I grew up in a strict Catholic home during the mid to late fifties, with three older brothers, an older sister, and a younger sister. We attended the Catholic School across the street from our house. My mother, like all good mothers, was involved in the church and school, and knew the teachers and nuns well. Our next door neighbor, and Mom’s best friend, Rose, often drove the nuns to the store, bank, or ran errands for them. Naturally, she knew a lot of what was going on at the school, much more than my mother did.
Two of my older brothers were notorious for getting into trouble, always playing silly immature pranks. It wasn’t unusual for them to receive a swat with a ruler. Back then, corporal punishment was the normal manner of discipline in school.
Our mother didn’t put up with disrespect or monkeyshines at home let alone in school. We were there to learn, and we had darn well better pay attention. So when she found out someone had gotten into trouble, and she always did, they paid for it at home, also. We used to think she had eyes in the back of her head. Later we learned most of her information came directly from the nuns or teachers themselves, and sometimes from Rose.
We all knew if we misbehaved, it wouldn’t take long for her to find out. I tried to stay out of trouble - besides, it wasn’t in my nature to act up – at least not much. My brothers did plenty of that, and I didn’t want to suffer the repercussions. Not that I was a perfect child, far from it, I got my share of spankings, but in school I tried to do what was expected of me. Maybe because of a lesson I learned early on.
My dilemma began in the first grade. My teacher, Sister Roseanne, was a young and pretty nun. Everyone loved her. Besides, she bore the same name as me, which made her extra special. I loved school and every morning I willingly followed my brothers and sister.
Except for one day.
That day my sister, Mary, didn’t have to go to school. She had to stay home and baby-sit our younger sister. Not that this was normal, but whoever was supposed to watch Gloria couldn’t do it and my mom couldn't cancel her appointment. At any rate, I wanted to stay home, too. Naturally, she said no. I was angry and upset.
So upset, in fact, I didn’t even kiss my mother good-bye that morning, and off I went pouting, mumbling and grumbling about how unfair it was. My brothers laughed and teased me on the way to school, which didn’t help the situation.
I’d never left without kissing my mother before, so, by time I got to school, I felt so bad that I sat at my desk and cried. Every time Sister Roseanne asked what was wrong, I cried harder and refused to answer. Feeling worse by the minute my tears soon turned into sobs. I couldn’t even do my work.
Finally, at wits end, Sister spanked me for being insolent. This, of course, made me cry harder, and my little heart was crushed. My beautiful teacher, who bore my name, spanked me.
Since I still wouldn’t stop crying, she sent me for Mary, hoping, I guess, to find out what made me so upset. By this time, I’d forgotten Mary stayed home. I stood outside her classroom, tears streaming down my face and knocked on the door. Sister Mary Francis answered my knock.
“Sister Roseanne wants to see Mary,” I said, choking back sobs,.
“Mary isn’t in school today.” Sister Mary Francis gave me a quizzical look. “Is she sick?”
“Oh, that’s right,” I wiped my tears, “I forgot she had to stay home to watch Gloria.”
“Oh and why is that?”
“Because my mama went to buy a cow.” I answered and hurried back to my classroom, for some reason the tears forgotten. I made it through the rest of the day dry eyed, but I couldn’t wait to get home to give my mother a kiss and hug.
Later that day, I sat outside the window as Rose and Mom talked. I was worried, sure that Rose knew about the spanking. Of course, I hadn’t told my mother, I didn’t want her to know.
“Wait until you hear the story Sister Mary Francis told me.” Rose told my mother. “She said Rosi came to her classroom looking for Mary and told her the most fantastic tale. She could hardly stop laughing. Rosi told her that Mary was babysitting because you went to buy a cow.”
I held my breath, listening and waiting for her to get the part about the spanking as she told the story.
“But, Sister, I told her." Rose continued. "It was true. Her mother did go to buy a cow. They just purchased a freezer so she went to buy a side of beef. Julia, you should have seen the look on her face as the reality of it made sense, it was priceless.”
I let out a sigh of relieve when my mother laughed. She never did ask why I went to Mary’s classroom. Maybe she already knew and thought I had been punished enough. I never got in trouble or spanked in school again.