Well , maybe she said a psychologist , or a counselor . My father was mildly outraged by this diagnosis , I guess , or at least irritated . I don’t know what my mother thought at the time . She’s the one who , always with a sly smile , told the story later on . Knowing her , though , she could well have been getting a kick out of it , deep down . She liked a little twist in life , I think , a little touch of oddity and independence .
Not that having a six -year-old crazy child was something to joke about ; or shall I say , more appropriately , a disturbed child . Not that . But , I think that my mother figured that she knew her little nutcase better than the teacher did ; that little Danny didn’t need a psychiatrist just because he behaved a little oddly .
No , I didn’t trap squirrels in trash barrels and shoot at them with arrows , or hang lizards by their necks until dead , or burn down abandoned outhouses for fun . Those kinds of shenanigans I left to the boy scouts . I respect boy scouts , actually . As a matter of fact , I shouldn’t be telling tales out of school about them , because I was never a boy scout .
I came very , very close , though , once . I went to the weekly scout meeting that was held in the old library building ; and I listened . The scoutmaster , one of those American Legion guys who may or may not have seen action during the war , but who definitely considered WWII ” the good old days ” , took all of us scouts and wanna be scouts out to the back parking lot to march us around parade-ground style , left , right, left , right , about- face . There might have been a parade-rest thrown in . I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.
I went AWOL soon as I could and never went back . But that’s not relevant to my tale of mental illness.
The reason that my teacher was concerned was this : I wouldn’t speak . I wouldn’t speak to anyone much , but I sure wouldn’t speak to strangers .
I was , one day , thrown into school , wrenched viciously from my home nest , and mercilessly flung into the grinding machinery of the education system . School . The whole place was full of strangers , some stranger than others .
My parents sent me to a Catholic elementary school full of nuns . They were an order called the Sisters of Saint Louis , pronounced as Sisters of Saint Louey . They wore the old style clothes , the long shapeless black gowns that stretched from the ground to high over their heads. On their foreheads this order of nuns wore a rectangular piece of white cardboard and a curled piece framed each side of their faces . The sleeves of their gowns were pelican- bill-like tremendous . The sisters might , one day , pull out a marsh mellow to reward a good student ; but on other days , or later that same day , they might just as quickly pull out a long wooden ruler to punish students whose hands or fingernails were dirty . Those nuns might have had anything in there , in those voluminous sleeves , a Pandora’s Box of terrors amid a few random treats .
The Sisters of Saint Louey nuns at my school were Irish girls doing missionary work , inexplicably , in our wealthy coastal community . When they wanted to talk to one another without us kids knowing at all at all what was being talked about they spoke to one another in Gaelic . No need to whisper . They spoke openly in front of us , maybe about us , and we had no clue what the conversation was about .
And they had names like Sister Visitatsio , Mother Colum , Mother Mary Friddolin , Sister Carmel Mary , Sister Ralph Waldo Emerson , and Sister George Burns . Well , not the last two . But the names were unlike real names , and sometimes they were male names , Sister Joel , or Sister Gregory . The clothes were unlike real clothes . And people didn’t call them clothes , anyway ; they were called , strangely , habits . And they spoke that strange language to one another . They could speak English fairly well when they needed to ; but , to one another , they chatted in their own odd sounding lingo that no one else on earth used . I wondered , really , where they had come from , what planet , what they were up to , what kind of trouble were we all in , and why I seemed to be the only one who sensed the danger .
The Sisters of Saint Louey were okay , really . Most of them , as I am looking back , were gentle and kind . But , when I was in first grade Principal Mother Mary Colum came to our class to warn all fifty two of us first graders that we were not to trip one another in the aisles . It must have been a significant problem , that tripping people in the aisles . Principals didn’t visit classes for nothing . Principals in those days were demi-gods who hung out , mostly , in the dreaded Principal’s Office . That horrible place was frightening and mysterious to most of us and akin to the lower reaches of Purgatory or Hell .
So , when suddenly finding your six-year old self thrown into this odd reality , what would you have done ?
Oh , I forgot to tell you what Mother Colum said to us about the tripping problem that seems to have been a Principal concern . She said that she had a big syringe , and that she would shoot something into our leg that would make it unable to bend , and we would never be able to trip anyone again .
I believed her . Of course I believed her . First , school is serious business . I could see that in the faces of my parents as they checked my schoolwork . And , enough said , there’s no need to mention report cards at this point to bolster my contention , is there ? Serious business. Second , nuns don’t lie . Nuns are married to Jesus .
I was thirteen or fourteen before I lost the submerged fear of nuns with syringes . At any time , one of them might pull one of those things out from within her huge sleeves and strike . Years later the thought occurred to me that Mother Colum might have been joking , after all . If so , then the humorous aspects of it zipped right over and evaded my dull first-grader mind . I’d like to think the comment was in jest , nevertheless , and not an intended vicious mind-paralyzing psychological warfare threat with religious and child abuse overtones resulting in a desperate need for years of intense and desperate mind- reviving therapy .
When sailing in strange and dangerous seas , after all , one cannot be too careful . Best to keep a low profile . Quiet ! Shush ! I wouldn’t speak . I’d give my name , maybe . I had no rank nor serial number to reveal . I wouldn’t give out any vital information . I knew that I was in over my head , so I wouldn’t speak .
Psychiatrist ? Psychologist ? Counseling ? Yeah , like I was going to talk to anyone !
School was really never my thing . Inner demons had burrowed into my brain , though , saying : Hey , man , you should be a teacher . It’s unimaginable , the audacious and ironic humor of the underworld ! That would be a good gig for you ! the demons chortled . They had burrowed inside my tiny brain , whispering that weird refrain . Hey , man …….
And so , somehow , I inevitably eventually slipped into a teaching career . I taught for 35 years .
Again: As I think back on it , that first grade teacher was probably on to something . At some point early on I probably should have had my head examined .