Hello there!
I’ve been working so hard on the business end of my grand adventure in the world of letters, that I really haven’t been taking any time to write. Had lunch with an old classmate of mine from the Newburyport High School Class of 1966, Helen Wilbur, who lives down in NYC. It had been more than forty-seven years since I had last seen her.
I took her out a couple of times in the way back then, but it never really went anywhere as there was nothing wrong with her eye sight...But that’s another story.
Helen’s a senor VP with a major publishing house who’s written a number of highly successful children’s books as kind of a side project, really good stuff. My favorite is Lilly’s Victory Garden, though she’s better known for her Alphabet learning books, Z is for Zeus, being her latest.
Anyway, she encouraged me to get back at it and polish off my ADD/ADHD memoir, Relentless, which deals with the impact ADD/ADHD had on my life from very early childhood on...ADD/ADHD is prime meat for the talk show circuit, so my PR guys have been pushing for me to put a wrap on Relentless for quite some time. But for some reason, when Helen spoke, I listened.
Just got back into it this AM...In addition to the ADD/ADHD thing, there’s quite a section on my rigid parochial education...Not all of the nuns I had were psychopaths...just most of them. So I’m going to paint as balanced a picture as I can.  Here’s a little excerpt from Chapter 11, just to give you a little advanced look at what lies ahead.
James Phoenix

Chapter 11


The Mark of Zorro, Militarism, Higher Education & Other Adventures

It would be unfair of me to say that all the nuns I had were scary, frustrated, mean-spirited women prone to corporal punishment. Sister Agnes Teresa was the only notable exception, well, her and Sister Mary Miles, the closed fist puncher, but I never had her for a teacher.  They were rigid, orthodox and parochial disciplinarians of course, but that was no big surprise. That’s why they call it Parochial School. There was a play that ran forever on Broadway, popular because it spoofed the way that a whole generation of Catholic school children had been educated. It was called Nun Such, and as far as my own personal experience was concerned, pretty much spot on.

We were taught that our religion was the one true religion, that all others were Johnny come latelys. Why? Because the Catholic Church was the one and only church founded by God. That’s why, all of the others were founded by men. We were taught respect for authority...Tolerance, not so much.

They watched us and kept us in line at all times, but beyond a sharp rebuke and maybe a whack at the back of your head, that would be the end of it.

There’s an old black and white photo I have of me in my white First Communion suit, which would have to have been circa 1954. I was seven, my little sister Ann Louise, would have been four. It’s obviously poised. We’re facing each other, me in my suit of lights, Ann Louise, a cute little chubby girl with long blonde hair, dressed for my big day in her Sunday best with straw hat and a ribbon trailing off the back. I’m bending over, kissing her on the forehead. It’s taken on our back porch.

I have no recollection of the picture being taken, but I do have a very distinct recollection of our procession from the school to the church. They had all the boys and girls lined up separately, each boy holding a wooden cross painted gold about a foot long, all the girls with their hands folded reverently and down cast eyes.

We marched along behind a six-foot statue of the Virgin being pulled on a draped cart by some of the older boys, followed by a an eight grade girl who was all decked out in a long gown. She was beautiful and the lucky girl selected to crown the virgin with a wreath made of flowers.

The procession stopped to let some of the other kids in line to catch up, pious singing in the background. I turned and looked to my pal Jimmy Kale who was right next to me. His old man was the school janitor. We smiled both getting the same idea at the same time. An impromptu sword fight broke out, I quickly got the better of him, laughing and trying to carve a Z into his lapel with my gold cross, the theme from the TV show I was addicted to, ringing in my ears.

“Out of the night, when the full moon is bright, comes a horseman known as Zorro.”

Suddenly I was grabbed by my collar and thrust back into line. It was Sister Mary Emalina, my second grade nun.

“Wilbur James Brown!” she snapped. “Stop that this instant!”

My pal Jimmy Kale got off with a stern look. I got a little whack on the back of my head. But that was the end of it. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have it coming. That was the kind of thing I experienced.

Of course I heard horror stories from other kids and had seen Sister Mary Miles, punch a kid in the stomach with a closed fist, knocking him to the ground writhing in agony. I had heard at one point she gave some kid a bloody nose, sending him home early. But that incident I hadn’t actually seen happen, though of course I took it as gospel...

4/10/2023 07:13:17 am

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