Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town: Nudity, the Great Motivator
The first twelve years of my life was spent within the confines of a city block. There was St. Mary’s School, a parking lot, the Church of the Assumption, another parking lot, and a little tennis court no one used. Socializing went on at St. Joseph Hall, where various Catholic organizations held meetings and families celebrated baptisms, confirmations, First Communions, and wedding showers. And where the nuns would show the student body an annual Christmas movie, usually the same one: Toby Tyler. In case you haven’t watched Toby Tyler, you should. It’s about a little boy who runs away from home to join the circus where he befriends a chimpanzee. The theme is similar to The Wizard of Oz — a kid runs away from home only to realize home is not such a bad place after all. I’m sure the nuns felt that every student at St. Mary’s could benefit from a annual guilt-trip movie before all the Christmas gifts arrived. It worked for me. I bawled every time I saw the movie, then went home and told my mother I loved her.
When I wasn’t in school or church, I spent time with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother’s side. Ten aunts and uncles, ten spouses, and forty-four first cousins. We gathered every Sunday at my grandparents’ house for dinner (that meant lunch), where the men always ate first, the kids second, and then the moms last. (That’s a topic for another day).
So, my universe until the age of twelve was Catholics and Czech relatives. On the other side of Oak Street, just a block away from St. Mary’s, was a completely different world — a world of Protestants and non-Czechs. These people had easy to spell names: Willis, Porter, Jones, Johnson, Miller, Butler, etc. Their relatives didn’t speak with an accent. But the most shocking difference was that because of their religion, many of them didn’t drink beer. (More on that in weeks to come).
After Sister Denise threw me out of choir (see July 1 post ), I learned that St. Mary’s students were allowed to band class at West Elementary School. Who wants to sing anyway when you can learn to play an instrument? So, I signed up. Every afternoon, a bus would drive St. Mary’s students a block down the street where we attended Mr. Allen’s (another easy name to spell) band class. My instrument of choice was the clarinet. At first I sucked. But I stuck with it, not just because I wanted to do something musical, but because I found out that when you got to high school, you could choose band over PE.
I had heard the rumors: girls in PE had to shower together. Excuse me?!
Talk about motivation. Being extremely shy, there was no way in hell I would strip down in front of a bunch of girls, no matter what religion they belonged to.
I stayed with the band all through high school, and in my senior year, my ensemble group won first place in the state UIL competition. I still have the medal.
Except for my family, the names in these essays are sometimes changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty), and I’ve embellished a little.