My elementary and middle school years were spent at a small Catholic school taught by nuns. There were eight classrooms filled with about 60 kids per room. We all knew each other, our families knew each other, the nuns knew us all. It was an environment where if you did something good everyone knew about it. Likewise, if you did something bad everyone knew about it too.
I was a poor student for the most part, often bored, except when something interested me. Then I went from an uninterested slouch to a stellar performer, but such moments were rare. I liked hands-on learning but learning back then was rote memorization, the whole class of 60 kids repetitively shouting out loud, or quiet reading of textbooks where nothing was alive.
On more than one occasion I acted out and got into trouble. Getting into trouble could mean being humiliated in front of your whole class, being sent to the mean principal’s office, made to stand in a corner for a day, or getting sent to public school, this last being the most dramatic, but it did happen. Suddenly a student would be gone and we would be told that she or he had somehow sinned and been dealt the worst punishment this side of Hell, public school! I do clearly remember one girl once telling a nun to shut up, using an expletive, and she got expelled that very day, the little heathen. Her fate was, as we heard from the satisfied nun, public school!
It was my seventh year in this school when I did something really bad. It was the fall of 1964 and for some reason squirt guns were popular. It became a big fad, both boys and girls carried them around all the time, to school and home again, around the playground at school and around the neighborhood at home. We’d carry them loaded with water, ready to fire away at a moment’s notice. There was a little general store a few miles from where I lived and it was at this store that we bought our plastic guns. They came in various colors. Mine was blue.
As I recapitulate I remember the thrill of pulling out that little blue gun, taking aim and squirting an unsuspecting someone, usually a boy. I remember that a big “fight” was planned and everyone was bringing their gun. The imp in me got the grand idea to fill my gun not with water, but with perfume, specifically my mother’s Chanel No. 5 Eau De Parfum. I carefully poured from the big glass bottle directly into my gun, not spilling a drop. Hee hee, you couldn’t tell it wasn’t water!
I could barely contain myself as I got on the bus and surreptitiously pulled out my gun and started firing away. Pretty soon the entire bus stank! Clothes reeked! At school, as we played outside in the morning before being called to line up, I continued firing. The air was filled with the stench of Chanel No. 5 Eau De Parfum as I aimed and shot yellow stream after yellow stream of the stuff. Two perfectly aimed shots hit a boy in my class right smack in the eyes. Thrilling! The pistol of perfume was in my hands, and I was a champ. All my girlfriends laughed as the boy started rubbing his eyes and went crying into the school. Pretty soon Sister Mary Bernard, the Principal, came marching out, dragging the weeping boy by his shirtsleeve.
“Who did this?” she demanded.
Everyone ran. I was the only one left standing. I had to admit that it was I; I did it.
“You knucklehead, where did you ever get such an idea?” she yelled, as I stood there shrugging my shoulders, unable to answer her because I thought it was a perfectly brilliant idea! “You hurt this boy! You’ll be lucky if he isn’t blinded by what you did!”
As I remember that day, I still experience the same thrilling jolt of numinous energy that coursed through me when I loaded that gun with perfume, slipped it into my uniform pocket with a giggle of delight, and when I pulled it out on the bus and started firing. Once everyone realized what I had in my gun, it was all over. No one else in the entire school had thought of what I had thought of! I was onto something good! And boy, it was good while it lasted! And boy, was it bad when it ended!
All guns were confiscated. Parents were called. The boy had to go to the doctor. The school stank all day of perfume, we all reeked of it. And I got into trouble, big trouble, though I did not have to go to public school. At the end of the day even the bus driver finally knew who had smelled up his bus that morning. He glared at me when I got on the bus in the afternoon and said, “I’m watching you, Troublemaker.”
Not only did I get into trouble at school and at home, but everyone in the whole world seemed know what I had done. I was bad. Even my grandmother and her bevy of friends knew. People in my neighborhood knew. Kids who didn’t go to my school knew. Even the man who owned the general store knew. The next time I saw him, he grumbled at me.
“You’re the one! I had to deal with the Catholics! I had them calling me up, angry and yelling, and now I can’t sell squirt guns. Had to take them all off the racks!”
I had to apologize to the boy whom I might have blinded for life. He meekly accepted my apology when I saw him on the bus the next day. “It’s okay,” he said. I think he secretly wished he’d thought of using perfume instead of water, but he just wasn’t as inventive as I was.
I had to stand before my parents in the evening after my shameful adventure and explain to them why I had done what I had done. I remember telling them that I did it because it was fun. My father could barely contain himself, secretly pleased that he had such an impish daughter. My mother delivered the final blow, as usual. I was grounded.
“For how long?” I whined.
“Until I say, now go to your room!”
What can I say, there really was an imp inside me and she had to express herself. She was much more daring than shy me, or quiet me, or scared me. Without her, life would have been one long boring snooze! She knew how to kick up some energy and have a grand time. I never really regretted what she got up to because she brought me such exciting experiences, and the thrill of it all still vibrates through me today as I recapitulate what she did. When she showed up, it was time to have some fun!
A blog by J. E. Ketchel, author of The Recapitulation Diaries