The Field Trip
In her comment a few days ago, Tess remarked that I must have been a very observant child.
I am hardly ever serious now. But I was a serious kid. I sought logic in an illogical world.
Some of my questions were just kid stuff: Why do I have to do Arithmetic homework, when I already know Arithmetic? Why do I need a bath when I was just out in the rain?
And sometimes I questioned the rationality of the world: Why don’t rich people just buy stuff for poor people? Why aren’t there any colored girls in my class?
The adults around me may have thought that I was fresh, and maybe I was, but there’s more than one definition of ‘fresh’.
When I was around ten, my class went on a field trip. This was extraordinary. We never went anywhere.
There were five Catholic elementary schools in our town. Four of them were within walking distance to the local movie theatre. The theatre manager was no fool. Every year he booked at least one religious movie and offered discount group prices for the matinee.
In fourth grade, I was finally old enough for the pilgrimage to the theatre.
How I loved the movies. My mother would raid the couch cushions every Saturday. She could usually come up with fifty cents each for us three girls (my brother was too little). It was thirty-five cents for admission and fifteen cents for snacks. In the late fifties and early sixties, you could get a lot of candy for fifteen cents. I usually went for the Goobers for ten cents and two MaryJanes for a nickel. I could get popcorn for fifteen cents, but then I would be thirsty and I didn’t have any money left. Besides, if I had a soda I would need to go to the bathroom. And I would not miss any part of any movie. Not even the previews. Back then, once you paid your admission you could stay all day. I saw every movie twice. My mother encouraged this. She also loved movies and she loved when they ate up my whole afternoon.
The day of the movie outing, the Sister collected twenty-five cents from each of us – the discount rate – and lined us up for the walk to the theatre. We always marched two by two. I think the nuns had read too many Madeline books. But there were an odd number of boys and girls and I had to hold hands with Curtis. That was distressing. But he was very short and I pretended he was my little brother, and I was babysitting.
The movie we saw was about St. Maria Goretti. It was an Italian movie, dubbed in stilted English; I learned through the years that these annual religious movies were almost always Italian.
I googled recently to see if I could find the name of this movie. I found a film – actually considered quite a good one – called “Heaven Over The Marshes” about the death and canonization of young Maria Goretti, who was murdered rather than submit to rape. This film was made in 1949, and I saw it around 1961. So this movie could have been twelve years old. It might have been.
Rows and rows of children sat and watched this adult-themed movie with a bunch of nuns. I remember clearly the murder scene. The older boy and the young pretty girl. I didn’t know anything about rape. I didn’t even know anything about sex. And they wouldn’t let us have a snack. This was just as confusing, as I had a dime, and it wasn’t even Lent.
Then we marched back to the school. I think now that perhaps the nun was at a loss explaining this movie to a bunch of ten-year-olds, since we went right to work on Geography, finding Italy on the map.
I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to make sense of it. I raised my hand. “I don’t get it,” I said.
“What don’t you understand?” asked Sister (reluctantly, I’d guess).-
“What was that boy trying to do, that she kept saying no?”
There was a very long pause.
“He was trying to touch her legs,” Sister said.
I was a logical little girl.
“I would have let him,” I said.
I hope that Sister went back to the convent that night and had a little chuckle over my uncensored innocence. I really hope so. I don’t want to go to hell.