Posts tagged ‘nuns’

The Bubble Gum Incident

In Catholic grade school in the early ’70s, things ran mostly on fear and the ringing of bells.

Most nuns still wore full habits. All teachers were allowed to employ paddles. And discipline was both strictly and creatively enforced.

One teacher used to throw chalkboard erasers at children who weren’t paying attention. Another teacher once stuffed a noisy child into a trashcan. Another, who caught a kid nibbling on his lunch tickets, was so enraged that she placed her in-box on the child’s desk and instructed every other child in the class to walk by, single file, and place a piece of paper in the box. She then instructed the nibbler that, if he was going to destroy his lunch tickets, he could eat every piece of paper in that basket for his lunch instead.

I swear on a bible these stories are true. I saw them happen. And they all happened to one classmate:  the indomitable Paul Scott.

Zealously hurled erasers bounced right off him. He sat in that trashcan like a rag doll and made a funny sad face until the teacher put her head down on her desk and shook with laughter. In the paper-nibbling incident, he smiled at each of us as we — sorry, terrified, miserable weaklings — brought him our offerings. Then, he calmly, happily, hungrily began to eat that paper, piece by piece, until the teacher caved in and took it all back.

No tears, no flinching, no smart-ass-ery. He was fearless. A peaceful rebel and a natural comic, he just took things in stride and kept right on smiling. How someone so young knew how to do these things, I cannot fathom. They don’t track that type of brilliant on report cards.

I wish I could say that I was even one-gazillionth as brilliant when Sister Mary Grace caught me chewing gum in her 5th grade English class.

“Are you chewing gum?!” she demanded. I had seen what happens to gum chewers. They had to stick the gum on their nose and walk to the Principal’s office. I panicked. I swallowed the gum and said, “No.”

Merciful heavens! Unlawful gum chewing was bad enough. But lying? To a nun?

I was told to stand up. I stood. She asked me again. And I lied again. She knew it, too. Calmly, confidently furious, she said, “Well. Tell me then what it was that I saw you chewing on.” And I said something ridiculous, like, “I was chewing on the inside of my cheek.”

As that big fat whopper hung in the air, I knew:  I was bad. I was wicked. I was doomed.

And then. Something happened, which, although it has yet to pass the scrutiny of beatification or canonization, I am going to call a miracle.

“She wasn’t chewing gum!” Paul Scott blurted (without even raising his hand or getting permission to speak). “I sit right here next to her,” he continued, “And she wasn’t chewing gum. She does that thing she said. She chews on her cheek. I’ve seen her do it.”

I was flabbergasted. And I was saved.

I doubt that she bought it, but I had a witness. And she wasn’t going to find my gum any time soon. And, in a wonderful moment of solidarity, no one else in the class said a word. I was told to sit. I sat. And it was all I could do to not turn and stare at Paul in gaping adoration for the rest of the class.

Perhaps I am even more in awe now. Such bravado is more audacious and delightful seen through the lenses of time and experience. This guy knew things at 10 years old that take the rest of us at least 30 years, maybe a lifetime, to figure out. Things like:

  • Don’t take it all too seriously.
  • A sense of humor can soften the edges of pretty much anything.
  • A good friend has your back no matter what.
  • Don’t be afraid of nuns; they probably are not allowed to kill you.

Cheers, Paul Scott, wherever you are. 

June 22, 2015 at 5:46 pm 3 comments

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