Jesus stories and nunnish retribution

Boy sent home for drawing dead Jesus on the cross:…


Starting to sound like this kid’s father needs to be throttled. I’m grateful that my mother was a LOT smarter than he appears to be.…

This story, about a 2nd grader sent home from school after he was asked to make a Christmas drawing and drew a picture of a dead Jesus on a cross, reminds me of an episode from my childhood. I will preface this by saying that reporting around the recent incident seems to be all over the place, but initial reports seemed positioned to elicit a response from readers about the over application of political correctness – an issue that seems to burn up news media comment boards like no other. War on Christmas indeed. It’s becoming clear there’s a lot more to the story than what’s being reported, and would argue that it probably shouldn’t be a news story at all.

His is quite a bit different from my story, though I imagine the boy is as bewildered by his experience as I was by mine. I understand how this little boy could get his Jesus stories mixed up. I sympathize, since to this day, I get confused about Jesus and holidays myself. For instance, I can’t remember if I am not supposed to stare directly at the sun during a solar eclipse, or between noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday. Similarly, I sometimes can’t recall whether it’s Jesus’ or the groundhog’s shadow that predicts six more weeks of winter. So, this poor kid just got his Jesus stories mixed up. No big deal if you ask me.

One day, when I was in first grade, it was discovered that someone wrote “FUCK” in bright orange crayon, in a Dick and Jane reader that belonged to the school. The first grade teacher was a young nun with red hair, who stood, as it turns out, just over five feet tall. I have, somewhere in my house, a picture I drew as a child, of her teaching a class. If the picture was drawn to scale, and the children in the drawing normal-sized, then she would have been about 8’ 9”. Also, her hair was on fire, and her eyes looked as though they could shoot lasers. Though I could easily bench press her now, the mere thought that she may be alive and might read this and be cross with me almost gives me pause. She still induces terror.

On that day, Sister asked us to take out a piece of paper and our pencils. The way I remember it, she showed us the book with the bright orange FUCK, and asked us to write down what that word meant.  As my classmates wrote what I imagine were things like, “a bad, bad, word you should never say,” or “what Daddy says to Mommy after he comes home from the Eire Pub,” I wrote nothing. I knew fucking well what the word meant, for my mother and grandfather could curse like sailors in a couple of different languages, and because my playmate across the street had told me that her older brother had told her other brother about several girls he wouldn’t fuck with somebody else’s dick, and we discussed the meaning. But I wrote nothing, convinced that if I admitted to knowing what the word meant, I’d be admitting to the crime.

After this exercise, I, along with a girl in my class who was so good I believe that she had never once and has not since ever committed a sin, were called into another room to talk to Sister. Sister’s reasoning was apparently that it had to be one of the two students in the class who would not admit to knowing that “FUCK” was, at least in the eyes of Sister, a bad, bad word. As we were interrogated, the other girl began to cry. She was dismissed, because Sister’s reasoning was apparently that it had to be the one student in the class who would not admit to knowing “FUCK” was a bad word, and also, would not cry. As I remember it, I had to write, “I will not write bad words” 100 times as punishment.

Those of you who were raised Catholic are saying to yourself, “it was CLEARLY the public school CCD hooligans,” as I would when I got older and realized the injustice I had suffered. For those who don’t know, CCD stands for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, or the basic teachings of the Catholic Church. But for public school kids, CCD is the once-a-week after school class at a Catholic school they must attend for years, to prepare for their Confirmation in the 7th grade. CCD is also Common Criminal Dayschool, the once-a-week after school class at which public school riff raff pilfer the desks of the good Catholic schoolchildren, stealing crayons, compasses and anything else not nailed down. And, obviously, it’s when they write bad, bad words in the Dick and Jane readers in the classroom.

I went home that day and told my mother the story of how Sister had accused, or rather convicted, me of the crime. She didn’t believe me. She was understanding, but obviously thought I was a little disturbed, a logical deduction given our circumstances. I was a sad and troubled kid, for sure. My father had died just a year before, and my mother was left alone with three little kids. To hear her tell it, she was barely holding it together. I’m certain she thought I was acting out, because any logical person wouldn’t believe a story about a nun directing 40 first graders to define the word “FUCK” in class. However, I insisted it was true, and my mother called the mother of my playmate across the street, also a classmate, and my story was eventually confirmed.

My mother, God rest her soul, had a wicked temper, but it appears that she may have also had some maternal instinct, as well as firsthand knowledge of nunnish retribution. The next day, she had to go to the school to register my younger brother for first grade. When she saw Sister, she politely asked about the incident, though when she told the story in later years, confessed it was all she could do to refrain from shoving a bright orange crayon down Sister’s throat. Mom asked Sister if she had any training in child psychology, remarking that she seemed to have dealt with the situation with a degree of sensitivity that pointed to advanced training. Sister got all puffed up and confirmed that yes, in fact, she had taken a child psychology course. Mom told Sister that she was pleased and relieved to have her children in such capable hands, especially in light of all that our family had been dealing with in the previous year.

I have never had such a good day at school as that one. I got to sell the candy, clap the erasers, and do all the teacher’s pet activities. The special treatment went on for quite some time. My mother had blown smoke so far up this nun’s ass that my brother was equally well-treated when he got there the following year. I never trusted it completely, as evidenced by the fear I still hold for the woman, but that probably has to do with the treatment I witnessed by her toward others. For instance, there was one boy who had trouble sitting still, and she routinely made him get down on his knees and stay there with his nose pressed to the floor. There was a girl who always looked a bit disheveled, and Sister often asked her what kind of mother she had, who would send her outside looking like that. I do know, though, that back then, stories like these would not have been lead news stories. I hope the boy who drew Jesus on the cross doesn’t suffer too much from the incident he is living through, and that he gets his Jesus stories straight some day.

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