Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smoking Nuns and Cafeteria Jesus

St. Anthony Catholic School

"Hey, there’s a spot! We must’ve done something right along the way.”

“Yep. Karma. Maybe.”

Scoring a parking place right in front of the church was something we agreed seemed kind of tricky.  Years of religious conditioning rolled our rational thinking.
St. Anthony Catholic Church
It felt awkward lucking into it, like we didn’t deserve it, so we quickly jumped out of Karen’s car and scurried across the road toward our old elementary school before anyone could tell us otherwise. It was a hot, cloudless Sunday morning assuring me (somewhat) that no bolt of lightning would strike down the two of us irreverent middle-aged delinquents in flip-flops for sneaking into school.  
Especially if we serpentined.
Karen and I, a couple of 50-somethings who were notorious little trouble makers in our youth, just wanted to see our old elementary school again. St. Anthony Catholic School.
“I didn’t get picked to play Mary in the Christmas pageant. They chose Darlene. She had blonde sausage curls, straight A’s and was such a flippin’ saint all the time. Remember? The stable used to be right here in front of the convent..."
A news story about the St. Anthony pageant. T'was a big deal.
“I always had to wear my dad’s robe, my brother’s sandals and a hand towel on my head to be a shepherd. I think I even wore a beard one time. I was taller than everyone. I never got to be a girl in these things.”
“There were real animals though. I remember a donkey and a calf or something. Sheep too? I think I played an angel one time.”
“Did you hang by your waist from a tree like you were flying? I seem to remember…”
“Wasn’t me…”
“Everything seems so small now. It was huge when we were little. Even the Angelus Tower seems shorter now. We used to climb up there y'know. All the way to the top. Bill and John and me. Altar boys knew all the great secret passages…”
“Yeah, I heard they used to get the wine from the sacristy and drink it up there…”
“Well, I didn’t do that…I did, however, climb up to the school roof over the principal’s office once thinking I’d avoid getting busted for something or other. Found Sister J. there, her veil off, having a smoke. We promised that we wouldn’t snitch on each other for being on the roof. Or smoking. She had brown hair. It kind of marked me for life to see she actually had hair under her veil. Didn’t we think they were bald? I don’t think she stayed a nun…”
“No! Really?”
“Stack of bibles.”
Math class about '64 when Sr. M.T. tapped a stick while we recited times tables. 
The girl with her back to the camera probably had her nose stuck
 in a circle drawn on the blackboard.  Looks a little like Karen...
“Aww, damn, the gym’s locked. Remember the locker room under the bleachers and when we had to wear these special jumpers for P.E.? They made us look like powder blue pumpkins. Well, so did our regular uniforms as I recall.”
“It always smelled so funky in there.”
“Probably because there was no air conditioning.”
“Can you believe we had no A.C. in 90 degree heat when we were kids? I don’t know how we did it. Let alone the nuns. May explain some of their behavior…”
“No hard soled shoes on the basketball floor! God, they got mad when we wore our loafers out there on the shine. I could slide almost all the way across in my socks.”
“I loved that crazy stage where we put on plays. It had real curtains we could open and close…”
“You were always directing something, yes, I remember.” 
“Oh, I can picture the Christmas Fair here. My mom always ran the bazaar. We stuffed ourselves with cotton candy, candy apples, and hot dogs and then we barfed it all up on the rides later! It was weird to see the nuns and the priests out playing carnival games and just hanging around wasn’t it?”
“We’re walking around in a closed school on a Sunday…”
“What’ll they do if they catch us? Call our parents? We went here, we have permission!”
“Here’s a memory: On this very spot, right outside the cafeteria, I will never forget Jose the Janitor sprinkled his magic sawdust down where Terry puked after lunch.”
“I think Terry projectiled on a bunch of us in 1st grade too, during reading circle.”
"And right here they gathered in a clump.  A penguin convention.  All the nuns sent us home early that day in '63 when Kennedy was assassinated. Remember? They cried. Nuns crying. THAT was awkward."
“It’s a little spooky how much things haven’t changed isn’t it?  Will you just look at this cafeteria with the turquoise tiles and the columns that flair at the ceiling and the weird statue up there of Jesus watching over everyone eat?”

Cafeteria Jesus
“It’s Jesus as like maybe a 6 year old all decked out in a fancy-schmancy medieval robe and a crown, like he was aware of his special powers even as a kid…”
“It’s the same, yes. Wow.”
“I have a question. Your mom volunteered in the hot lunch line with my mom right?”
“Did she ever reveal how they could get the fruit salad  chunks to suspend in the jell-o? And, really, what was ‘meat sauce?’”
“Nope. They were sworn to secrecy on the jell-o and I believe meat sauce was also a proprietary recipe.”
“Hey, first grade classroom is open. The alphabet is still up on the wall. It looks the same. Oh, damn. I’m welling up. What the hell? I never wanted to leave first grade. I hung on to Sister S.P. like a spider monkey the last day.”

The uber-cool Sister S.P. when we were graduating 8th grade. We knew she had hair.
“Sister S.P. was the best nun ever. She was so cool.  She played kickball and ran the bases like a flippin’ gazelle.  Taught us how to make crayons last forever.  And to read.  Dick and Jane and Puff.”
"Brave too. She stomped one of the biggest scorpions I have ever seen. Didn't hesitate, just crushed it!"
“The old live oaks are still out on the playground too. I can see them out the first grade window like I did then. Man, did I daydream about recess in those days.  All around those trees.”
“Hey, where’s the bench that used to be outside the principal’s office?  I left my very own butt impression there and I am not happy they removed the thing!”
“The principal, Sister M. from 8th grade, was a tiny woman. Remember? She had to reach up to put her arm around my shoulders."
"She had a hard time catching me. Most of us were too fast for her."
 "She told me I had some ‘unusual views on things about which we will be having many serious discussions.’  Maybe my face-off with Darlene in a debate contest rang her bell a little, I don’t know. Topic was abortion. I kind of went all scientific on her head.”
“Well, someone had to debate the little angel.”
“C’mon.  I’ll show you where I kicked a hole in the wall and was made to clean the boy’s bathroom on a Saturday as a punishment…”
When the coast was clear, we snuck back out of St. Anthony even though it really wasn’t closed for Sunday with catechism classes in full session all around, as we sheepishly discovered.  We heard the Angelus Tower ringing the noon bell as we pulled away from our lucky parking space. It was intoning "Bye-bye, Bye-bye!"  It was a gorgeous sound, so familiarly solid and reliable and yet so far away.  Like a memory.
Later, we rode by Karen’s childhood home. She wanted to see the tree she climbed as a child and if the house had changed.  We followed the house numbers right up to where she remembered, and the house was gone. Only a vacant lot remained.
It was a shock. Especially since we had only just wrapped the solidity and timelessness of our elementary school around us like a warm reassuring blanket.
Growing up was inevitable and a hefty helping of unwelcome change came along with that. Every cell in our bodies has turned over seven times since we ate our hot lunches under the watchful eye of a well-dressed deity.
It’s all a mystery, what endures and what disappears.

We both know that the ghosts of two free spirits, one too tall to play an ingenue and the other elfin and quick,  will always roam those sacred spaces hand in hand plotting new shenanigans together in our dreams.

"Oh, Lenzen, that was sappy!"

"Yeah. So?"

1 comment:

  1. Hey you... I hope you had a great ThanksGiving!!! How are things in your world??



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