Toad in the Hole

November 22, 2005

Why: Learning Experiences

A reply from PZ at Phayngula to a reply to one of his posts from me (Got that?):

#49860: PZ Myers — 11/19 at 10:24 PM
Ummm, atheist here. Guess who's quite familiar with gritting his teeth and smiling?

I wouldn’t play at one-upmanship with a promising young guy like PZ, but if I did, I’d be telling him that I was a girl in Catholic school for years before he was an atheist, even if he was born that way. (Insert cackling and creaking of rockingchair.)

Make no mistake: I was a devout young kid. I loved the way church made me feel; I honestly felt lighter, that walking-on-air cliché, after a Saturday trip to the confessional, even if I did have to invent sins on principle sometimes. I studiously followed the Latin in the missal Grammy Adams gave me, all through every Mass. Singing (in the shower) or even remembering some of those hymns and Masses we sang still makes me high. First Communion was a great big deal, though I must allow that my chief memory of the day was my first taste of raw scallion dipped in salt, a grownup treat, at the party my parents threw afterward. That was, between one thing and another, the year I became an adventurous eater.

But mostly that was the year those Waitaminnit moments started happening in school. Maybe it was because we’d reached the Age of Reason, seven, when the Church starts holding you accountable for your sins (including mortal – none of that juvenile-penalties stuff for them) or maybe it was that for the first time, school was all day instead of half a day. In first grade, Sister Jean (pronounced zhohn) Marie managed to teach us all to read and write, or at least print, and all the usual stuff plus elementary French just for fun, in a half-day shift because hey, it was the Baby Boom and things got crowded sometimes. In second grade, suddenly things weren’t so much fun. There was more emphasis on sitting with our knees together – just the girls, of course – and walking in line and being silent when told to. Oh yeah, and reading "with expression." When we took turns reading those stupid readers aloud, we were supposed to "read with expression." I had never in my short life heard anyone talk that way, "Oh! Oh! Oh!" – and had no clue what sort of "expression" was expected.

Sister Eleanor Marie, unlike Sister Jean Marie, called me "Veronica" instead of "Ronnie." I found it unsettling. If I got Veronica’d at home it meant I was in deep shit. And in hindsight, I figure Sister Eleanor Marie just plain disliked me. She provided me with that Waitaminnit the day she decided to do Desk Inspection.

We had desks that year that were separate chairs and tables with little shelves under the tabletops for books. Mine was a mess. I had to cram books plus Kleenex plus a bag for used Kleenex (those allergies) and, oh, pencils and crayons and all that stuff into this cramped space, and I’m not exactly of a Zen aesthetic by nature anyway. Maybe she gave us a chance to clean up and I was absorbed in reading something, I forget. But my desk was a mess inside. I knew where things were, but it wasn’t neat. She didn’t just inspect our desks; she made us show them for everyone to see. And of course when she got to mine, she wasn’t pleased. She made me back away – I think I was even making a pitiful attempt at hiding the mess – and told me and the hooting class that "The state of your desk is the state of your soul!!"

Deep in my head, that little voice said, "Wait. That’s not right." I knew I was in better shape than that. And I knew, though it took me days to get the words around it, that she’d done me wrong with that lie and that ridicule.

Somewhere in that year, along with the intensive prep for First Communion and First Confession (which happened the afternoon before, just to be on the safe side I guess) I read "The Night People vs. Creeping Meatballism" too, remember. I suspect the first seeds of subversion were planted that year in my till-then-innocent soul.

And I learned to grit my teeth, and even smile when necessary (and when it was absolutely necessary to not smile, necessary instead to look duly chastened) and be silent. Be silent in all subjection, I suppose.


Posted at November 22, 2005 06:26 AM

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