I was not raised Catholic, and no one in my family is Catholic. Regardless, I was enrolled in a private Catholic school for third grade. My mother was raised Lutheran, so I guess she figured Catholicism was the next best thing. To radically oversimplify things, the difference between Lutheran Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is like being an American in Canada. You can definitely get by, but when you ask for ketchup instead of mayo with your French fries, they’ll beat you with a bottle of free prescription pills.
One day, while I was busy drawing a picture of my favorite beanie baby, Seymour the Seal, a small round man who looked remarkably like Santa Claus sans beard halted in the doorway of my classroom with a big box. My teacher announced that he was a Knight of Columbus and was giving us all a present. I surveyed the ball-like man with skepticism. There was no way this man was a knight. First of all, he didn’t even have a sword, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to see where it attached to his belt with his gigantic stomach in the way. Nevertheless, my ears perked up at the mention of a present.
Mrs. Baker’s (name changed) primordial bones rattled from Parkinson’s as she made her way to the Beardless Santa. Santa looked concerned, obviously worried that my antediluvian teacher would burst into flames before crumbling into dust like the Nazis when they gazed upon the Ark of the Covenant if she tried to lift the 5 pound box. He immediately began making rounds through the classroom, dispensing his presents as swiftly as he could.
As he stopped at my desk and deposited his gift carefully on my literature textbook, I gasped with delight. The item that he had left behind was the most beautiful necklace I had ever seen. The ruby-tinted glass droplets glittered enticingly in my hand. I caressed the rope of beads, marveling over the amount of detail on the small crucifix dangling from one end of the choker. I reverently examined every inch of the necklace, awestruck that I had received something so precious.
I glanced around me to see if my classmates were as impressed by their gifts as I was. The boy next to me tossed the piece of jewelry into his desk without a second look. He then proceeded to jam three fingers into his nose in a particularly spectacular display of poor hygiene. No one seemed to be as affected by Beardless Santa’s unexpected generosity.
The Knight of Columbus left without ado, and Mrs. Baker creaked her way to the chalkboard where she continued with our lesson on Thy Friend, Obadiah. The chalk squealed across the blackboard as she expounded on the virtues of seagulls, pebbles, and other useless things. Although seagulls were my favorite bird, I was too enthralled with my new gift to pay attention to the lesson.
I carefully placed the necklace around my neck and admired the contrast of the blood-red beads against my skin. I adjusted my plaid jumper so that the vermilion droplets were not swallowed up by the over sized neckline, the inevitable result of a thin child wearing hand-me-downs. The sunlight reflected off the ruby-hued beads and cast small splashes of color across the page of my book.
The classmate to my left noticed the sudden blaze of crimson and gasped at my necklace, a look of absolute shock apparent on her face. My classmate stuck a stubby little finger out at my neck and elbowed the student to her left whose eyes proceeded to bug out of her head. Soon the whole class was staring at me aghast. Something was wrong here, but I didn’t know what. Mrs. Baker turned around to ask a question of the class and noticed everyone gawking at me.
“No!” She screeched as she suddenly launched herself at me, hands outstretched like talons. Her paper-thin skin concealed vestiges of strength that would have astounded Beardless Santa. Mrs. Baker’s bony grasp seized my head, and she ripped the offensive ornament from around my neck.
“We never wear the rosary! We NEVER wear the rosary!” She yelled at me. I felt the fires of hell in that scream, and I recoiled from her apoplectic tirade. I burst into tears as she continued.
“This is not for personal adornment! This is a sacred object! How dare you!”
She then proceeded to have a coughing fit and promptly forgot that she had been admonishing me. She mumbled to herself while she shuffled back to the board and attempted to bend over and retrieve the chalk. The boy next to me sneezed out a piece of what was surely his brain as the lesson resumed without another incident.