Sunday, August 13, 2006

Of Nuns, Guns, and Freedom Runs

Along with the wanton, impudent betrayal of my 'great potential,' I was always regarded by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a 'deportment' problem in grammar school. To shreve me of my sins, and to motivate me to work harder in school, the nuns of St. Mark's school kept me after school regularly--that is, virtually every day--during the course of my Sixth Grade year. By my birthday, near the end of April, I was already in possession of the Diocessan Detention Award, having been detained after class for affronts--real and imagined--to school order every day since the beginning of the second semester.

So it was that, on my birthday that year (1957, iirc), Sister Mary Hand-Grenade was dragging me by the ear (I kid NOT) across the school parking lot from the school to the convent where a special room was set up with portable greenboards, on which it was my perpetual penance to inscribe countless repetitions of the times tables (to 25), and endless repetitions of the 10 Commandments.

I had been making that wretched trip since September, but on this day, I rebelled: With a quick jerk of my head, I shook free from the Sister's grasping claw, and made a break for it!

It took Sister a second to recover her wits; the nuns never contemplated resistance. By the time reality had sunk in, I had a pretty goood start. I was quite quick of foot in my youth, and with the start I had, both she and I knew she was NEVER gonna catch me. (That she need only telephone my parents would have occurred to her; but my father was at work in the City, and my mother was, I was certain, away from the house playing bridge, drinking sherry, and planning good deeds with her sorority sisters in their charitable efforts. I was free, at least til dinner.)

I was almost skylarking. I heard her harpy's caw: "Boy! BOY! COME BACK HERE, BOY!!!" I looked back and saw her coming at her best pace, striding and stamping across the parking lot, her black habit flapping, the crucifix on the rosary around her waste glinting in the sun. I felt like dancing a jig in utter disrespect.

But then I heard her hollering out to the 'big' guys--the Eighth Graders--playing basketball in back of the school. Shoutring orders at them, she sicced them on me and with orers to return me to her care. The jumped to their assignment with what was, in my eyes, unseemly alacrity. Still, I also had a couple of jumps on them, and so I kicked it into lower gear and jetted homeward.

It was a race in which I was pretty confident I had the advantage, since 1) I was quick and fast and knew where I was going, and 2) they pretty much had to follow me and overtake me if they could. I was about 30-50 yards ahead of 'em when I got to my block. They were just coming up the street, determined to return me to school, when I hit the front porch and bolted into the house.

Being a 'latch-key kid', I knew all the secrets of the place, and especially I knew where my dad kept a loaded .45cal revolver. By then I knew I was in trouble, but I was utterly and irremediably determined that I was not going to go back to that school that day. I dashed through the house, up to my parents' bedroom, and yanked open the bureau drawer where, among his socks, I knew my Dad kept the gun. Seizing it, I ran down stairs and got to the door, pistol in hand--but hand out of sight--as the Eighth Grade came up the steps and onto the porch. They clamored and demanded I come out. "Sister wants you back at school!" the biggest of them declared, menacingly. "If you don't come out, we'll come in after you!" When I refused, they started to reach for the door...

Which was when I raised the pistol and cocked the trigger.

Everything stopped, arrested in time.

It was a big gun.
It was in plain sight.
I had it in my hand and I was pointing it skyward...
And there was a movement and ...
And the gun kinda ...


The roar of that old hogleg in the tiny vestibule of the house was tremendous, a stupendous, enormous, incredible, thunderous, deafening BOOM. Acrid smoke filled the space. The bullet splintered the door jamb overhead...and when I looked again at the door, the Eighth Grade had vanished, scattered like a covey of quail. I took the gun back where I had found it, and awaited the return of my parents.

When the Mother Superior of the convent called that night to apprise my parents of the dreadful details surrounding the incident, everyone was (I gather) outraged, both at my departure from detention, but moreso at the means of my defense of that decision. There was talk, (I gather) of police, and of sending me to the juvenile delinquency home.

I received a severe 'whuppin' for that stunt. And I went back to school a few days later.

But I never spent another day's detention in that school that year, or ever. And the Eighth Grade avoided me as though I were contagious. We moved into a new parish the next year.


LittleBrother said...

Great story! I can perhaps relate to it because in some respects I had similar experiences-- not that I aspired to your level of bold rebellion.

My transgressions were limited to "D"s in "Self-Control"; I never could resist sharing witty thoughts. And my parents were summoned to the convent when I was in 7th or 8th grade, on the grounds that I was fraternizing too readily with the "wrong element", and squandering my God-given intellect instead of Achieving My Potential.

Which has pretty much been the story of my life.

Ah, the good old days. It wouldn't have gone down the same way these days, alas! At least one of the 8th Grader Posse would surely have been packing heat, and your ambiguous warning shot would've precipitated a scene reminiscent of the climax of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". (I'm glad you survived to tell the tale.)

PS: I presume that the photo accompanying this essay isn't of the actual Belles of Saint Mark; please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, as it happens, I had an aunt who was a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur; the habits worn by your gun-totin' nuns, if not actually Notre Dame sisters, are very similar. And the nun on the far right very much resembles my long-deceased aunt. I blew my siblings' minds when I shared the image; thanks.

charley said...

your fuck'n nuts.

well, i punched the principal square in the jaw.

long time ago, think it had something to do with that ear pulling behavior you mentioned.

thanx for the story.

Anonymous said...

Consider yourself adopted. My own kid got kicked out of Montesorri school, which is supposed to be impossible. The precipitating event was forcibly removing a leg from a table ..

from Ruth

Mr.Murder said...

You didn't get a Chuck Connors poster?
Youth for Goldwater didn't recruit you?
Charleton Heston's autograph was not given to you? You didn't sign his name in the air with the pistol barrel like Ronnie Raygun would have done?

At least they straightened out your bad aim in 'Nam. That war served an important purpose.

Ripley said...

That is, without a doubt, the best fucking story I've read in a long, long time. Whooo, man!

Thanks for the laugh, WGG.

kelley b. said...

I limited myself to spitting green hockers on my princpal's back- and letting him walk away.

Also, he used to park underneath the boy's bathroom. You would be amazed at what a mess wet toilet paper can make on a car on a hot spring Tennessee day when you drop it from three stories in the air.

Another principal jerk used to stand at the bottom of the school stairwell so he could look up and see underneath the little girl's skirts. This being a public school in the South in the early '60s, he could get away with suspending girls who wore pants.

He stopped this activity when water ballons were dropped from three stories down the center of the stairwell on his face.

My motto was (and still is) Abbie Hoffman's quote: "The first duty of a good revolutionary is not to get caught. The second is a good breakfast..."

Fortunately there was a little more solidarity in my class.

Anne Johnson said...

My dad didn't have a gun, but once when the 8th grade bullies ganged up on me and prepared to deliver me a whoopin', my dog got betwixt me and them and started doing a superb imitation of a pathologically pissed-off psycho wolf.

Nobody ever bothered me after that. And my sweet puppy went with me everywhere. I do miss that mutt. His name was Wolfy.

Sarah Deere said...

WGG, this is a wonderful story. I adore you.


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