As I stood before my parents, I resisted the urge to collapse into a blubbering pile of jelly. Summoned minutes ago to the living room by my mother, I knew something important was going down.
How else to explain my being in front of the television when the football game was on?
Oh, right. Halftime.
“Your father and I have something important to discuss with you,” my mother began.
I knew it, I just knew it! Somebody had died. Or we were moving. Or we’d have to sell my little brother for milk and cigarettes.
She continued, my father a mute statue with half an eye fixed on the halftime report, “Your great-grandmother has offered to help pay for you and your sister to go to private school. So....”
Oh, I didn’t like where this was going.
“Wouldn’t you like to go to that brand new Catholic school across the street or,” her voice lowered ominously as she peered at me from above the top of her cat-eye glasses, “would you rather stay in that old, dirty public school you’re in?”
Hey, a choice! I didn’t even get that at breakfast. “I’d rather stay at my old school!” I happily chirped.
Mom’s head snapped back in surprise. She fixed me with a searing glare and snapped, “You’re going to Holy Name!”
And that’s how I was drafted into “Penguin Academy.”
Unlike nowadays, when the only prerequisite for a parochial education is a checking account and the ability to spell “God” with less than two errors, getting into Catholic school in the 60s was a pretty selective process.
First, you had to swear on pain of death to the appropriately solemn Monsignor (who invariably had an Irish accent, even if he was Polish) that you were a member in good standing with the “Holy Mother Church” and not one of those “heathen Godless Protestants.”
Then, you had to promise you’d be faithful to the church’s teachings on contraception, meat on Fridays, Bingo tithings, and premarital sex (although, at seven, that whole nugget was a bit vague).
Following an essay exam on Vatican Council II (presumably, the sequel to Vatican I) and a critical review of “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” my sister and I were welcomed to Holy Name of Jesus School.
As soon as the check cleared.
I must say that, despite developing an inordinate fear of wooden rulers, I received an outstanding education at the hands of the good sisters from the order of Saints Cecil, Beanie, and a Dog Named Boo.
By the time I graduated, I knew how to write a five paragraph essay, pinpoint each state capital, and explain the difference between a mortal and a venial sin.
However, that’s not to say my seven years were without their share of bumps along the road.
Next: France is Falling