Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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It’s Not Always About Sex

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. ~ Ephesians 5:4 (NIV)

I was raised in a home where “obscenity, foolish talk [and] coarse joking” were NOT the norm. Private matters were kept private and private parts had cute, little nicknames—which I will refrain from sharing at this time.

The first time I sought clarification on a word I’d heard an older boy spew on the playground, I was five years old. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Soap? But Mom . . . .

I’ll wash your mouth out with soap!

“Mommy, what does #$%& mean?”

Her response was swift—if not helpful. “If I ever hear you say that word again, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

Not that I wish my family life was otherwise—I know now I was blessed—but there were times I felt uninformed, insecure, and naïve. I thought “off-color” meant dull and “double entendre” meant we could have second helpings at supper.

As I got older, my peers found my ignorance amusing. I found it humiliating. Like when I was thirteen and a member of the Camp Fire Girls. One day my troop leader motioned to one of the girls and said, “Anne won’t be participating in this afternoon’s activities because she has her friend.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wo-He-L0 is short for Work, Health and Love

I spoke up, “We don’t mind if her friend joins in.”  I looked around, wondering where her friend was and why the rest of the troop was gawking at me.

The leader said, “No, dear, it’s her monthly visitor.”

I extended the invitation again. “Even if she can’t attend every week, it’s okay.”

I was sent home with a note. My mother read it, then produced an old, faded “You’re a Young Lady Now” booklet and sent me to my room with orders to read it.

I was horrified.  GYour a woman now

From that moment on, I was on my guard. I pretended to get jokes, giggling when others giggled, rolling my eyes when others rolled theirs. When I got my very own Webster’s Dictionary that Christmas, the first thing I did was look up words I thought I should know. I didn’t plan to use them, but I was tired of being caught unaware. (Of course, not knowing the words to look up didn’t help much.)

As a freshman, when I overheard an upper classman whisper to her friend, “Did you guys French?”, I wondered why she would ask such a dumb question since they were all in the same Spanish class.

Married right out of high school, I learned the details of having a baby through—you guessed it—another booklet. Mortified, for years I blushed every time I heard the word “stirrups.” Riding lessons are still out of the question for me.

The mandatory health class in high school was one big blackout. Which might explain why, as a new Christian at the age of thirty-two, I thought the pastor was speaking about male body parts when he spoke about St. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.

I was widowed at fifty and fell for some dumb lines. It took the young adults in my church group to warn me that “Want to come in for coffee?” was tantamount to “Want to come in for a nightcap?” And it took my thirty-something co-workers to discourage me from using the expression “hooking up.” Apparently, it meant more than I thought it did.

After dating David for a year, we married. It was a mixed marriage of sorts. He was a WASP from suburban DC; I was French and a former Catholic from Cape Cod. He’d been in the Navy; I had not.

One day, in the honeymoon phase of our marriage, David went out to run errands. I heard the garage door go up upon his return. When he didn’t come in right away, I looked out the window and saw a neighbor approaching him.

I was surprised when David entered the house a minute later. “You sure didn’t talk very long to Roland.”

He leaned over and kissed me. “Why would I want to talk to Roland when I’ve got a warm sandwich for you?”

A warm sandwich? My mind scrambled. I’d heard of spooning, snuggling, and canoodling, but what on earth was a warm sandwich? Was this a common WASP expression or a term specific to DC? Or worse, had he picked it up in the Navy? I panicked.

How well did I know this man anyway?

I mustered my courage. “What do you mean by that?”

“By what?”

“A warm sandwich.”

He plopped a brown paper bag on the table. “The steak and cheese sub you wanted for lunch.”

Of course. The sub. I knew that.

When will I learn? It’s not always about sex. Sometimes it’s just a warm sandwich.steak and cheese sub

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. ~ Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

PS: This was The Law of the Camp Fire Girls when I was a member:

  • Worship God
  • Seek Beauty
  • Give Service
  • Pursue Knowledge
  • Be Trustworthy
  • Hold onto Health
  • Glorify Work
  • Be Happy

 


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Speaking of the Pope and Things Catholic . . .

With Pope Francis’s visit to the United States upon us, I’ve been thinking back on my childhood. I was raised in a large Catholic family on Cape Cod. During my formative years, we attended St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis. The name may sound familiar to you because it was the same church where Jack and Jackie Kennedy attended Mass in the summer, where Arnold and Maria got married, and where Eunice Kennedy Shriver was eulogized.

Jackie Arnold etc

For some reason, all the talk of the Pope has stirred my conscience. I’ve been convicted to confess a sin I’ve been holding back for decades. Even flying under the radar as a hand-raising Protestant for the last 35 years has not removed this last bit of Catholic guilt.

My memory is kind of fuzzy, but I’ll do my best to recount the event accurately—then I’ll use literary license (which is not considered lying, by the way). Here’s what I remember about that day.

St. Francis 1950s

St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA

It was still cold out, maybe a few days before Easter–one of the two major holidays which warranted two priests and all four confessional booths. The church was packed. There were three pews full of people ahead of us.

My mother and three of my five siblings were there. I was around ten, maybe. I specifically recall wearing a dress under my winter jacket. I remember my mother’s long, powder blue coat. I always loved that coat on her.

In church, my mother always looked holy to me. She knelt with her back straight, never resting her bum on the seat like less disciplined parishioners. She bowed her head without hunching her shoulders, and folded her hands like an artist would paint them. 

Her children, however, did not. We wiggled and squiggled. Especially that day, the day I interrupted my mother’s holy pose with a whisper.

Me: “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Mom: “You’ll have to wait.”

Kennedy Plaque on Pew

Plaque on the Kennedy family pew

Me: “I can’t wait.”

Mom: “We’ll lose our turn.”

Me: “Can’t I go by myself?”

Mom: “No, because if you leave you’ll have to go to the end of the line. Besides, your father is waiting.”

Me: “But Mom—”

Mom: Shh. We’re almost there.”

All I could see was the 27 people in front of us—some of them old.  And old people always had more to confess, I knew that much.

By some miracle I made it safely into the confessional booth and knelt gratefully on the soft, red velveteen kneeler.

Seconds before the priest slid the tiny door open, I peed my pants.

St. Francis Xavier Church Hyannis

Follow the arrow, then skip this booth.

Mortified and petrified–if not physically relieved– I confessed the sins I had on my list—except the latest one. Once I received my penance (three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers), I rushed back, crying, to tell my mother. Without a word, she maneuvered my brother into the second booth and went into the booth I had vacated.

As only a mother would do, she soaked up the wet with her powder blue coat, then calmly confessed her sins, and went to the altar for her due penance.

I still have questions about that day. Did the people who used the confessional booth after us blame the person ahead of them for their wet knees? Was one of them a Kennedy? Did the Secret Service investigate?  Did they replace the velveteen? Am I the reason the bishop Gerrymandered the parish lines so we had to attend a different church the next year?

Recently,I asked my mother about this traumatic event. She said she didn’t remember it. How could a mother not remember one of her kids peeing in a confessional booth? Were we that bad that this was a minor offense easily blotted from her memory?

Perhaps God gives mothers a selective memory to keep them sane. Or does He bless them with the ability to throw their children’s sins as far as the east is from the west?

Finally, let me do what I came to do: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I am sorry for my sin of emission.”

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~ Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)