i kid you not. growing up in a pretty liberal house, i was, nonetheless, educated for the elementary level eight years “first lap” at a catholic school.
i remember lots and lots of lectures. so bored by the droning voice of a gremlin-like priest, i’d daydream as he tried to scare the hell out of us (we were little kids!), and also pass the time counting the buttons on his long black dress. i clearly was not a risk factor of taking in too much fire and brimstone, that’s for sure.
the sort of propaganda that floated in one ear and out the other included a priest denouncing all unwed mothers on a particular sunny seventies sunday morning as having a future burning in hell. my parents, to our total teen embarrassment, stood up mid-homily and made us all storm out of the church in protest.
of course, the arrival of monthly ms. magazines in our mailbox addressed to my mother added a plot twist to the whole evacuate the rigid and embrace a more fluid collection of beliefs and behavior…but at the time i didn’t comprehend what this ‘red flag’ of imminent freedom meant.
don’t get me wrong: i had great friends, fabulous teachers, (including nuns in those mysterious habits of theirs) and the honor of playing a guitar at special masses with my fellow cronies as the gathered congregation sang along tunes from ‘godspell’ with us.
“day by day….oh sweet lord, three things i pray…”
speaking of music, as i just was, as well as propaganda (see above, come on, follow!), there was one song that stuck with me for decades. it was a departure from some of the holy ballads that became our daily bread and then some, batted into our brains by the frequency of our chanting biblical verses in our weekly music class.
no, this song sparked what i think the nun hoped would be a pivotal learning moment for her little teeny students: a sort of pantheon to the dangers that lurked outside of the sacred and yellow-colored brick building.
sister mary frances, affectionately and sarcastically referred to as sister froggie (i believe it had something to do with her hair, which was, oddly, green in color) arrived in our classroom once a week. let’s say, for ease of storytelling, that each tuesday morning, we’d be assembled in our tidy alphabetically arranged rows of desks, bent over math problems or penmanship. hearing a faint rumbling, sparking a sort of dread like the panzers of world war two in north africa must have elicited in the allies, we knew the time was nigh: a pathetic, apologetic looking student then appeared in the doorway, struggling with a beast of a piano on wheels. depositing the tool of the arts plunk in front of us, the helper vanished, our teacher quietly left the room (probably to go to the teacher’s lounge for a smoke and a cup of coffee), and in scampered sister froggie.
pink around the cheeks, diminutive in height but mighty in attitude, she croaked out the lessons for the day, handed out music sheets, and positioned herself on several cushions which were discreetly placed on the piano bench for her, and began to pound the keys with a fervor that would surely part the red sea.
clearly but strangely, sister froggie set about to warn us of dangers. not the ilk of normal sinning, coveting wives, stealing bread, committing adultery, the ten commandments, etcetera. that was clearly the job of the big man in black, occasionally in purple. no, she was aiming a lower, closer and more direct shot. really, the sort of thing that, had i been as impressionable and gullible as some of my classmates, might have landed me on my knees in obeisance, weeping and very fearful of my mother’s (and obviously, my own, my children, etc) future in infinitesimal damnation.
as i sip from my delectably aromatic mug of this brown elixir sent, i truly believe, from the heavens above (and the fields of costa rica, africa, jamaica, etcetera), i can only chuckle at the lyrics that we shouted out, standing in neat rows of bobby sox and saddle shoes, singing for our dear lives.
cheers to you, froggie!
“c o f f e e is not for me.
it’s a drink some people wake up with.
that it makes them nervous is no myth.
slaves to a coffee cup,
they can’t give coffee up.”