At Our Lady of Perpetual Help elementary, the game we played for years was Wall Ball. All you needed was a wall and a ball. Actually, that’s the generic term we used, when one of the sisters or teachers asked us. Wall Ball meant we were throwing a rubber or tennis ball against the two-story tall brick wall and catching it, throwing it again. But then it got boring. So we started keeping score, like how people play Horse in basketball. If you tried to catch the ball off the wall and missed it, you got a letter: A, then an S, then another S.That spells ASS. When you spelled out ASS you assumed the position against the wall, bent over with your arms tucked in, cupping over your crotch, and the rest of us got in line to throw as hard as we could at the ASS target. I still remember the hiss from the tennis balls when one of the boys threw it, the sting as it hit my ass cheek or, worse, the tip of my tailbone. Some people took it easy, but most flung away as hard as they could. There was one day in maybe sixth grade, because we were playing in the back yard near the rectory, where we decided to play DICK ball, and got so far as to have one poor guy stand facing the firing squad, everyone aiming at his crotch. I think he put his social studies text in his pants. Sister Katherine, our principal, got wind of that and put the kibosh on it. Rarely did Sister Katherine come out herself to stop some ruckus. In the Facebook page for our old school, everyone said they hated Sister Katherine with a passion, but I liked her a lot. I was scared of her something serious, but my mom worked for her, and I’d see her after school. She’d be calm, laughing at some joke my mom made. She had a deep voice, which she would make even deeper when she would be serious. When she hollered, she spoke in only spondees; nothing was unaccented when she would cry out, slapping the back of her left hand onto the palm of her right with each syllable, “GIVE THE BALL TO ME HONEY BUNNY.” It sounds hilarious now—who calls anyone honey bunny when they’re angry?—but trying to hear her voice when she says that in my head still sends a tingle up my neck. Sometimes Sister Katherine would do that to me, and I think she did it to show there was no favoritism toward her secretary’s son. But the other boys and girls, especially the delinquents, had no doubt I was a big brownnoser. As much as I still care about what people think of me, I didn’t really care what they thought about that. Maybe it’s because it involved my mom, and my mom didn’t take any shit from anyone. She was nice to everyone at school. She’s six foot one, and I remember her coming up to the taller girls in seventh and eighth grade who slouched over so as to not look too much taller than the boys.
“Shoulders out, hon,” she would say, “You’re tall. Get used to it.”