Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Annals of the Rod and God Club--"Doubt"

(The kind of nun I wish I had had, Sr. Pat Thro, Maryville University of  St. Louis, 2002)
My wife and I rented and watched the Meryl Streep - Philip Seymour Hoffman film "Doubt" over the weekend.  I recommend it highly to lapsed and recovering Catholics alike. It's a wonderfully complex portrayal of the psychological tension those who struggle to believe must feel. But the film resonated with me on another, more personal level.
     "Doubt" is set in 1964, roughly the time of my Catholic school  experience.  I transferred to the school I call "Holy Name" in the the 7th grade, in the fall of 1959.  The early Sixties, I've come to realize, were a pivotal time for the Church in America.  Some of our parents were still fervently committed to their fatih, but the majority of them, it seemed to me, just went along as a matter of form.  Baptisms, First Holy Communions, Confirmations--even Church weddings and funerals--these were the things that working-class Catholics did in my day in order to keep up appearances.  (As I've elsewhere recounted, they weren't even naming all their children after saints, much less encouraging them to become priests or nuns.)  The Church's rites of passage were social obligations as much as, if not more than, religious duties.  And for those working-class parents struggling to support the children they already had the Church's authority ended at the bedroom door.
      Even the Church's rhetoric seemed curiously dated and comically naive in those days.  By the seventh grade, for instance, I knew that in the American lexicon an "ejaculation" was not a short, sponntaneous prayer.  I had to repress a smirk every time I heard a priest or nun encourage us to devote our free time to our "ejaculations."
      My generation was definitely pulling away.  Young people would soon begin "tuning in, turning on, and dropping out."  Questioning authority and pushing back boundaries were the new virtues.  While our secular-minded peers were ushering in an era of free love, we were still expected to be guilt-ridden over "impure thoughts."
       Into this era, and into my life, rode the nun I've already written about in my "Annals of the Rod and God Club."  She was already middle-aged when our paths crossed, and I've since come to understand something of how she must have felt.  She had made, to her way of thinking, an irrevocable commitment to a world that was dying, and she couldn't fit in to the one just then being born and which she couldn't understand.  Like the nun Meryl Streep plays, my 7th- and 8th-grade nun (I had the same one for both grades) must have been struggling with primal doubts.
     Sister, I now realize, was more to be pitied than censured.  But, sadly, early adolescent boys are not known for their capacity for empathy and sympathy.  --EFP

Rush Rushes to Judgment

(Visiting a Chinese medical school, February, 2006)
On Sunday, I caught a few minutes of a Rush Limbaugh program being replayed from one day last week.  (I'm not sure which one.)  Demagogue and ideologue that he is, Rush was citing a passage from a Florida hospital's H1N1 contingency plan as evidence that the Obama administration's health care reforms will include "death panels."  Apparently, in the event that mass casualties overwhelm this hospital, and they lack adequate facilities and equipment to care for everyone, they plan to concentrate on those with the best chance of survival.
     The charge would be laughable, were it not for the fact that so many people seem to idolize and believe Rush.  This Florida hospital's mass casualty plan merely reflects the standard operating procedure in military and civilian emergency rooms alike.  It is called "triage."
     Battlefield aid stations routinely have to practice triage.  When they're faced with more casualties than the available doctors, corpsmen, and nurses can handle, they first help the seriously wounded people with reasonable chances of survival.  Those with little or no chance of survival wait, as do the lightly wounded.   Otherwise, two soldiers or Marines may die instead of the one who is likely to die no matter what the doctors do.  It's a tough calculus, to be sure, but it is also the only moral thing to do.
      Civilian emergency rooms usually don't have to make such tough calls, but they routinely practice triage nevertheless.   If you arrive with a minor cut requiring a few stitches, and a man with chest pains arrives a half hour after you do, guess who will be seen first?
       In all fairness, though, what really bothered Rush was a statement indicating that, if there are not enough ventilators to go around, the hospital may have to take patients with little or no chance of survival off their ventilators.   Rush, of course, sees this as a slippery slope toward "death panels."  He's wrong.  The hospital was merely positing the worst-case scenario, one that may never come to pass. But, if it should, and you were an attending physician at that hospital, would you take a chance on losing two patients instead of one? The hospital in question clearly intends to save as many people as they can, not to select people for euthanasia.  --EFP

Monday, October 19, 2009

Waterboarding and Human Rights

(Volunteers encouraging support for the troops, just outside Fort Lewis, on an overpass over Interstate 5, 17 October 2009)
It never fails.  Every time I catch even a few minutes of Michael Medved’s radio program I hear something appalling.  Today, Medved’s guest was one Vince Flynn, whom I learned is the author of a series of political thrillers.  I heard Flynn justify waterboarding on the following grounds:
                First, according to Flynn, waterboarding is not really torture.  Flynn claimed that all of us who, as children, have engaged in horseplay at a public swimming pool have, in essence, been waterboarded.
                 (Strange, but I don’t remember being subjected to, or engaging in, anything like waterboarding in my numerous childhood trips to the Canby Park Pool in Wilmington, Delaware.)
                 Second, Flynn claims that it is effective.  He acknowledged that torture can indeed make anyone admit to anything, but he claims that our C.I.A. waterboarders do it skillfully.  They supposedly establish a “baseline” by asking questions they already know the answers to.  He went on to claim that, after being waterboarded, Sheik somebody (I don’t recall the name) finally broke down and drew diagrams of the Taliban’s organization. 
                (But were they accurate diagrams, and did they really benefit our side?  Flynn didn’t say.)
                 Third, Flynn reminded Medved’s listeners that these waterboardees were not U.S. citizens, so they had no rights for us to violate.  He further argued that their organization was not a signatory to any international agreements regarding “human rights.” 
                Of course, Flynn also reminded Medved’s listeners that these were the people who attacked us and who still mean to do us harm.  Granted, but Flynn doesn’t seem to see the irony in his position.
                As I understand it, radical Moslems have felt justified in beheading Westerners on camera because they were “infidels” after all.  Flynn seems to be advancing the same justification but coming at it from the other end.  If you’re not an American, he seems to be arguing, you have no human rights and can therefore be waterboarded.   The American prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” as Flynn interprets it, applies only to Americans. 
                Flynn’s argument is a perfect illustration of how we lost the moral high ground and the respect of the world.  I was always taught that America holds certain human rights to be “self-evident” and applicable to all people.  (Remember “when in the course of human events” and all that?) Sure, we were attacked, and it was horrific.  But, to my mind, that’s all the more reason to continue upholding the values and ideals we believe to be superior to those of the extremists who attacked us.  To do otherwise would be to hand our adversaries the most significant victory they could win.
                I can’t resist a familiar paraphrase:  what will it profit us if we win the Global War on Terror but lose our national soul?  --EFP

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Annals of the Rod and God Club: The Lives of the Saints

(The original cathedral bells, destroyed by allied bombing in World War II, Lubeck, Germany, July 2004)

Today’s young people, I find, simply cannot relate to the degree of sexual repression we endured in the Catholic schools of my youth.   When I teach James Joyce’s story “Araby,” for instance, I find that most students are thrown by the mention of Mangan’s sister going to a convent school.   They assume she is going to become a nun.   They don’t realize that single-sex education was the norm in Joyce’s Ireland, much less do they appreciate the cult of chastity or the ascetic impulses behind such norms.   In an effort to put the story in cultural perspective, I tell my students how co-education was only grudgingly accepted in my own Catholic school, some sixty years after the period Joyce was describing and presumably set in a less inhibited and more progressive country.
For instance, I tell them how our playground had a white line painted straight down the middle of it.   Girls were to stay on one side, boys on the other, and the nun who had playground duty on any given day walked the line like a sentry.   It was her solemn duty to make sure that never the twain should meet.   Similarly, our classrooms were divided, boys on one side, girls on the other.    And, while I don’t remember the girls ever being cautioned about the dangers of patent leather shoes, I do remember Sister worrying out loud about the prospect of our being invited to mixed parties where there might not be enough seats.   She told us that, in such a case, it might be all right for a girl to sit on a boy’s lap, so long as they put a phonebook between them. Somehow, I think that worry said more about Sister than it did about us.  
But the important thing was that, by the time that I got to the Marine Corps, I was already fairly comfortable with places and things, and even categories of people, being placed “Off Limits.”  I say that because an additional source of religious anxiety for us turned out to be one of the universal rituals of Catholic school life in those days, the daily reading from The Lives of the Saints.  
That book, as I remember it, was a marvel.   Submitted for our edification and emulation—assuming we all grooved on gruesome accounts of martyrdom and that we were all into the mortification of the flesh—were brief biographies of 365 saints.   There was one for each day of the year.   After all these years, I must confess, our daily accounts of welcome pain and persecution, cheerfully endured in His Name’s sake, have pretty much run together in my mind, leaving me with a welter of images not unlike the vision of hell painted by Hieronymous Bosch.   One day and that day’s featured saint, however, do still stand out in my mind.   
The day had to have been February 5, the feast day of Saint Agatha of Sicily, the Martyr. Each day, Sister would choose one of us to read that day’s saintly life aloud.   Maybe Sister did have, if not a sense of humor, a sense of irony or of poetic justice.   Maybe not.   But, for whatever reason, on this day she chose a girl I’ll call Gracie Moriarity.  
            Gracie, at all of 13 years of age, already saw herself, to borrow a phrase from Shakepeare, as a “thing enskied and sainted.”    She was one of only two girls in our class who had professed to hear the calling to enter the convent after the eighth grade.  (To her credit, the other aspirant didn’t seem to take herself or her vocation nearly as seriously.)  None of the boys were aiming toward the priesthood, and with only two girls hoping to become nuns, our class had fallen woefully short of God’s quota, or so Sister thought. At least once a week she would have us put our heads down on our desks and command us to meditate on the question of “whether I have a vocation.”    “In a class this size, there should be at least five vocations,” she would warn.  “Some of you are hearing but not heeding the call.    And if that’s the case, you’ll never be happy!” she would predict.   From what I could see, Sister certainly didn’t seem to be ecstatically happy in her vocation.   I decided I’d pass.   Still, I was tempted to tell her that I was hearing the “call,” just to shock and confuse her, but I never quite got up the nerve.  
            Gracie, as I remember her, was priggishly self-righteous and even pharisaical in her displays of religious devotion.   While the rest of us mumbled and murmured our way through the Lord’s Prayer and other mandatory displays of devotion, Gracie’s voice always rang out, loud and clear as a bell. She wanted Sister and the rest of us to know that she believed.  
The devil of it was that she was also good looking. And she was good at everything. If only she hadn’t been such an arrogant, precocious little prig!  I only saw her lose her composure twice.  That first instance can wait.  This is the story of the day Gracie got to read the account of St. Agatha’s life to us.
            In the version we heard that day, St. Agatha was a fetching but saintly lass of 15 whose misfortune it was to excite the lust of an evil Roman governor.    When she spurned his advances, he had her stripped naked and whipped, after which he ordered her breasts cruelly crushed and then cut off.   Later that night, however, the Apostle Peter was said to have appeared to her in a vision and to have restored her breasts to her.   Discovering that miraculous restoration, the governor, who at this point was no longer fooling around, had her rolled naked across hot coals and broken bits of pottery.    Somehow, she emerged from that ordeal uncut and unburned.    Stumped about what to try next, I suppose, the governor put her in prison, where she did soon oblige him by dying.         
            Again, you have to remember that we boys were thirteen and in the throes of puberty.     Women may not be able to relate, but those were the days when an errant daydream--an "impure thought,' to borrow from Sister's lexicon--could make it incredibly embarrassing to be called to the front of the class to recite or to work a problem on the board—although, in the latter instance, you could at least try to keep your back turned to the class for as long as possible.  My own strategy was to try thinking of Sister.   Usually, that would relieve the pressure in fairly short order.   But that would work for only a little while.   I mean, visions of naked nymphets naturally dance in a boy’s head at that age.  (Oh, would that those days would come again!)   
You have to understand as well that the tone of the accounts of these saintly lives was always weirdly at odds with the imagery.   The reputed intent was inspirational.   We were supposed to admire these heroic martyrs and, like them, to view suffering for one’s faith as the highest privilege and reward that God can bestow in recognition of a righteous life.  Maybe we had already given ourselves over to the world, the flesh, and the devil, but these “rewards” just didn’t seem all that rewarding to us.   The main thing, however, is that the victims always seemed too eager to embrace their fates and even to ask for more.  
The horrors were likewise painted in too much detail and dwelled on too lovingly, suggesting that the writer at least took a sadomasochistic pleasure in the account.    Even the euphemistic accounts tended toward the psycho-sexual and were suggestive of sublimation—as in the “passion” of Saint So and So.  As a friend of mine has since observed, human sexuality ultimately brooks no repression; it comes bubbling up somewhere, somehow.   People committed to the vow of chastity are not immune, much less thirteen-year-old boys.    Try to remember what it was like to be that age.   Then picture a lovely young girl cheerfully rolling naked across hot coals and emerging unscathed, not to mention enthusiastically offering up her breasts for magic tricks, and perhaps you can understand why the scene struck us as downright kinky.
            In all fairness, much of the erotic effect depended on the incongruity between the teller and the tale.  Here was Gracie—a virginal young thing and a stiff-necked prude who, now that I think about it, looked and carried herself a lot like Dr. Lilith Crane, the character Bebe Neuwirth used to play on “Cheers”—talking dirty to us.   Gracie, of all people, was reading aloud, uttering words we had never expected to hear from her lips—words like “breasts” and “naked.” It was too much really, especially since Gracie, who was slow to recognize anything erotic or humorous in St. Agatha’s ordeal, was doing her level best to read fluently and to enunciate clearly.   To our credit, there were only occasional, repressed sniggers until Gracie got to the part about St. Peter’s kindness in restoring Agatha’s breasts to her.   A student I’ll call Billy Decker, always a wonderful mimic, reached up with both hands, making ratcheting motions and noises, as if he were Peter engaged in screwing the poor girl’s breasts back on.    I suppose that in Billy’s imagination the right breast was reverse threaded, as he was screwing counter-clockwise with his left hand and clockwise with his right.  Four or five other guys joined in.
            We lost it, most of the girls included.   Gracie bravely tried to soldier on, through a chorus of raucous laughter.   In mid-sentence, the images must have gotten to her, as she reddened and was clearly fighting to hold back either laughter or tears.   It took a screaming fit on Sister’s part to get us calmed down to the point at which Gracie could resume.    Our forced composure, however, didn’t last long.   Gracie got to the part about rolling Agatha naked over hot coals and pottery shards, and we were off again.    Sister finally had to break it off, lecturing us once more on the theme of how Polish children would never dare to treat her in such a manner, much less make light of the horrible ordeal and blissful death of a heroic martyr. 
            I wonder if Gracie indeed went on to become a nun.
            There are a million stories associated with the Rod and God Club of my day.  This has been one of them.  --EFP 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Service Obligation of Old: An Afterthought

(Elvis's Jungle Room, Graceland, Memphis, 2004)
I was just thinking about how attitudes toward military service have changed in my lifetime.  In 1957, when he was drafted, Elvis Presley knew that he had to go.  The country was still in that World War II mindset, and Elvis's fans would have turned against him as a "draft dodger."  But In 1967, when the former Cassius Clay refused induction, he became even more of a folk hero than he already was.
      Personally, I have no problem with the stance that Clay took.  Our Vietnam commitment was wrongheaded, and Clay--now Muhammed Ali--resisted the draft openly and with a willingness to accept the consequences.  I am merely holding him up as an example of how radically the mood of the country had changed in ten short years.
      And now, we extol everyone who serves, in any capacity whatsoever, as a "hero,"  Go figure!  --EFP

Monday, October 12, 2009

No Thanks Needed!

(Yours truly in Vietnam, 1967)
It happened again today.  A guy I just met thanked me for my "service."  This time around, however, I finally figured out what bothers me about the current compulsion to thank veterans and active duty people for serving in the Armed Forces.  Now that no one has to serve, merely joining the military is seen as going above and beyond the call of civic duty.  That's unfortunate.  I may be jeopardizing my standing as a card-carrying liberal, but I'm conservative enough to believe that all of us have an obligation to give something back to our country. 
       In my day (am I sounding old or what?), it was just expected that the majority of able-bodied young men would be drafted at age 19 or 20. Major employers, in fact, wouldn't even talk to male high-school graduates. Their standard stall was "get your military obligation out of the way, and then come back to talk to us."   Merely serving back then was considered a given, a commonplace, and not a mark of distinction.  Would that it were viewed in that light again.
       Of course, there is such a thing as legitimately going above and beyond the call of duty, and those who do so deserve our gratitude and public recognition.  As for me, I just did what I was expected to do, and no one need thank me for that.  --EFP

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Demise of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

(On the "Iwo Jima," in the Caribbean, spring, 1968, Ed Palm photo)
Just a quick note:  I have accepted a position as a full-time online English prof with Strayer University, and it starts tomorrow.  In the words of the poet, "But at my back I always hear time's winged chariot hurrying near."
      I was heartened to hear Obama reaffirm his pledge to end the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and to allow gays to serve openly in the military.  Over the years, I have had occasion to tell academic hiring committees--some members of which expected me to conform to their stereotypical notions of the military--that I have seen far more boy-girl problems threaten "good order and discipline" than I have seen problems caused by gays.  Whether gay or straight, we all have an obligation to keep our sex lives private and out of the workplace.  If soldiers, sailors, and Marines keep that in mind, there will be no problem integrating gays into the ranks.
     In 2007, I was privileged to make this point, in my own inimitable way, the pages of the late Seattle Post-Intelligencer:  The title to this entry,above, is a link to my P.I. piece.  --EFP

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vietnam Revisited--by Way of Afghanistan

("Patriotic Caddy," Smyrna, Delaware, December, 2005)
Back in the mid-eighties, when I was the Marine Officer Instructor with the Naval ROTC unit at Berkeley, a fellow officer offered a bit of unsolicited advice about my past service. “It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s military,” my colleague cautioned, “so long as you don’t dwell on it or refer back to it.” He was right. The military in those days seemed intent on dismissing Vietnam as an aberration and a predominantly political failure with no relevance to how we might fight future wars.
     Last Sunday’s coordinated attack in Afghanistan, which claimed 8 American lives, suggests that the military is still refusing to heed the lessons of Vietnam and that today’s soldiers and Marines are doomed to repeat that sad history. In its coverage of the attack, the CBS Evening News included an animation, complete with a 3-D look at the terrain. I was appalled to see that this isolated American outpost, manned by only 140 soldiers, was situated in a narrow valley. The Taliban was firing down on the outpost from the high ground on at least two sides. What was the brass thinking in placing these soldiers in such an untenable tactical situation? Does the name "Dien Bien Phu" still mean anything to anyone in the Pentagon?
     I am referring, of course, to the disastrous 1954 defeat that ended the First Indochina War. The French, thinking they would lure the Viet Minh out into the open, established a large base—a series of outposts, actually—in the valley of Dien Bien Phu, which also happened to be ringed by high mountains. The French commander assumed that the Viet Minh would never be able to bring any heavy weapons into those mountains. He assumed wrong. The Viet Minh disassembled and carried their artillery pieces up into the mountains, piece by piece. Deadly artillery fire began to rain down on the French outposts, and the rest is history.
      I certainly cannot claim to be a tactician, but as first an enlisted Marine and later an officer, I learned that securing and holding the high ground was key to success. What was the point, then, in establishing that outpost in such a vulnerable position? It was one small outpost in one ravine among many in those mountains. It certainly could not have impeded, in any significant sense, the infiltration of Taliban fighters coming down from their mountain hideouts. Likewise, I can’t believe that it could yield any important intelligence. Perhaps the point was to establish a base from which we could launch patrols. But, again, I know from Vietnam that there is a better way to do that than by making sitting ducks of small units in static bases. What about “air mobility”? We used it extensively in Vietnam—sometimes to good effect.
      If the whole point was simply to draw enemy fire—to lure them out in the open—I would again remind the military that it was a bad idea at Dien Bien Phu. It didn’t work out so well at Khe Sahn either. One could argue, of course, that using a small unit as bait paid off last Sunday in Afghanistan. We lost 8, the Taliban 50—so we won! Perhaps, but how would you like to have been one of the soldiers considered expendable in order to achieve such a victory? Again, I have to believe that there are better ways to do it.
     There is no doubt about. Leaving aside the larger issue of whether we really do need to stay the course in Afghanistan, we certainly need a new strategy. In the meanwhile, look for lots of hemming and hawing and excuses a-plenty. As one of my favorite Vietnam writers once observed, “There is nothing so embarrassing as when things go wrong in a war.”  --EFP

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Genesis of the "Rod and God Club"

(Joining the "Devil's Party," Lubeck, Germany, July, 2004)

Catholic schools were legendary in my day for their strict, no-nonsense approach to discipline, and most of us remained properly intimidated most of the time. Not all of us, however, went along with the program. A couple of my classmates really fought the power (more about that anon), and by the time I left Holy Penance, Sister, as they say, had a “history of violence.” But our occasional set-tos paled in comparison to the sort of things that were popularly presumed to be going on in the public schools back then.
     From where I stand now, I can see that public schools got a bad rap and that Catholic schools got much more credit than they deserved for academic excellence and for character development. We memorized too much and thought too little. What Milton says about not being able to “praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue” also comes to mind. Still, you have to hand it to the good sisters of old when it cames to social and moral conditioning. Some of the guys and girls who went through the Catholic school experience in that day and time have never quite gotten past the experience.
     “Recovering Catholics” they call themselves. As for me, my saving grace is that I started late and that I never took being a Catholic all that seriously to begin with. I suppose that’s what enabled me, years later, to get off one of the best (if one of the cruelest) bon mots of my life.
     At the time, I was long past Catholic school--already married, in a civil ceremony, to a protestant woman. My wife and I were visiting my mother when my Aunt Jerry dropped by. Aunt Jerry was Polish, and as the old saying goes, more Catholic than the Pope. She was a lifelong member and devoted supporter of St. Hedwig’s, the principal Polish parish in Wilmington in those days. St. Hedwig’s was set right in the middle of Hedgeville, a lower middle-class Polish neighborhood which began just north of Maryland Avenue. St. Hedwig’s was the cultural center of the Polish-American community in those days. Its parishioners celebrated their heritage and their ethnic identity. Aunt Jerry certainly did. So did Sister Casimir, who also happened to be Polish. She and Aunt Jerry never met, but through the Polish grapevine, Aunt Jerry knew of her and even claimed to know about the good Polish family from which Sister had come.
     Even if Aunt Jerry hadn’t told me, I would certainly have known that Sister was Polish. Sister said it loud; she was Polish, and she was proud. At the slightest provocation, she would routinely lament the fact that, with one or two exceptions, our class was not Polish. I still remember some of those laments: “Polish children wouldn’t treat me this way.” “Polish children study hard and do their lessons.” And my personal favorite: “Polish children are religious.” Like most of us, I suppose, Sister needed illusions to live by.
     Truth be told, Aunt Jerry too could be loud and opinionated, but she was also big-hearted, warm, and funny—especially when it came to her chronic lament, her husband’s hobbies. Uncle Jule was an avid bowler and a sociable sort who frequented the Polish Library—actually an after hours drinking club in Hedgeville that, for the sake of appearances, may have had a book or two. (I suspect it was started during prohibition.) But Uncle Jule’s real avocation was competitive shooting. He was a member of the Rod and Gun Club behind mother's house and often practiced there. The practice paid off, as he had won or placed highly in a number of matches, including the national competitions held each summer at Camp Perry, Ohio. Of course, maintaining that level of skill required constant practice—which, in turn, elicited constant bitching on Aunt Jerry’s part. And, truth be told, she was as accomplished in that as Uncle Jule was in shooting.
     Aunt Jerry was in particularly fine form on that day. The occasion of her visit, as I recall, was that Uncle Jule had had some sort of shooting commitment at the Rod and Gun Club that morning, after which they were going to go shopping. And rather than wait for him at the club (which, again, was adjacent to my mother’s neighborhood), she had opted to be dropped off at my mother’s house, where she could defame Uncle Jule for the duration.
     “If he isn’t bowling,” she complained, “he’s at the Polish library. If he isn’t at the Polish Library, he’s at the Rod and God Club,” she went on, oblivious to her own slip of the tongue.
     I’m usually not quick about such things. Generally, like most people, hours after the fact I think of what I could have or should have said. But not on this occasion.
     “The Rod and God Club?” I asked. “What’s that? St. Hedwig’s?”
     This still ranks as the one and only time I ever saw Aunt Jerry rendered speechless. Her eyes narrowed, and she got tight-lipped. She just stared at me for what seemed to be at least thirty seconds before responding, “I wouldn’t be so smart if I were you.”
     And, then, she just picked up right where she left off, rehearsing some more of Uncle Jule’s faults, just as if nothing had happened. What can I say, except what a sardonic friend of mine says whenever one of his one-liners isn’t well-received? “Some you’ve gotta do just for yourself.”
     Speaking for myself, I have to admit that Aunt Jerry, on that day, gave me a handle on my Catholic School Experience. The fact is, I don’t really know about St. Hedwig’s. Maybe it was a kinder, gentler Catholic School than Holy Penance. Maybe it was worse. Likewise, I don’t really know what Holy Penance was like under any other nuns. I went there only for the seventh and eighth grades, and for both grades I had Sister Mary Casimir. (You can imagine our joy on the first day of eighth grade at discovering that Sister Casimir had been promoted along with us.) All I really know is that, under Sister Mary Casimir, Holy Penance was indeed a “Rod and God Club.” And that’s the way I’ve thought of it ever since.
     I mean, hey, the Pope can take a joke, can’t he? --EFP

Gracie in the Attack--10-04-09

This is how I have to start every day--playing "big ball" with our 14-year-old Jack Russell terrier "Gracie."  There is life in the old girl yet!  --EFP

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Palm-Print of the Day

Some kids never came home.  You know what I mean?  (with apologies to Diane Arbus) --EFP