For five long bone-crunching years, I was confined to prison, one that had no equals and showed no mercy. There was no thought of escape and I knew not even God would help me, because this was his domain. The warden and all the hand-picked guards were His personal representatives in this facility. This was a Catholic school in the early nineteen sixties, and I was stuck there without reprieve. The nuns were said to be Christ’s Brides. I never could understand why they would marry a dead man and why in the world The Lord would want a plethora of NFL linebackers to be his personal harem. Possibly, out of the thirty nuns that ran the school, five or less could be considered pleasant to look at. Now that’s not to say they were ugly. No not really. They just weren’t appealing or pleasant to look at except in a motherly or even a grandmotherly sort of way. They were a tough bunch. Nobody got anything over on them. I honestly can’t say that any one of them was sharper than another. Nope, huh-uh. They all had eyes that could penetrate you and pluck those thoughts right out of your head.
They were sisters of the B.V.M. which was an abbreviation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but most of the students called them the Black Veiled Monsters. “God will strike you dead with a lightning bolt.” That was their motto. It applied to any circumstance that was out of reach of the black board pointer, yard stick and twelve inch ruler. But that was really not the end of it. Many times my friends and I were slapped or sent to the pricipals office for swats. That tiny little lady who sat behind the principal’s desk was no bigger that my ten year old sister, but she could make your backside blister and your anus pucker in defense of the pain for the next two days. I recall on early spring days the nuns would listen to local baseball games. You had better be on your best behavior and not interupt those games. In the spirit of baseball my eighth grade teaching nun could throw a chalk eraser or even a small piece of chalk and easily miss the little kids in the front four rows and hit me between the eyes. After I was pelted with either item she stared at me until my mouth flew open as I was gasping for air. My giant maw was stretched so far out that she always made the same comment. “Nice looking esophagus, Mr Cobleigh.” The fact that I was hiding behind a bigger boy and the nun waited until the precise moment to strike like a hunter on a tree stand. When I barely peeked out from behind the big kid, it was indeed as if lightening had struck. Whap. Right between the eyes.
The last year I spent as an inmate of this suburban parochial prison, found me under the watchful, bulging eyes of Sister Mary Angelica. The term “Angel” implies a certain amount of peace, beauty and well, a loving nature. This was not Sister Angelica. She stood an entire head above most of us eighth grade boys, which would have made her a six footer and carried three hundred pounds. She was a forty five year old cross between a linebacker and a Marine drill seargent. Dressed daily in long black flowing robes and a white heavily starched fabric known as a Habit, that wrapped the face tightly enough that it looked pinched and puckery, like a prune. All of this was covered with a long black veil that hung from the top of her head to the middle of the back. In truth she was very good as an umpire behind home plate during our school yard games. Sometimes she would take flight and follow a runner to first base just to make sure he had been legally tagged out. That woman could run like the wind on and off the field. I can attest to that fact because I was the stupid kid that tried putting one over on her. A beautiful spring morning. The sun was bright and the day seemed full of the promise that all young boys want, pretty girls. There was a slight problem though. These pretty girls weren’t the flesh and blood type but in a brown lunch bag on pornographic playing cards. I was carrying two lunch bags up the stairs to the second floor classroom and through the door guarded by our own heavenly representative, Sister Angelica.
“Extra hungry today Mister Cobleigh?” she asked , giving my dual lunch sacks a visual inspection.
“No sister,” I replied as my right hand tightened around the top of the old wrinkled bag. Sister Angelica mut have sensed my fear and anxiety as I stood there trmembling and wondering who would get me first. God or Sister Angelica. God wasn’t fast enough. With the speed of a cobra, Sister made a lunge for my sack of naked women just as I jumped backwards. Miniature naked ladies spewed into the air and landed on the floor all around us, exactly the same as a game of 52 card pickup.
The nuns eyes turned to flaming crucifixes as her index and middle finger lodged securely in my nostrils. I slid down the hallway on my heels as she drug me to the pricipals office. After a satisfied retelling of the episode, Sister Angelica grabbed the swat board from the Mother Superior’s hand and asked with a maniacal grin, “Mother May I?”
I still remember those swats and those feisty women to this day. I still wonder if they had many a laugh at their students antics.