Having barely survived my first six months of Catholic school, I began to beg my parents not to send me back.
“I’ve been rescued!” I pleaded.
“Saved” my brother whispered.
“Erin, you had a note sent home every other day describing your sin du jour. You tormented the nuns, asked Monsignor if he became a priest because of his bad skin, made fun of a poor woman with the serious leg...” my mother paused.
“Salami legs? I think that is the proper medical term, Mom.”
My father laughed.
“Fran! Don’t encourage her! She’s never going to get out of school!”
“Mom! They aren’t teaching us anything. We are like sheep! Bleat, bleat, bleat!”
“Enough” my father says. “You are going and that’s that. Plus your bleating could use a little work.”
I stomped off to my room and called Lisa.
“They’re making me go back.”
Lisa didn’t even pretend to feel bad for me.
“Thank God! I can’t believe you wanted to leave me alone with those nuns! We only have one week left until summer. I think you’ll survive. Plus we have our yearly field trip. You don’t want to miss that!”
Yearly field trip, yearly, Garden School had monthly trips. Granted they were either to the library to practice the Dewey decimal system or to the Peabody Museum. Neither place interested me in the least but I could always find something to get into. The big trip Lisa was so pumped up about was to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Old Sturbridge Village, according to an oddly excited Sr. Josephine, was a “must see”.
I had no idea what to expect other than the humiliation I was confident I would suffer being seen in public, in my uniform, with nuns.
Of course I had to ride in the window seat next to Sr. Josephine. Lisa sat behind me so we could sneak chat while the old bag dozed.
After a seeming eternity, we arrived. “One of the countries largest living museums” the sign read.
“Sister, you didn’t tell us we were visiting your family.”
“You get out of line today and you’ll spend the rest of the day on the bus. Do you understand me?”
“And miss all the fun? Not a chance.”
Lisa pinched me from behind.
People dressed in costume from the late 1700's through early 1800's, running wood mills, blacksmith shops, and spoke some weird form of English, was the big attractions, at least that is what I was told by my Old Sturbridge Village weary classmates as the arrived back to the bus.
I had gotten off the bus, briefly. I was able to visit the first building, a home of some poor sucker who had to cook over a fire, sew all there own clothes, had no t.v. or telephone, and had to wear a ton of clothes no matter how hot it was. I tried not to ask any questions. I knew that always got me in trouble. There were cups, forks, shoes, pots and pans.
Then I saw it.
“Excuse me, what is this?”
“Good question! That is a lice comb.”
The whole class reacted with disgust. The woman explained that lice and parasites were common and difficult to treat, not like today with a trip to the pharmacy. Without thinking I picked the comb up and attempted to comb Alexis Lake’s hair. She could have had lice. She had bad breath, they could have gone hand in hand, I was no doctor.
“Sister, she touched me with that comb!” she shrieked.
Sister Josephine was all over me.
“I warned you!”
“Sister, I think you are over reacting. If Alexis doesn’t have lice no harm done. If, in fact, she does, as I suspect, I’m doing her a favor."
I knew that was going to be the final straw but I also knew this was not the kind of place for me. Sister Josephine dragged me by my arm back to the bus, where I remained, in sweltering heat, for the next four hours. When the trip was over not a single classmate pointed out how I had missed all the fun. They all looked as if they had spent the afternoon grave digging. Lisa sat down behind me and spoke through the crack between the seats.
I didn’t doubt that for a second.
My four hours had been well spent switching everyone’s lunches. I made sure Sister Josephine got Dickie Berry’s pimento loaf sandwich. That kid was due to catch a break. Everyone opened their lunches as we drove home. Most seemed temporarily confused but no one said anything, their spirits broken; except Lisa, who said “thanks”. I made sure she got Patricia Zeweski’s cupcakes. Patricia was looking a little chubby these days. She’d thank me if she knew. I was always thinking of someone else, such a giver.