I am a Catholic, lapsed...perhaps, disillusioned...maybe, but Catholic nonetheless. I was steeled into my unbending faith by the iron doctrine of Sister Rosalie. You've heard all the stereotypes of stern nuns rapping knuckles with rulers, pulling kids up the stairs by the ear, forced repetitions of the Hail Mary etc., Sister Rosalie embodied each and every stereotype. The good Sister was a tough Chicana from San Antonio, by devoting herself to Jesus Christ she spared some poor sap from a miserable marriage...no doubt.
Sister Rosalie was quick to draw the sword in defense of her beliefs. After the reading of the holy rosary when my mother passed away, our landlord, who fancied himself a Pentecostal preacher went forward to offer a eulogy. It was touching and heartfelt, as I sat there crying Sister Rosalie slid into the seat behind me and hissed into my ear "Who is he? and who told him he could speak" I just shook my head as sobs convulsed through my thin frame. Sister Rosalie was livid, I feared she would lead me to the gates of hell (by the ear of course)
It was Sister Rosalie that had brought us word of our mother's passing. She did so in a gentle and caring manner. The Sisters reassured us that we weren't going to be alone and somehow the pieces would fall back in place. You don't know if your faith is true, until you're tested. A long time ago, I figured out that the best way to stay devoted to my faith was to not attend mass...ever! This allowed me to keep a fresh perspective. I always suspected that there was something queer (no pun intended) about the priesthood, altar boys and celibacy.
Even as a kid, I knew that it wasn't natural. Then again by my own tally by the age of 10 I was already hopelessly doomed to hell. This really bothered me, so much so that I broached the subject to Sister Rosalie "Sister, how can I keep from going to hell?" I asked, "For starters" she said "Recite 100 Our Fathers and 100 Hail Marys" It was a small price to pay, especially since I lost count after a few minutes.
The Southwestern version of Jim Crow wasn't as heavy handed as that of the antebellum South. Deming's two Catholic churches were divided along racial lines. St. Anne's (for Hispanics) and Holy Family (for Anglos) since we lived closer to Holy Family that's where my dad sent us. Holy Family had been founded by Slovakian, Hungarian and German immigrants, who along with the odd Irish, preferred to keep their cathedral lily white.
That was starting to change, but it still meant going fist city with a few white kids. I wasn't a fighter, fisticuffs did not appeal to me. And yet it was a marathon beating dealt out to the city manager's son, that caused me to be tossed from the flock. Funny thing is, I don't remember why the fight started in the first place. It was racial of that I'm certain, but I hardly knew him.
The boy had nothing but he kept coming, he was built like a tank yet didn't land a single punch, he just bulled ahead. I peppered his face with punches, his buddies egged him on from the top of the basement stairs. I fell into a routine of jab..feint, cross.. feint, combination..feint, he kept charging at me. I grew tired of the game, but honor and pride were at stake, so I continued with the lesson plan.
Finally, like Morante del Pueblo it was time for the kill... I had mastered the bull. I reared back and landed a haymaker to his nose... the claret started to flow, his supporters groaned in unison and then vanished into the wind. His knees buckled, but HE KEPT COMING! Jesus Christ! jab..feint, cross..feint, combination.. feint. His blood was on my knuckles, his face was a red mask, to make matters worse he was wearing a white shirt. It was fucking gruesome, but like a good matador I had to see it through.
I reached way back for the kill shot.....then I heard an ungodly scream "MEEERCY BOY! WHAT HAVE YOU DAAWN!!" It was Sister Rosalie! I don't know if the blood made her scream or the fact that he was the son of a very influential man (His dad besides being City Manager, was a Major General in the New Mexico National Guard, politically connected and a friend of the Father) Either way I found myself in the shit, she clamped on to my ear and rudely dragged me up the stairs.... excommunicated, Deming style. I was to set foot in the old parish hall no more. Her last words to me: "Aguirre! you will never see the gates of heaven"
A tip o' the hat to the sons of Eire,
you hard headed bastards ye'
for you can beat on a boyo
till your arms grow weary
but the fight is not over
until the Irish say so!