Monday, April 20, 2009
The Singing Nun and the Great Poo-Poo Scandal of 1969, Part 1
“Cumbaya my Lord, Cumbaya,” sang Sister Jean Paez before she brought the song to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, silence in the auditorium. “You are to wait until the end of the closing hymn before you rise out of your seats!” she bleated with a pouty frown, lower lip extended, her voice breaking with emotion, the tears welling up in her eyes. Only when each and every one of us planted our asses back in the seats did she resume playing her acoustic guitar. Aw, we hurt Sister Jean’s wittle feewings.
Sister Jean was one of those sensitive friggin flower-child “singing nuns” in every Catholic school. You know the type. The hippy dippy folk singer wanna-be who threw the inevitable hissy fit during the closing hymn of a Mass because the students had the nerve to get up and begin filing out of the auditorium before her little fucking folk fest was over.
Indeed, to this day, I have to wait until the Mass has truly ended before I dare get up and go in peace (thanks be to God) for fear that Sister Jean, wherever she is, will start bawling. Even when my kid is acting up and my wife suggests we leave after Communion, I feel guilty about bailing on the Mass to early, because it ain’t over until the crying nun stops singing, or the singing nun stops crying, or something like that.
Pictured above and below is not the Sister Jean that I rant and rave about. This woman is Jeanine Deckers, A.K.A. Sister Luc Gabriel, but better known as The Singing Nun, who became internationally famous in 1963 with her hit song Dominique. They are two different people, but is there any doubt that Deckers had an enormous influence on Sister Jean Paez and other singing nuns? In the late sixties and into the seventies, every Catholic school needed a singing nun with a guitar to hold folk masses, to put on Christmas pageants, to run the choir, and to teach music. For a nun, it’s a great gig if you can get it. It beats working for a living.
Sister Jean Paez was a tried and true bleeding heart. If you were just some normal kid, she had no use for you whatsoever. She treated the average children like shit. But boy did she love the problem students at Ursuline Academy, especially the truly hyperactive brats. And she especially showered her affection on the ones who happened to be there because they had been thrown out of the Springfield public schools, while the rest of us got the golden shower. Blessed were the troublemakers. The harder the case the better. If one of these little fucks disrupted the class with a joke, guess whom her anger was directed at? She punished people like me who laughed at their antics, of course. Why did she adore the misbehaving moppets so much? Who knows? Some women have a natural attraction for the “bad boys.” I learned that the hard way—during the “bathroom humor” scandal in the first grade.
This tempest in a pee-pot involved David Grimaldi and me. We got busted for writing such words and phrases as “ca-ca” and “farts” and “poops,” “toilet,” “pee-pee,” and “smell the big fat fart.” Here is how it all went down: David and I were good friends (even though he was Sister Jean’s little problem pet) and on the bus we took turns writing these dirty words on a piece of paper, laughing with delight.
But David’s mom wasn’t so delighted when she fished our collaborative project out of his book bag. The next day, after a few lessons, Sister Jean told everyone in the class to rest our heads on our desks for a few minutes. “Here we go,” I thought. “Another waste of time because she needs to take a break. Just like the praying stuff. Waste of time.” But then she called David and me to the back of the classroom. “Is she going to ask us to clean the chalkboard?” I asked myself.
Then she produced the evidence. Oh-oh.
“David’s mother found this in his bag. Who wrote it?” she asked.
“We both did. We were just fooling around.” I said turning to David. “I thought you was gonna throw it away.”
David started bawling. “Bob wrote it. I didn’t.”
“Bob, is this true?” she asked.
“Well, I didn’t write ALL of it. We both did it.”
“No, I didn’t write any of it!” cried David.
Even a six-year-old could see what was taking place here. When David’s mother grilled him the day before, he couldn’t admit to writing any of our little extracurricular project, so he blamed it on me. He was hoping it would end there. And it should have. But when his mom upped the ante and told Sister Jean what I dirty little mind I had, the situation started snowballing. David was in no position to tell the truth when the poo-poo hit the fan. He was in too deep: knee-deep in ca-ca, and the only way to get out was to implicate me.
“David, we both wrote it, and you know it,” I said, looking at him and then turning again to our inquisitor. “Honest, we didn’t mean for anybody to see it. I thought he was gonna throw it away.”
“I didn’t write anything,” sobbed David. “I didn’t do anything.”
“One of you is lying. And that makes what you did much, much worse,” said Sister Jean.
“We both wrote it,” I said, looking at David, appealing for an admission. But his eyes were closed, his nose was red, and the tears flowed. “I didn’t do it!” he wailed.
This went on and on for a few minutes. During the first few moments I thought that David might just own up to his part of the dirty deed. After all, it was the right thing to do. But I also understood that for him to admit anything at this point would get him in tremendous trouble for both the writing and the lying, not to mention dragging it on. So he was going to stick to his story.
And I was sick of this bullshit. The whole class, or at least the students in the back rows, could hear this little drama. A bit of bathroom humor had turned into a shitstorm with no end in sight. I even pointed out what I had written, lines such as “one poop two poops three poops four,” and the alternating lines he had penciled in: “Hear Dick fart. See Jane run.” Jesus Christ, wasn’t it obvious? Our “pencilmanship” was different, for Christ’s sake. I used a sharp pencil and a book behind the sheet of paper for support; David had written his witticisms with his dull pencil while the paper rested on his lap. It was evident we had taken turns.
For a millisecond I could see the “ah-ha” expression on Sister Jean’s face. It was a fleeting look, but it was there. But she didn't grill him and go in for the kill. David, despite mounting evidence of his guilt, continued to deny his involvement.
Yes, Sister Jean knew he was lying. No, I didn’t shed a tear because I had nothing to hide. Yes, I knew she was in a difficult position. But there is a difference between telling the truth and telling a lie. Isn’t a nun supposed to know that more than anyone? Was she that afraid of David’s mother?
So there we were. She wanted this to end. I wanted this to end. And David, bawling uncontrollably, was a mess.
So, what do you think happened next in the Great Poo-Poo Scandal of 1969? Would things get even more scandalous? Would the principal become involved? Stay tuned for Part 2. But first, another shot at the Singing Nuns:
The ultra liberal Sister Luke Gabriel (Jeanine Deckers) had so much in common with flower child Sister Jean Paez: both became too radical for their own good. Deckers started criticizing Church doctrine, became an advocate of the birth control pill, and in 1967 she recorded a song entitled "Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill." It tanked, and so did Sister Jean’s career at Ursuline Academy, as you will see.