Memoirs of a Heretic

I was born and raised in a Catholic home in Toledo, Ohio. My mother had converted to Catholicism (from the Church of England) to marry my father. We attended church every Sunday and on “holy days of obligation”. It was something we just did. My father was a policeman in Toledo during the first 6 or 7 years of my life. I was taught to respect authority, especially police and priests. My mother drilled into my little head that if I were ever lost or in trouble to find a policeman. Policemen and priests were always there to help.

My first lesson in authority occurred during Kindergarten at Arlington Elementary in Toledo. (I guess everything I needed to know really was learned in Kindergarten.) Because my birthday is mid-January, I started school a little older, and so I was a bit ahead of others in class. I already knew how to write my name, my address, my phone number, etc. I was not scared of school… I was excited to be with others and learn. At the time, I went to bed at 7:00p every night and slept well until morning, so the morning naptime in class was alien to me. It was a novelty for the first few days… and of course, I never slept. I had to learn how to look around the room without looking. The two teachers were very strict about naptime…

Keep in mind that my twin sister was in the same classroom, and she suffered the same nap-insomnia. As her elder, (I was born 10 minutes before her), I was held responsible. So, I was occasionally punished for not sleeping during naptime. Specifically, not allowing others to sleep during naptime (read, my sister).  Punishment in this class was separation from the other kids… solitary confinement in the Cloakroom.

The cloakroom stretched across the entire back of the room, with a doorway on each end to enter. For a closet, it was a big walk-in one. The heat came in through the cloakroom first, then through a vent into the classroom. (I surmise this was to dry the coats and boots during the school day.) It was nice and warm, and quiet… the acoustics of coats hanging on all the walls. It was a nice place to be. My buddies had all been banished to the cloakroom from time to time, and one of them discovered you could climb into the vent duct and look out into the classroom through the grate. Occasionally we would hide behind a long coat make it hard for the person sent in to fetch us.

One day, near the end of the school year, the whole class was scheduled to visit a First-Grade classroom to see how different it would be. Pre-orientation of a sorts. Because of this anticipated field trip, I was extra antsy during naptime. Of course, I was sent to the cloakroom. It was a busy time, you know, to indoctrinate the children with rules of walking down the hall into the other class, stay in line, be silent, etc. Well, the time had finally come, and one teacher lead the children out of the door. The other stayed behind, sweeping the floor, cleaning up clutter, etc. I was a bit miffed because I was missing out on the field trip. Occasionally I would peek out the vent to see the teacher sitting quietly in the room. It seemed like forever I was in there. Then, I heard the teacher get up from her chair. Looking out the vent, I watched as she walked to the door, looked around the room one last time before turning off the light, then she left, slamming the door shut behind her. I waited for a few minutes, then realized they had forgotten about me. I creeped out of the cloakroom, and peeked out the door into an empty hallway. All the classroom doors were closed, and it was very quiet. I wandered down the hallway to the front door of the building and looked out. Nobody was around. So, I walked home.

Arriving at the house, my mother and her mother (visiting from England) were sitting on the front porch chatting. Gran saw me first and asked my mother what time it was. My mother looked at me and asked what I was doing home… in a voice which told me I was in trouble. I tried to explain that school was over to no avail. She listened as I told her exactly what happened. She marched me inside and called the school. Then she drove me back to school.

We arrived in the classroom and I sat in my regular place. The kids were all back and were excitedly telling me how long they looked for me… assuming I had hid very well behind one of the coats. One of my buddies even thought to crawl into the vent duct to see if I had climbed up there to hide. I received a lecture from both teachers AND the Principal in the short time remaining that day. I received lectures from my mother, Gran… then I had to wait until “your father gets home” for my last lecture. He told me he understood what had happened. His belt stayed on that day. This was THE day which built the foundation of my understanding of authority. Authority makes mistakes but rarely, if ever, admit so.

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