My Year in Sister School: Part I, The Crime

Sister Jean Francis

IN WHICH I don a uniform but not the dogma

“Oh, you’ll find out. Boy, will you find out!”

This ominous statement, tossed my way by my cousin Sam during our final balmy picnic of summer, was half-warning and half-taunt. He’d approached me after the apple bobbing and said, “Hear you’re going to sister school next month.”

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Surrounded by Catholics, Part II: We Decide to Adopt

IN WHICH I see too much and not quite enough

After blessing our home so expertly, Father Berube became the eager recipient of that Catholic middle-class beneficence those who once dispensed it now call “priest adoption.” Back then it was known as “welcoming a priest into your home.”

Priest adoption occurred more often than you’d think. Our family friends the Woodburys adopted a priest before they’d moved to Danvers, but he didn’t last.

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Surrounded by Catholics, Part I: Blessings on Everything

Every Danvers Catholic kid I knew swore by everything Father Berube said. About anything. The reason why was . . . complicated. Oh, so complicated.

“Now you're getting older, your body's starting to change” said Dad. “Any questions?”

“How do you stop getting hard in church?” I asked.

“Don't be ridiculous. That never happens.”

“I just heard . . . in school. Some of the guys . . .”

“It doesn't happen if you're Catholic. You know all about impure thoughts by now.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

“You just got confirmed for chrissake.”

“Not sayin' it was me.”

“Then who? Better not be that Channing Johnstone character.”

“I'm just asking, what if it happens? What are you supposed to do?”

“You say a prayer or something."

“What prayer?”

“Any prayer!”

“But what if some girl’s sitting in the next pew and . . . and looking real pretty . . . and things get out of hand and suddenly you gotta get up and take communion?”

“How the hell should I know? Ask Father Berube.”

from “Questions I Tormented my Dad With”

IN WHICH we are truly blessed.

I never did ask Father John Berube that question, but it wasn’t because I didn’t trust him. He was eminently trustworthy. Every Danvers Catholic kid I knew swore by everything he said. About anything. The reason why was . . . complicated. Oh, so complicated.

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Best Friend

Had I known I’d be writing about Steve, my first adolescent friend, I would have carried my Brownie Hawkeye camera around with me more.

IN WHICH I learn that friendship is more complicated than enemyship.

I’ve never been friends with anyone in the same way I was with Steve Demetrious. It was one of those “more than” relationships. We were more than schoolmates, more than movie companions, more than teammates, more than confidants.

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Why We Listened to Gene Pitney

It’s a perfect three-minute teaser for a legendary western by the same name, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.


The song opens with a languid intro on the fiddle, followed by a simple quadruple drum pattern. Then there’s a rise in dramatic tension. A few bars later the voice enters, with a tessitura so distinctive I’d never heard one like it before or since. It sounds halfway between a country vocalist and a pop balladeer. The singer sets the story by painting a scary picture of a villain who terrorizes both men and women with his “straight and fast” shootings. In the next stanza, the singer’s quavering voice softens the music to introduce an unobtrusive female chorus. In one line he describes the hero, a reasonable man who just wants to live in peace with his girl despite the gruesome gunslinger terrorizing them. Rising crescendos in the chorus inject more tension, tattoos on the snare drum imitate gunshots, and the song suddenly ends, ambiguously, cagily, without revealing the plot’s surprise climax.

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