Wednesday, May 04, 2016

I remember

Her name was Mrs. Hoare. She looked about 90 and she taught First Class (Grade 1). Now who'd forget a name like that?

I was six. Fresh out of the country and into a suburban school in Cork. An old national school once part of a village until urban sprawl had incorporated it. A smelly old school. Thick walls, uncertain heating system, we were always cold. Even in the spring.

We'd practise hymns. We were all getting ready for our First Communion and the RC church ran the schools, the hospitals, the orphanages, the old age homes and us.

Six. And we sang of hell fire and redemption and saints who died for Jesus.

And one of the girls, in a class of about 40, vomited all over the floor as we stood there singing.

And Mrs. Hoare?

Well, she flew into a rage. The priest was expected shortly to examine us all and make sure we were fit to confess our dreadful sins and be accepted, in our bridal dresses and veils, into the kingdom of the parish and thereafter heaven, if we did what we were told. You may laugh at the Taliban but Ireland is, was, and always will be a trendsetter in that regard.

And Geraldine Barry had the gall, the brazen brass of her, to throw up all over the wooden floor.

And Mrs. Hoare said we were all going to make up for this unforgiveable sin in the eyes of Jesus. We would all suffer along with Geraldine and stare at that filthy floor all day and learn of our mistakes, our evil natures. With the priest coming.

And he did. And the smell in that room was appalling. And little Geraldine, her freckles stood out like raindrops on her little white face. She hung on to the desk with her eyes downcast, tears trickling off her chin and on to her shoes. I can still see her page-bob hair, she had lovely bangs, we called it a fringe back then. None of the rest of us had fringes, they were too expensive to maintain. Good haircuts cost money and fathers made you look like a boy if you let them loose on your head with your brothers' hair trimming equipment.

When the priest saw the mess on the floor, he left the room, the smell was pretty bad then, permeating everything. I remember using all my energy to battle the rising bile in my stomach, biting my lower lip down so hard my teeth left marks.

He came back with a bucket of sawdust and threw it all over the mess. We were all still standing there shaking, as our mothers had bought our First Communion dresses. My mother had made mine. She got a gift of cream silk damask from a priest who still loved her but now lived in Egypt. I didn't know that story until I was old enough to talk unrequited love with her but he sent me a pendant in the post too, a non-Catholic one with a little hinged door on the front of it where I put my Granny's sixpence.

So what would happen if Father Sheehan now punished us by cancelling our big First Communion Day? Our mothers would be raging.

He chatted briefly with Mrs. Hoare and muttered something about her good job in teaching us all a valuable lesson in respect for property.

He fired off a couple of solid questions at us along the lines of: Who made the world? And we all chanted back at him: God made the world, fadder. And then he left us all to our vomit and sawdust.

And one month later little Geraldine of the perfect fringe and freckles was dead. Of meningitis.

The first funeral I was ever at.

She wore her gorgeous First Communion Dress as she lay in her white casket.



25 comments:

  1. The cruelty. This is hard to take, but I'm glad you wrote about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Odd this, Hattie. a staring at the ocean today and was so grateful for my own personal journey and my mind flew back to that dreadful school and little Geraldine who didn't make it.

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. I remember being more scared than sad, Ernestine. I remember thinking I could be dead if I threw up, I thought Jesus didn't like her.

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  3. Don't you just love religious extremism....yet, no-one would have called it that in those days. It was accepted by most that the priest was always right. Didn't he have a direct line to God, after all?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, RJA, it took me years to break free of those shackles, that's what brainwashing in a cult does to one. Awful abusive treatment.

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  4. ah the poor little creature! what a sad sad story. I lived in Dublin in 1971 and Ireland was poor and, well, different then. I remember thinking that the longer I lived with Irish people (in a communal house) the more I felt how American I was. Have you read the Benjamin Black books set in Dublin in the 1950's?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have Sharyn and I wasn't a fan, recommended by another fan. I found it a slog. 'Struth. Poor all of us, inculcated with this poison.

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
    2. I like the Benjamin Black books for two reasons. One, he sets it right in the part of Dublin I lived in. I had a small place on Herbert Row and Phoebe lives on Herbert Place. So when he is describing scenes like Bewleys Oriental Cafe I can see it and ...smell it! Dublin has a special smell, coal smoke, turf smoke, Guinness, the bus fuel (diesel?) and damp. The second thing I love is the clarity and skill of the language. I'm re-reading the latest one just to enjoy the sentences and the descriptions of things. He is such a skilled writer and I love it that he is a literary writer and then does these mysteries on the side. It is interesting that people who love to read will see different sides of the same book, I find it wonderful and you find it a slog. Yet I think we are both good readers!

      Delete
    3. Have you read Jennifer Johnston, Sharon? Dublin writer. I absolutely adore her and the library couldn't sustain my habit so I went on line and checked second hand sellers and have her entire collection now. I tried Black many times and couldn't persist. One of those things. I love Bewley's, would meet my husband there after his workday in Dublin and I always visit every time I'm back.Yes, you and I are both voracious readers but picky with our likes and dislikes :)

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
    4. I'll look her up, can always use more good reading!

      Delete
  5. Sheer meanness, and in the name of God. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church and it could be bad, but not this bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They had no feelings for children I believe, victims themselves at one point, knowing only one way like all good cultists. Driven by money. And power of course.

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  6. My mother went to Catholic school in Canada in the 30s and 40s; she told me about the Nuns.

    "Catholic school, as vicious as Roman rule
    I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
    I held my tongue as she told me, son
    Fear is the heart of love, so I never went back"

    Thank you for sharing your stories. I stop by nearly every day.

    -Moe

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Moe. So twisted the lot of them. In spite of the charges against them the organization itself has never been made accountable. Great business model as it's all about the money.
      Sickening monsters.
      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  7. Sick, and the RC still has a lot of control now in some parts of the world...The evangelicals here are no better. Poor little girl.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My GF Helen, who died, and I often talked of Geraldine and that awful day. She was an only daughter. Helen knew her brothers in later life.
      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  8. Do you mean that Geraldine had meningitis all along but nobody realised and they just thought she was feeling sick?

    The extremes of religious authoritarianism never cease to amaze me. Vomiting is an unforgivable sin? And everyone else has to suffer to emphasise the unforgivable sin? Bonkers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing like striking fear into the masses all in the name of Jesus who watches such criminal behaviour in 6 year olds. It was only later on when talking with my BFF that we connected the two. We had thought Geraldine was being punished by Jesus striking her dead.

      Extremism in all matters are these fundamentalist cults.

      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  9. Terrible sad story. Awful memory. Beautifully written.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know why it popped into my head SJG as I stared at the water. Helen and I would talk about that awful time and I guess there's no one in my life now who shares that memory. So terribly sad. She was such a beautiful wee precious.
      XO
      WWW

      Delete
  10. Wow! What a story and what an ending!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Ramana unfortunately all true. I'm so shocked I made it through tho no without personal cost.
    XO
    WWW

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi, I found your blog via Tom Sightings.
    I can relate to your story, as I was baptized a Roman Catholic as a child.
    Long story short, I am now an atheist.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome Gigi. Me too. You might enjoy my posts on the Invisible Cosmic Housekeeper!

      XO
      WWW

      Delete

Some of you are having trouble, I've removed captcha and verification so we'll see how that goes. My apologies. Blogger is putting up far too many roadblocks. Thanks for the emails alerting me.
wisewebwomanatgmail.com