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Life at Bat

Life at Bat

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Published by Cheri Laser
Using humor, a grown-up girl revisits a life lesson delivered unconventionally through Catholic school in the 1950s.
Using humor, a grown-up girl revisits a life lesson delivered unconventionally through Catholic school in the 1950s.

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Published by: Cheri Laser on May 31, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/18/2014

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LIFE AT BATA Short StoryCheri Laser
My layover at Blessed Sacrament Elementary School
in the 1950’s
lasted for four years. Prior to
that, I’d been attending Peter Pan, a private
pre-school and primary grades institution where theymust have been teaching me something, although I only remember lunch and wanting nothingmore out of life than to be Miss America. Perhaps this intellectual vacuum was the impetusbehind my mother
’s decision t
o transfer me to a Catholic school at the start of second grade,without enough time for so much as a help-me to my pals at Peter Pan.Once I became immersed in the parochial school environment, I soon realized that, ratherthan pursuing my goal of becoming Miss America, I would surely have more fun if I became anun. Two factors helped me shape this train of thought. First, no matter how much time I spentgrooming myself 
, I always looked as if I’d just finished dancing with a floor fan.
Part of theproblem
stemmed from my being acutely nearsighted. Of course, I didn’t
know
 
that I couldn’t
see and, therefore, I thought everything looked fine in the mirror.After Mother drove me downtown to pick up my new glasses when I was ten, however, Iactually saw
buildings
 
I’d never n
oticed before. And based upon the various reflections I couldthen see of myself, something clearly needed to be done with my hair. Hastily deciding to havemy waist-
length locks sheared to my earlobes, I also submitted to Mother’s urgent suggestion
that I receive what was then called a
permanent wave.
 Unfortunately, we didn
t realize that I have a very small head, and crowning my pre-pubescent chunky body with a circle of very tight curls was
well, in a word,
catastrophic
,leaving me to resemble one of those blow-up punching figures shaped like an upside downexclamation point.
The word “
ghastly
also came to mind when I realized that I could actuallysee what I looked like without putting my nose to the mirror. The full-bodied vision of myself,with my new coke-bottle glasses stretched across my tiny face atop the rounded rest of me, was
not 
a sight one would voluntarily choose to behold. Thus, entering the convent became my onlyviable personal and professional option.Sister Veronica was the second factor behind this decision. She was my teacher eachyear from the beginning of my tenure at Blessed Sacrament, remaining assigned to the samegroup of students as we advanced through the elementary grades. She was not only kind andbeautiful, but tranquil beyond measure, and I imagined that she must glow at night. She alsoplayed a mean game of softball. Teaming up with us at recess, she would magically secure thefolds of her floor-length habit, a.k.a.
nun’s
dress, above her knees, thereby unchaining her ability
to run. Then she’d pick up a bat and stand in readiness, taunting the poor child who’d been braveenough to occupy the pitcher’s mound.
 
“C’mon!”
she would shout to him in her best outside voice.
I dare you to throw a ball I
can’t hit. What are you
 
waiting for?”
 In answer to her question, the diminutive flinger staring back at her was usually waiting
for God’s intervention or 
, at the very least, for the school bell, because there
was
no such thing
as a ball she couldn’t hit.
Nonetheless, he eventually had to throw the pitch. Children across thefield would then watch the white sphere soar over their heads as Sister Veronica
 — 
wearing black shoes that must have weighed twenty pounds, black support stockings, a waist-length veil, and
 
Life at Bat/Cheri Laser 2
fifty yards of black wool material draping her from neck to toe
 — 
dashed around the softballdiamond, with that veil flying out behind her as if she were about to lift off.As she ran, she took theatrical care to slow down three times so she could slam her footon each of the bases before finally heading across home plate. Occasionally, she would evenorchestrate a jaw-dropping slide into her final scoring move.
She was spectacular!
 After demonstrating her technique once or twice, she would then focus her energy ontransferring those skills to us, a task both endless and fruitless at the same time. But we nevergave up trying, and she never lost hope, and at the end of second grade, she gave each of us abaseball bat charm engraved with
Blessed Sacrament
 
1954
 
and the words
Keep Dreaming
.
 The next year we got another one with the date changed to
1955
and, once I understood thepattern, I could hardly wait for each new
season’s addition.
Yes, I loved Sister Veronica. I wanted to
be
Sister Veronica. But somewhere in themiddle of my fifth-grade year, substitute nuns started showing up for class each morning. Thisrotation went on for a couple of weeks before Mother Superior finally came into our room toaddress us. Mother Superior was the chief nun at Blessed Sacrament School, plus she was a veryscary person and, as far as we could tell, that was her full and only name, which, we were
certain, she’d been allowed to
give to herself.
At any rate, on the morning I’ll
never forget,Mother Superior told us that Sister Veronica had been stricken with some mysterious dreadfulillness.
“She’s
 
asked me to tell you that she’ll be back soon,” Mother Superior announced with
her usual pinched face,
and she wants you to study hard. She also said that you shouldremember to
 practice
, which
I presume means your work for the Spelling Bee.”
We nodded obediently, but we all knew
what “practice” really meant
, although none of us could envision playing softball again without our Sister Veronica. Since
she’d sent
us thecoded message, however, we convened on the field every day at recess, doing our best to find herspirit and to make the ball come into contact with either a bat or a glove, whichever was mostappropriate at the moment. All the while, we kept waiting for her to return, but the truth is thatwe never saw or heard from her again. I prayed for her and lit candles for her each day overmany months
 — 
and, while nothing was ever the same after she was gone, my commitment topursuing a religious vocation grew stronger through her sainted, inspirational memory.Consequently, chances are extremely good that I would have, indeed, become a nun, if Sister Marie Dolores had not arrived as our new permanent teacher. For starters, she was the firstwoman I ever knew who had a mustache and, without realizing what she was doing, she gave
rise to the term “hostile environment” a full three decades ahead of 
schedule. Also, our parentsapparently believed that she was even scarier than Mother Superior, and there were rumors that
someone’s dad had actually
started a fight with her at the convent door, after learning that hischild had been held in solitary confinement all day.Of course, the solitary confinement punishments created by Sister Marie Dolores weresecret and were never to be discussed outside of school, a fact that she had methodically drilledinto us. So, if the rumors were true about one of the dads mixing things up with her, we werepretty sure that the dad
s child was headed straight to hell for
 breaching Sister’s oath of 
confidentiality by telling a parent.
We weren’t sure
what 
to think, though, when Sister showed up in class one morningwearing sunglasses. At first we were distracted, because the sides of her glasses frames, whichwould normally be curved over a set of ears, were just suspended against the outside of her veil,not curved over
anything
, and somehow balancing there without falling off.
Maybe they’re
 
Life at Bat/Cheri Laser 3
taped 
, I thought. A number of my friends had been telling me that the
nuns didn’t even
have
earsanymore after years of being smashed underneath their veils. I had refused to believe suchstories, planning to become a nun myself and all. But the way Sister Marie Dolores was wearingher sunglasses made me wonder.Even more troubling was the fact that
we couldn’t
see who she was glaring at throughthose black spheres while she reminded us of the secrecy code.
You
know
 
the rules,” she
admonished us
, “
and yet one of you had the
gall
to violatethem
,”
and then she put the entire class on detention from recess for the rest of the week.Suddenly, as we tried our best not to look at each other
 — 
unsure whether to cry or break outlaughing at the sight of her
 — 
the rumors about her getting into a grownup fight
didn’t seem so
far-fetched. Nor did the possibility that the
rest 
of us might be going to hell as well, along withour unnamed loose-lipped classmate.That night one of my girlfriends, who was upset about losing recess, joined the defectiontrend and gave her mother a play-by-play of what had been going on during an average dayunder the tutelage of Sister Marie Dolores. Then
my girlfriend’s
mother called my mother, whoimmediately took 
me into the living room for one of our “special conversations
.
 
She wasn’t
mad at me, she said. She just wanted to
know if anything “unusual” had been happening
atschool lately.
I could only imagine one thing worse than defying Sister’s code of secrecy or going to
hell, and that was lying to my mother. So I answered her questions and then waited for a burningbush to show up in my bedroom. None did, however, and Mother apparently believed
what I’d
told her, because later that night I overheard her say to
my dad that there’s no way I could havecome up with the word “gall”
by myself.The very next week, before fifth grade was even over, my parents withdrew me fromBlessed Sacrament and enrolled me in public school for the first time in my life. Saying goodbyeto my friends was awful, but the worst part was not receiving my annual baseball bat charm fromSister Veronica, who
never 
would have let such horrid things happen to her all-stars.Not until the next full term began in September did my family and I realize howthoroughly unprepared I was for the public school experience. The good manners and the silent,single-file behavior hammered into my head for four years no longer appeared to be arequirement, and I also seemed to have at least a year
’s
academic edge over my peers. What hadpreviously been long nights of mind-bending homework at Blessed Sacrament were quicklytransformed into a few minutes of review each evening, once
I realized that I’d already
coveredmost of the lessons. This left
a plentiful supply of something I’d never encountered
before
 — 
freetime
 — 
which I initially spent in our partially-finished basement, where I read, or wrote, orpracticed for the up-coming jacks tournament.Then, just before Christmas, an announcement was made about scheduled tryouts for the
girl’s softball team. For some reason, I wasn’t afraid
to show up and, unbelievably, I made thecut. By the end of January, an official softball uniform had been added to my wardrobe of twoSunday dresses and five old
B.S.S.
uniforms, which Mother had refashioned into skirts and vests.Spring Practice started in February, and our season opened in March, and no one wasmore surprised than I was to discover how much I knew about the game. By May, I led the team
in RBI’s; Sister Veronica’s tips on stealing bases
had suddenly emerged as genius; and a freshset of friends, who never seemed to worry at all about going to hell, appeared to enjoy having mearound.

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