Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.
Last week I ran a blog called “I hate nuns and Gatorade.” If you’re new to the blog, you may want to scroll down. It was one of my better pieces, and statistically it was one of the best. There was no shortage of people who had a problem with the blog. Generally, they were people who also went to Catholic schools who had no problem with the nuns. The following is a chapter from the galleys that I wrote, but have yet to publish. What you are about to read is completely true, and by far not the worst of what happened to me. That was physical pain, the psychological pain is the one I still walk around with today. I told you that so you can read this. This is the last I will say on this subject. The blog will go back to fun fitness and me complaining. Enjoy.
“Mengele’s Bitch” by Vinnie Tortorich
There is one thing that I can say about my parents that most people can’t say: My parents never had fights over anything.
They may have disagreed on minor things, but even that was seldom. They were, and still are, two people who are happy together.
It almost seems impossible that two people who met in a small town, each having only a few dates with other people before meeting each other, would stay together so long and remain happy as ever together.
There is only one fight that I can ever remember them having, and it happens to involve me. At the end of my second-grade year, the head nun along with the nun that had been my teacher decided to call in my parents to discuss my academic career. Although I had passing grades, they felt that my reading and math skills were below average. For that reason, they suggested that my parents hold me back a year and repeat second grade in order to be a stronger student both academically and socially.
My dad thought it was a terrible idea. He believed that a child appears to be a failure when held back a grade.
My mother sided with the nuns, feeling that repeating the grade would benefit me in the long run.
They didn’t have to make a decision right away, which led to a summer of heated discussions around the house. Again, this is an Italian family, so it was not at all out of the ordinary to have anyone and everyone weigh-in on the matter. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles all chipped in their two cents.
I remember getting on my stingray bicycle and riding down a dirt road into my cousin’s sugarcane field just to get away from the baker’s dozen of Italians yelling at the same time over my fate.
As in most Italian arguments, the female wins. So, I repeated second grade.
To this day, I still feel like that nun wanted me back in her class just to try new forms of physical abuse on me. Her creativity was astounding. There was one punishment I received that to this day I can’t imagine how she came up with it. I started wondering if the nuns would get together after dinner, take off their habits, pop a cold one and come up with new forms of torture for 7-year-olds.
Not only do I remember the punishment, but I remember the so-called “infraction” that got me into trouble. In today’s world, most people would serve less time for manslaughter, at least according to Law and Order, which is where I get most of my legal knowledge.
The building that housed most of the primary school dated back to the Civil War. It had these old hardwood floors with ceilings that were more than fifteen feet high. Most classrooms had an old radiator in the corner for heat in the winter. You would be fortunate to have a seat next to the radiator on cold days. If not, you would simply leave your coat on during class. During the warmer months, which was most of the year in south Louisiana, the building would get uncomfortably hot. The temperature would sometimes hit the century mark, mixed with humidity known to reach 100 percent.
To make matters worse, there was no air-conditioning unit. The only way to keep kids from passing out was to keep the windows and the large doors open. Some of the rooms had working ceiling fans, but the ones that worked only had two blades instead of four.
On the day that the “infraction” occurred, there were workers using a jack hammer just outside the door. They were using it to break up some concrete.
Every time the hammer started pounding, the kids would turn and look. The nun scolded the class, and told everyone not to turn around anymore.
A few minutes went by before one of the men dropped about an eight-pound mall onto a pile of sheet metal, causing a loud gong sound. Most of the kids jumped and turned at the startling sound. Everyone quickly turned back toward the chalkboard except me. I must have been too slow because I was caught looking out of the back door.
I was told that this was deliberate disobedience and I would now have to pay for my sins. Holding a paddle in her hand, the nun called me to the front of the class. As I walked up, I assumed that my backside would get an introduction to the broadside of the paddle…again. Instead, she asked me to roll my pants legs above my knees.
I figured she had a change of heart. Maybe I would get away with only kneeling on the hardwood floor. No big deal, I can take that punishment. After all, I only turned around in class to see what all the racket was.
Marylee Mussolini has a heart after all, at least so I thought. As I rolled my pants up, she walked back to her desk, and returned with a brown paper bag. I recognized it as a bag of Mahatma Rice. She poured a pile of the uncooked rice on the floor and instructed me to kneel in it. I slowly bent down putting my hands on the floor first and easing my knee caps onto the rice. The pain shot through my body like lightning. I immediately jumped to my feet.
She then yelled that I was continuing to be disobedient, and that if I didn’t kneel in the rice that I would get a paddling session as well.
So I got down again. I was instructed to stay there for five minutes, holding a Bible in both hands. If I dropped the chunky books, which were tougher for my small hands to grip, my time would start over.
I learned something that day. I was not going to let that bitch beat me. I was going to be strong and show her what I could do. It took every fiber of my eight-year-old body to stay perfectly still as the minutes slowly passed.
Meanwhile, the nun went back to teaching as if nothing had happened. Soon I heard something right behind me. It was a girl sniffling as though she had a cold. I also thought she was whispering my name, so I turned ever-so slightly to find out why she was risking her own punishment.
It was Penny, a girl that I knew from back in pre-school, during my deaf days. She was one of the kids that had been nice to me, never goofing on my speech problem.
She wasn’t sniffling, she was crying. She pointed down at the floor, and as I looked, the pain multiplied because of the movement of my head and neck.
There I was, in my third year as a student at a Catholic school, where a group of people believe in God as their Savior, and I was pouring blood from my knees because I had the gall to look out a door.