Saddle Shoes and Mary Janes

As a child, I had wide feet–very wide feet.  I wore quadruple E.   That’s E-E-E-E.  The school I went to allowed girls   to wear only saddle shoes or Mary Janes. This was very convenient for me  because those were the only shoes they     made wide enough for my feet. I think my parents sent me to that school  so I      wouldn’t get a complex about my feet. I tell you, after 14 straight years of      wearing nothing but saddle shoes and Mary Janes, a girl can get pretty  disgusted with life.

My grandmother used to say, “See, Miggin? (For some reason, pronouncing the long e sound for the first syllable of my name was just a tad too overwhelming for my grandmother–hence–Miggin.) “Miggin, That’s what happens when you don’t wear the slippers Nanny buys for you for Christmas.” (Grandparents always refer to themselves in the third person.) “If you don’t start wearing them slippers pretty soon, you’re gonna have to wear the boxes that the slippers come in.” I had nightmares about this…me, at my senior prom, beautiful dress, long, flowing hair, and these gigantic shoe boxes tied around my feet with barbed wire.

My elementary school years were spent (imprisoned, really) at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Jersey City. From Sister Vincent VanGogh in first grade (FYI–Never trust a woman with a man’s name–except Michael Learned–you can trust John Boy Walton’s mother) who had a propensity for eating glue out of the jar (remember that thick white stuff that smelled like toothpaste?) to Sister George Foreman, who you might imagine packed quite a wallop when wielding her iron ruler or left jab. Toss in the various “lay” teachers–(I discovered early on that “lay” was short for “lazy”) it was an interesting education, to say the least.

For those of you so unfortunate as not to have received a Catholic school education, you may not realize that “our” curriculum differed greatly from “your” curriculum. Whereas you may have taken classes such as: Math, English, Science, History, Phys. Ed, and Geography, our school day consisted of: Phonics and its role in the life of a good Catholic, Religion and its importance as preparation for the afternoon, and Jesus and the true meaning of after-school activities. Oh, and there was also Math. Math in grades 1 through 4 consisted of nuns walking up and down rows of desks, having each student recite the next fact in the addition and subtraction tables from 1-12. If you were so unlucky as to incorrectly guess the answer to your math fact–there were two courses of action: 1. Public Humiliation and Onset of Carpal Tunnel Sundrome by having to go to the chalkboard and writing the math fact correctly 500 times, or 2. Having the shit whacked out of you–usually on the leg (but they did love hitting those bad boys on the backs) with the wooden stick, pointer or whatever other long, wooden object they’d been carrying around during math to scare the crap out of you.

Gym class was once a month on a Friday afternoon. It featured thirty fat girls, dressed in plaid gym suits hitting each other with a medicine ball–in between bouts of prayer and discussions of “Religion and the Serious Athlete.”

Science and History were No-Nos, due to the fact that the theory of evolution might come up. The school’s “no-frills” sort of education did have its advantages, though. For instance, I was the music program. Starting when I was in third grade, every Friday I went around to all the classes from 1st through 8th grade and taught the kids how to sing. I remember hauling my father’s oversized guitar–too big for me to press down any substantial number of strings to form a chord. It was my first taste of performing and I loved it.

I performed at every school meeting and function. My first professional “gig” was for the school’s PTA. I was eight years old, onstage, in front of a microphone, two hundred people in the audience and I was ready to give it my all. I remembered what my Dad had taught me–“You gotta get their attention-right away. Lead off with something upbeat and catchy.”  I started with, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?” and sequed right into the classic Irish saloon sing-along, “The Wild Rover” (complete with phony Irish accent, I might add.) The final melody line–“Will I play the Wild Rover…No never, no more!” resounded through the hall. I waited for the applause, the standing ovation, the looks of awe and sheer amazement at the talents of this precocious eight year old. I waited. I heard a gasp, a few throat clearings–nothing more. Sister Humphrey Bogart quickly came up onstage and asked the audience to give me a nice round of applause–they did. But, I never quite understood why she needed to ask them to clap. Hey, I was good–in fine voice, my fingers pressed a damned good many strings and though my “How many Irishmen does it take to…” jokes didn’t go over that well, I was pleased with my performance. Soon after, Sister Julius Irving presented me with a thank you gift. It was a book of easy to play songs, titled, “Songs that a Young Catholic Girl Should Learn to Play and Perform, Rather Than The Raunchy Barroom Drinking Songs Her Father Taught Her.” I was a hit from that day on.