Friday, February 19, 2016

Growing Up Catholic: The Playground Fight

Elba, two years ahead of me in school, picked on me mercilessly. Today we would call it bullying. She teased me, for example, about my shoes and how ugly they looked. (I wore orthopedic shoes for a few years and they were not at all stylish.) This was embarrassing, and I wished my cousin, Maureen, who was in Elba's class, would stick up for me. But she didn't. I think Maureen was afraid of Elba, and I can't say I'd blame her.

Elba always crossed over the 6th grade girls' playground when she arrived at school after lunch. One day we were playing softball behind the convent. I was at bat. Elba walked right up to me, stood toe-to-toe with me and began harassing me. She went so far as to shove me. I stepped back. She repeatedly shoved me and I repeatedly stepped back. My friends yelled at her to leave me alone. I was not looking behind me and didn't notice that she was backing me up to a short retaining wall at the edge of the playground. I tripped backwards and fell against a chain link fence. The fence caused me to spring forward. It gave me the impetus to go on the attack. With all my might I clobbered Elba with my fists and kicked her, too!

Sister Mary Innocent saw us. She was angry! She approached and grabbed both of us by our collars and marched us to the principal's office. Sister said it was shameful for two girls to be fighting like that. I dreaded what would happen in the office. Tears rolled down my cheeks and my heart beat wildly.

Sister Mary Ruth, the principal took over. She was angry after Sr. M. Innocent explained what had transpired. First she dealt with Elba and scolded her because she was the older one and should have set a better example. She also told Elba that her mother, who was a veteran school volunteer, would be so ashamed of her.

As I listened, I expected and feared to get a worse scolding, because my mother, who worked, never helped at school. I was mentally asking myself, "Why can't my mother help once in a while? Then maybe I wouldn't get into so much trouble." Sister sent Elba out of the office and then she turned her attention to me. I trembled.

I cried profusely and shook for fear of what might happen next. To my surprise Sister was calm. She looked somewhat severe, but her eyes looked gentle and kind. Then she asked, "How's your Dad?" The question startled me. Then Sister told me how she had been my dad's teacher when he was a boy at St. Edward School. She said he was a wonderful altar boy and a very good student. That was it. She let me go and urged me to behave better in the future. Deep down I was glad I hit Elba. Moreover, I was grateful that Dad had been a boy that the teachers liked.

As I reflect on this incident I suspect that Sister Mary Ruth may have know that Elba was a troublemaker.

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