I like to think I was a good girl. Most the time I was. But… once I was bad. Well maybe more than once. I did think for a while that maybe I was my mother’s punishment for when she was a bad little girl. She was full of mischief. She never told me that, but I was a good listener, and sometimes I heard her laugh about stuff she and her brothers did when they were kids.
Church could have been boring when I was a little girl. All that Latin, and trying to follow along on the English side of my missal was dull. That’s probably why the altar boys, my friend Frankie and his big brother Red, rang those bells every so often: so everybody out in the pews got reminded to wake up, and so we could get back on track with the missal. Anyways, my missal had a little red picture of bells every so often, so I could slow down or speed up, depending on how fast I read.
Sometimes I said the rosary during mass. Lots of people did that, especially the ladies. My rosary was white crystals. I got it for my First Communion. Mom’s was black. Mom’s rosary beads were smooth from so much praying.
Other times I just looked around and watched stuff, like flies mating. Mom said that was disgusting and I shouldn’t do that in church. She got worried about a lot of stuff I thought was interesting, like whether I could really kill somebody by calling them up and ringing a high-pitched tuning fork in their ear. I saw that on Twilight Zone. I didn’t really want to kill anybody. I just wanted to see if it worked.
Anyways, one Sunday, I guess church was super-crowded, cuz I had to sit up in the front row, away from the rest of the family. My family took up about two rows in our church. Same thing for my best friend ever, Connie. She got to sit up there with me, too. Next thing I knew, there was Annette, another friend from my grade, sitting right up there with me. Annette had a super-strict mother who never let her wear slacks, even when she did the barn chores.
The three of us got to giggling and whispering. I thought we were pretty quiet and not disturbing anybody until Annette’s big sister Marie came and dragged Annette out of there by the ear. Me and Connie looked at each other and laughed into our hands.
Connie’s eyes were wet and shiny with the giggles, that’s why I laughed. No one can resist that kind of look. It’s catchy, even if the laugher pulls her mouth in a straight line and looks down at her missal. I gotta say, Connie tried to get serious. I did not. I was bad. I poked her with my elbow. Laughter stuffed down made me get a stomach ache.
Mom grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back to the vestibule.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” she hissed at me. She made me look straight into her brown eyes. Her lower lid pulsed up and down.
My stomach still ached for a different reason. All the laughter seeped out through my feet.
“Kneel down,” she said.
I did. Right under the little bowl of holy water.
“Kneel here for the rest of mass. I don’t want to see you get up once. You better be kneeling here when I come out of church. While you’re down there, ask God for forgiveness.”
I did just what she told me to. My knees hurt. My back hurt. I prayed. Mostly I prayed that Mom would forgive me. I prayed that my guardian angel would protect me and make me good.
I stayed right where she told me to stay. One thing I knew for sure, I better do what I’m told when I see those lower lids pulsing up and down like that; no questions asked. Never mind if I was out of her view. Somehow she would know if I moved. Some people talked about getting the fear of God put into them. The fear of Mom was way worse than the fear of God could ever be.
All the parishioners filed out of church, dripping some holy water on my head as they blessed themselves. No one said a word to me. Maybe somebody looked at me; my head bent down in shame, so I never knew. At last Mom came and told me to I get up. She asked me if I was sorry. Of course I was.
I heard Mom tell Mrs. R. all about it over a cup of tea.
“It wasn’t enough for her to see Annette dragged out of the pew,” she said. “She sidled right up to Connie and gave her a big grin, without a care in the world.”
Mrs. R just shook her head and looked into her teacup like she was looking for an answer to how a little girl could be so bad.
Right then and there I thought, I must be my mother’s punishment just like Father W said on Mother’s Day: If you’re bad to your Mom, you’ll get two bad kids when you grow up. I bet one of the Little Kids was gonna be bad, too, cuz Bonita and Deanna and Vickie were always good girls.
It sorta makes my throat tight just thinking about those two moms talking about my badness and shaking their heads. I sure was a puzzle.
Me and Connie and Annette never ever talked about that day. I guess we were all ashamed.
I was bad. Being bad felt lonely.
I did other naughty things when I was growing up, some probably worse than giggling and whispering in church. Still, that day is as bright as yesterday. Maybe brighter.
I never got any bad kids of my own, so I must have been Mom’s punishment. Anyways, I have no memory of my kids being bad. They are smart, and strong-willed, and athletic, and amusing as all get-out. They did give me a run for my money sometimes. I do remember that. My grandkids? That’s a different story altogether. They are delightful. They are perfect. They are never even close to bad. Just ask their mothers.
I wonder if anyone else remembers being bad. What did you do?