Friday, April 10, 2015

Knumb Knees

We’re just past another holiday weekend; Passover for some and Easter for others.

As I’ve said before, I’m not much on religion, of any kind, these days, but my background and schooling drops me into the latter, Easter category.

I attended Catholic schools right through 12th grade, so I should be pretty well versed on all of the religious and historical associations connected with it.

And I am…and I respect all of that…but when I was just a kid, living in the land of single digits, it was hard to relate to most of it without the fear and confusion instilled in me by a dozen nuns, cloaked in mysterious garb, possessed with the uncanny ability to see through the back of their habit hidden heads.

Anyway, my first encounter with the truly religious, non-bunny,  traditions of Easter came at the age of 6, when on the first Friday afternoon of Lent—a time I came to dread, due to the fact I was instructed I had to give up something I truly enjoyed…like milk.  Yeah…my mom didn’t buy it, either—my entire class was told to line up in the hallway outside our old first grade class room, and subsequently marched down the hall into another, newer building, with shinier floors and nicer doors. There we encountered our 1st grade counterparts; the ones we surmised, though dressed the same, were somehow "different" and therefore kept in another building, far away, so we wouldn’t pick up any of their bad habits.

There we stood, studying all those strange faces, avoiding eye contact, as best we could, until, acceptably aligned, we were again marched—we did a lot of marching, back then…minus the bands—out the building and onto the sidewalk, where the scuttlebutt, passed from the back, had us being auctioned off to the public school down the street. 

Happily, as it turned out, that was just a nasty rumor started by one of the more unmanageable, yet imaginative, kids, which I came up with…uh, I mean, he came up with, while counting squirrels.

No…instead we were being marched over to the church, which, while a nice break from routine and literally a breath of fresh air, was always something to be concerned about, because…well…because you were never really sure what was going to take place in there.

And what was taking place in there, this time, was the Stations of the Cross, a solemn ceremony, which I’m not here to make light of…mostly because I’ve learned my lesson…but to describe from the perspective of a 6 year old, first grader, who liked to count squirrels.

And that perspective was one of awe and reverence due to the fact that I finally figured out what all those nicely sculptured, yet scary scenes encircling the walls of the church were about. 

Plus there was a lot of smoke and audience participation, which included a lot of standing and kneeling…standing and kneeling… standing and kneeling…and did I mention the standing and kneeling…for what seemed like least when you’re six, craving a Ring Ding, or anything chocolate, which you haven’t been allowed to even look at, for weeks.

Believe me, when the procession got to the end of the aisle and made the turn to head back down, there was an audible sigh of relief, at least in my head, which possibly could have come from Sister Helen, sitting behind me, who may or may not have been reacting to my legitimate observation that my knees were numb and in danger of locking in place, if this went on much longer.

I say that was a possibility because it was followed by a flick to the back of my head, plus Sister Helen’s specialty, the pulling of the exact two hairs that were connected to every single nerve in my body, followed by a whisper that if the Lord could die for my sins, the least I could do was kneel a “few” times in church…which made me feel bad, and a little apprehensive, because the last thing I wanted was to get on the wrong side of the Lord…especially since I wasn’t entirely sure if we had cleared up that squirrel counting thing….

Luckily, in the end, it all worked out and I was not at all exiled into eternal damnation, other than the constant bad dreams of Sister Helen pulling on those two little hairs...that and the 11 years of parochial school and neck ties that followed.

Still, I suppose it was worth it, because I wouldn’t be close to the person I am today, if I hadn’t endured it all.  But don’t let Sister Helen or any of other the nuns hear that…I’m not sure what the fallout would be…. 



  1. Brian - Interesting story from your 6th grade self. I go to the Catholic church nearby to light candles and the scenes on the wall for the stations of the cross are beautiful as well. I took a cruise in 1981 and we had several ports of call, among them Egypt, Turkey, Israel ... I was glad to see the Via Dolorosa was part of our tour group's agenda that day. I wasn't prepared for the commercialism - it was amazing. Yes, you could buy blessed crosses from a man on a donkey at the beginning ... I got one for my grandmother and mom, but then as you go along the way, there are cheap souvenirs and postcards - I was astounded ... a holy place where they were hawking souvenirs. I remember all the fellow tour members sharing the same sentiment. That was in 1981 - perhaps it is different now ... it was quite a shock at the time. I never went to Catholic school, but my mom did and she used to tell me all about the nuns rapping your fingers ,,, the girls had the nuns, the boys had the brothers for their teachers. At St. Helen's school, they never turned that ruler loose ... you misbehaved, you got the ruler smacked across your knuckles. She said the kids back then were terrified of the nuns in their flowing black dresses - did they win the coronets too or was that just Sr. Bertrille?

    1. I blocked it all the meds kicked in....

  2. Nice one Brian, as a severely lapsed catholic myself who can actually lay claim to Aunty Theresa a nun in the family and Uncle John the priest who became a college dean in Canada I knew all about devout. I sang in latin and could recite the complete mass in the same. Although, I only had and inkling of what it might all mean. There was a lot of repetition thankfully. My mate Vicky Stimpson got me into deep sxxt by marching with the Salvation Army (as you know a bunch of dedicated (Proddy Doggies). They had better songs and I just loved "My Cup Runneth Over" There you go, I got excommunicated for singing that during school lunch break. Six of there best to be sure, by the father of the famous actress Pauline Collins, Mr Collins was my Headmaster and he was not enamoured with my defection.

    1. Hey...they gave you a cool uniform. Can't compete with a cool uniform...and maybe a horn!


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