was more sophisticated than anyone I had known, including Earl Ray Vandiver who was 14 and in the second grade. He was another one of Sister Francis' projects, and she predicted he and I would be roommates in hell.

Anyway, by the time recess was over, Charlene had taught me a few new words whose meanings were a mystery to me. But then Mass was in Latin, and that was a mystery, too. Maybe Charlene knew some advanced Latin, I reasoned.

The words had a melodious sound, and I wasted no time in scribbling them on the blackboard at the first opportunity. They looked grand in cursive.

When Sister Josita's color returned to her face, she hauled me off to Sister Francis' office, elaborating on all the things she would do to me if only the law would allow it. I knew then I had some means with which to attract attention, and I was off.

I haven't stopped writing since, although I refrain from using words whose meanings I don't know. I suppose that limits my vocabulary considerably.

So, I owe my career and the poverty that has accompanied it to Charlene, who from time to time has guaranteed my life would never be boring, safe or painless.

Sister Francis would be proud.

1 comment:

De'on Miller said...

Go Charlene! lol!