The Recalled Mysteries of Second Grade


“You have to be a nun when you grow up,”
said Debbie Someone on the tarmacadamed
playground, “because your middle name is Mary.”
She should know, I thought, with her family full of
nuns and priests posing like saints in photos all over
their living room. I was reading a book about a girl
or a doll named Jane. “I will be Sister Mary Jane,” I said.
“You can’t. That’s a shoe,” said Debbie. The First Mystery.

The nuns wore a rosary of wood around their waists,
the beads as big as marble shooters. It took two decades of the
rosary to belt the bulk of Sister Mary Albertine, but one or less for
tiny Sister Mary Joy. I imagined them wearing the rosaries to bed.
They could clasp the mighty crucifix and manage the opening prayers,
but what happened when they reached the decades wrapped around
their waists? Maybe they rolled on each bead, recited the prayer,
and kept rolling, pausing, and praying till dawn. The Second Mystery.

The nuns had wooden clackers like stork beaks they’d extract from
the folds of their habits. Clack! We’d walk two-by-two. Clack! We’d
genuflect. Clack! We’d march into the pew. Clack! We’d sit. If I was
going to be a nun, I needed a clacker. I borrowed Sr. Mary Theophona’s.
(I wasn’t a thief, just a novice seeking improvement.) I took it home and
practiced with my younger brother. Clack. Walk. Clack. Stop. Clack. Sit.
Clack. Fold your hands to pray. He stood up and left the room. “You can’t
leave when I’m clacking!” I shouted, disbelieving. He said, “Shut up.”
To a clacking nun in training. And nothing happened. The Third Mystery.


We went to Mass every day during Lent. I didn’t understand the Latin,
but I recited it perfectly. I thought Et cum spiritu tuo was the Holy Ghost’s
phone number. I wanted to be an altar boy and use the candlelighter,
reaching high, touching wicks with fire, setting the stage for Mass.
I wanted to shake the bells at the consecration, and then hold
the communion plate to catch Jesus if he fell from someone’s
mouth. I thought, if he’d been crucified and resurrected, he could
probably handle a fall to the altar if I missed catching him. I wanted
to wear the red and white vestments and go up and down the aisles,
waving incense at the people in the pews. I wanted to answer the priest,
to kneel and bow and parade around doing things while all the people
watched. I asked Sister Mary Eulogia if I could be trained. “You can’t be
an altar boy, Catherine, because you’re a girl.” Stern eyes flashed through
rimless glass circles. My heart doubted her theology. The Fourth Mystery.

We received a monthly magazine, Catholic Highlights for Boys and Girls.
Every issue featured a child martyr who told the Roman soldiers, “I love
Jesus, and won’t stop,” so the child met a gruesome end and became a saint.
There were also articles about catechism and tips for being pious, but I turned
to the martyr tales first. One night, I read how one of the child martyrs proved
his love for God by sleeping on sticks and stones. I went outside and found
some stones, added my jacks and balls and dried peas and the peashooter,
scattered them in my bed, settled myself gently, and waited to feel holier. “JMJ,” 
I said. I did not enjoy it. I hoped God noticed and I was proving my love.

My mother came in to say goodnight. She sat and felt a stone. Or two. I had
to confess my plan, and asked if she could see my halo beginning to glow. She
dissuaded me from being a child martyr. We cleared my bed of stones and jacks.
My mother tucked me in and kissed me. She told me I was precious; she loved me.
I heard her whispering to my father in the hallway. They were laughing. I inhaled
the music of their laughter and was blessed. I knew God would make that music.
Why would someone expect you to suffer to prove your love? The Fifth Mystery.


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13 thoughts on “The Recalled Mysteries of Second Grade

  1. Picture a big smile on my face with every line of your story 🤗 bringing back so many childhood memories – my nuns were the Sister of St Joseph’s Enfield, NSW Australia, complete with beads and clackers – God bless you Kitty, you made my day again!


    1. Ha! The Beads and Clackers Girls! I am so happy it made you smile, antsimon. My remembered second-grade self always makes me laugh…well, a lot of my “remembered selves” do that. So it goes! (I used to think we were saying “Dominoes Nabisco,” too!)

      I love hearing from you and hope you are safe, well, and thriving. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The “clackers”- memories flood back and the mysteries you list! Didn’t go on to Catholic high school but many of the friends made in grades 1-8 are still treasured today. I enjoy your writings! Love your picture ; mine is similar!


    1. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing. Yes, many lifetime friends of mine also share these memories, and we treasure them dearly, even though we howl with laughter as we recollect our childhood understanding. 😆

      I hope you’re well and safe, and thriving. Joy and gentle peace, Catherine Mary. 😇


  3. What a brilliant piece of writing, how I laughed and smiled and nodded throughout. It brought back so many memories of childhood and of being educated by nuns. My mother was an ardent Roman Catholic so religion was right up there. One day my brother asked me to crucify him so I had him tied onto a makeshift cross in the garden with a crown of ivy and a shedload of ketchup all over his head, hands and feet. I think we were around six and seven. My mother wept for days after she came across us. Love and hugs to you all.xxxx


  4. I also recalled falling out with a priest during communion preparation when he told me animals don’t go to heaven as they had no souls! I did ask and refused to accept his answer. I was banished to a corner for my impertinence xxx.


  5. Oh, my goodness! You two took the drama up a notch, that’s for sure! Your poor mother.

    I’m happy that, for decades now, the priests have blessed all the animals on St. Francis’ Day. So we all evolve…

    I’m glad you enjoyed this; I hoped it would give you a giggle. 💙

    Happy midweek; hope it coasts to a merry week’s end for you, my friend! Xoxo


  6. Kitty, I wanted to wait until I had a little time to answer this. I can’t recall your ever writing humor, but I have to tell you, I am laughing out loud. Having gone to grammar school with the nuns, too, I could relate. Ours were Sisters of Charity, which looks like what you had, though the habits pictured above are like later “styles” for our nuns. In early grades, they had what looked like crinkled white strips – like from chocolate boxes – around their faces and a starched bow below the chin. But no clackers. We used to have 48-50 kids in a class and you could hear a pin drop. How did they do that? I remember some would walk around the room quietly tapping a 12″ ruler in their palms while we were studying or writing, always at the ready. One nun was so scary, I used to sit there with sweat marks on my blotter lest I be smacked with it. (Never was, but still scary.)
    There sure were lots of mysteries, weren’t there? I think some of the answers the nuns gave were some of the reasons people “lost” their faith, but some were downright funny. There were times when I even made up sins in the confessional because I felt the priests wouldn’t believe that I’d really not committed any. Oy. And I laughed even harder when I read of Snowbird and her brother’s crucifixion efforts.
    I had a roommate in college who was Jewish. One evening we were all sitting around, and she says to me, “Tell me the story where the angel tells Mary she’s pregnant. I love these stories; they never cease to amaze me.” And there you have it. A reply as long as your post. LOL!


  7. Hi, Jeanne, and thank you for your comments. Yes, many mysteries! 🙂
    We moved a lot because of my father’s corporate career, so I was lucky to be taught by nuns from many different orders, and I have to say, I lucked out, because, although classes with 50 kids required a degree of strictness, none of mine ever threatened us with rulers or physical harm… a lot were young and joyful, fired up by Vatican II. There were older nuns, especially at our high school, who were very well-educated, but perhaps past the age when it was fair to keep them in classroom full time…they seemed grumpy, but now that I’m retired, I bet they were just exhausted…Mostly, though, I’m very grateful for the gifts and talents they offered my life. It was not an easy job at all. Yikes. 🙂


  8. Most of the nuns I had were just lovely. Only one was pretty scary and did occasionally hurt kids, usually boys; another strict and impatient, but not scary. Overall, yes, I was lucky to have them, too. They were kind and most had good senses of humor. They obviously made quite an impression on us! And I promise to never write a novel again in response to one of your posts. LOL


  9. Oh, no, Jeanne! I LOVE YOUR COMMENTS. I love our conversations here, and would never want you to change anything about your thoughtful, wonderful responses. I enjoy your sharing so very much! 🥳


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