Jim Freim. Ph.D.
© Copyright 2015, James Freim, All Rights Reserved
No part of this document may be reproduced without the permission of the author.
From grades K through 5, I was required to attend St Peter’s catholic school in Roswell, New Mexico. This was the mid 1950’s (okay now, don’t try to figure out how old I am! :-)) The town, in the southeast part of the state, is definitely not God’s little acre. A lot of flat dusty nothing even though 26,000 folks called it home. I think the main activity was watching traffic at the corner of US highways 285 and 390. In 1941 the town got a shot in the arm when Walker Air Force Base was built south of town. My Dad was transferred there shortly after the infamous 1947 UFO incident. Everyone on base had a newspaper clipping about the discover of an alien body, later retracted by the military.
St Peter’s was three miles north of the base gate on what is still called the base highway. The church fronted the road. The school hidden behind, was an old red brick building that housed all grades, K through 12. One room and one nun for each grade. If you didn’t like your nun, too bad. She taught all the courses and you were stuck with her for 5 days a week for an entire school year. They were upright, uptight, strict penguins. No talking, no screwing off. Pay attention or else. (Names have changed to protect the guilty! :-))
Sister Mary, 4th grade, walked the room, back and forth like a sentry, lecturing about what she had written on the board. She carried a very sturdy wooden ruler – must have been a special nun edition. Extra thick so the ruler did not break when used for smacking.
“Answer the question.” Whack on the knuckles.
“Sit up straight.” Smack on the back.
Heavy tap on the head, “What are you doing, James?”
“Nothing,” I said although I was wondering about the next episode of Crusader Rabbit and when my decoder ring would arrive. (You can goggle that if you need to!)
Sister Ann, our roly poly 5th grade nun, threw erasers. Fast balls, curve balls, but luckily no spit balls! She could have pitched for the Yankees. Just ask Sam, who was hit and he sat in the last row of that long classroom. In the middle of your day dreaming, deep in the midst of plotting 5th grade evil deeds, bonk, whap, bop. You were completely unaware until the heaved missile hit you, usually on the top of the head since you were looking down rather than in the required full upright position. Rarely did she miss.
To add insult to your throbbing head, you were required to pick up the eraser, walk up to a scowling Sister Ann, and place that instrument of torture back in her hand.
“Put away your math books and get out your English books.” More rote, rote, rote.
Perhaps I’m trying to forget the incident, but I can’t remember what the hell I did to get sent to the principal’s office. “James, come up here!”
“Me? I didn’t did anything.”
“Up here, NOW!” she shouted. Sister Ann sat down at her desk and opened the feared top left drawer. She took out the yellow pad and started to scribble.
I decided that having an apostle’s name in a Catholic school was a detriment. I think I was being held to a higher standard that a Brad or my bud, Les. I walked up and held out my hand. She slapped my hand with the ticket to hell.
“Is it a venial or mortal sin to get sent to the principal’s office?” I asked.
Sister Ann did not smile, but I heard a few giggles from the classroom. She just held out left arm and wiggled her index finger at the door. “Go. Don’t deviate. Now.” And when I didn’t move fast enough, the wiggling got serious.
At least the walk down the hall was pleasant. No one was out. If you cut a fart, no one would hear. Now, I didn’t say that I cut a fart. But if you did, no one would have heard it. 🙂 I smiled to myself since there was no one else to smile with me. I meandered. I was contemplating jumping ship when the door to the principal’s office loomed before me.
I tentatively opened the door and peeked inside.
The assistant nun principal, peered over her glasses, “What do you want? Are you sick?”
I waved the yellow slip.
“Oh,” she said with a inflection of doom. “Sit in that chair.” And she pointed with a out stretched arm. “The principal will be back shortly.”
Oh great, I thought. Hopefully she’ll get stuck in the toilet and be incapacitated.
The assistant principal watched while I slowly lowered myself onto the chair. She crossed her arms and somehow simultaneously bobbed and shook her head as if to say you’ll get what’s coming to you. Apparently satisfied that I had sat correctly, she started typing and uttered something I couldn’t understand.
A long eternity passed. I couldn’t decide whether to run for it, go into exile, or hitchhike to Kansas. I mean I was an adorable eleven year old with no previous record and people would stop to ….
The door squeaked opened and the room darkened as someone blocked the light. It was her!
Now, Sister Ann was a very thin version of ‘The Principal.’ No one cared or knew the new principal’s real name. She was just known as the ‘Butcher.’
She scowled immediately. “What are you here for?”
I waved the yellow slip.
She snatched the slip and said, “Go into my office.” She pointed.
I lead. She followed.
“Sit down,” she pointed to a chair. I wondered if they taught that pointing thing at nun school. Just like I had to get a A in penmanship, nuns had to get a A in pointing.
I slunk into the large oak chair.
The Butcher gathered up her yards of black frock and sat down. I pitied the chair seeing that ass coming. The chair legs creaked and groaned under load. I covered my smile.
“What’s funny?” she asked.
“Nothing, just yawning,” I lied.
She read the yellow slip and then starred a hole into me. “From what I heard about you, you should have been here long ago. Just because you get good grades, doesn’t mean you can disobey.”
I didn’t know if I was suppose to answer, so I kept my mouth shut. I felt very small and hoped I was shrinking in place.
“Do you understand?”
I didn’t answer. What was there to understand?
She raised her voice, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?’”
“Do you? Speak up?”
It was a whisper, but an answer, “Yes.” But actually, I had no clue what I had done.
The Butcher stood up and took off that rope thingy they wore around their waists. Man that was a lot of rope! She folded it in half.
My eyes widened. What the hell?
She folded it again and gave it a little swing.
My eyes bugged out. Suddenly I realized what she was going …
“Stand up and turn around, “ she commanded.
I rose slowly.
“Hurry up! Turn around!”
I turned except for my head so I could see what she was doing.
She swung that rope hard and pummeled my back and lashed my legs.
I refused to cry.
I don’t know how many times she hit me, but with the first lash, I was done being Catholic. Seems I remember Jesus saving some beggars or other poor souls who were being beaten. Now I’m getting the crap beat out of me by one his reps.
“Don’t ever let me see you in here again,” her famous last words as she started looping that rope around her waist.
As I left the room, I mumbled, “The Catholic church can go to hell.”