The Part Time Pagan
How a nun traumatized me on Hallowe’en
Who knows why, but when I was six years old, I wanted nothing more than to be a witch for Hallowe’en. Back then, costumes weren’t very elaborate or expensive; my parents bought us the cheap, comes-in-a-box kind with cheesy plastic masks and flimsy satiny fabric. Luckily it was flame retardant!
Determined to relive my childhood in some small way, I was able to find a reasonable facsimile of this costume online. Catch the brand name - SpookTown – not sure how I feel about the name of that company! Like I said, cheap and flimsy, too!
I don’t think my father was too thrilled about this idea – his son as a witch; he had his eye on an astronaut costume for me, but my mother, in her wisdom, tiredly said, “Al, let the kid be what he wants.”
Being a new first-grader at Assumption B.V.M. Catholic School (the BVM standing for Blessed Virgin Mary), I was very excited about experiencing my first Hallowe’en with my classmates. I had heard from my older sister that we would be able to dress up and bring candy and have a little party. With my newly acquired witch costume, complete with mask, hat, cape and skirt, I was well prepared! What fun would be had!
About a week before Hallowe’en, right after lunch and praying for the poor pagan babies, our teacher, Sister Alberta – already quite ancient for a first grade teacher – announced the details of our Hallowe’en celebration.
“As you know, class, Hallowe’en is a pagan holiday; and as good Catholics, we do not celebrate holidays like pagans.”
Uh-oh. My heart was beginning to sink. What did this mean? No party?
Sister Alberta slowly rose to her feet and slipped her arms inside the folds of her massive habit to find her well-used handkerchief. “This year, instead of regular Hallowe’en costumes, you children will only be allowed to wear a costume as an angel or as one of the blessed saints.”
What?? A witch was certainly NOT an angel or a saint! How was I supposed to pull this off?
At home, I reluctantly told my parents what Sister Alberta said and her suggestion of using an old sheet to make a costume.
“I’m not wasting a perfectly good bed sheet to make another costume for you,” my mother flatly declared. “What does she think, we’re made of money? You wanted to be a witch and that’s what you are going to be!”
That was the end of that! Being six years old, I didn’t have the wherewithal to come up with a sneaky alternative – like if I was 9 or 10, I would have figured out that I could go to Goodwill, buy an old sheet for a quarter and make a new costume – with my mother being none the wiser! Oh, with age doth wisdom come!
The dreaded day arrived. I didn’t play sick or forget my costume. I held onto a small morsel of hope that a miracle would save me. And I needed it badly.
After lunch, everyone excitedly got dressed in their costumes – an array of tinfoil winged angels and toga clad saints as far as the eye could see – except me in my pagan witch costume. I tried to hide amongst the celestial sea as we made our way to our desks. Hard to do when you’re six years old and already 5’5” by the way!
“Sulka!” Nuns always called us by our last names.
“Is that an angel or saint costume?”
“What is it?”
“A witch?! Are you a pagan like the poor babies we prayed for?”
“I thought I made myself perfectly clear. No pagan costumes! Take it off immediately!”
“Yes, Sister,” I stuttered.
Embarrassed and ashamed, I slunk (slank? Slinked!) out of the classroom and removed my formerly beloved and now hated-more-than-life witch costume. I held it together as long as I could, but as soon as I hit the deserted corridor, the tears flowed freely, my sobs a little over the top I might add. But soon an angel’s voice (from the heavens?) cut through my awful keening.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
I looked up. No angel. Another nun! But this wasn’t a scary nun. It was Sister Marie, the young, pretty fifth grade teacher from across the hall. She even wore a shorter habit and veil. She was cool. Had my boo-hooing penetrated those thick concrete walls, drawing her out to the hallway? I was still convulsing.
“What’s the matter, Timmy?” She even knew my name!
“Sister…(sob) said (sob) that I… (sob) was a… (sob) pagan!”
“What?!” I think this was a new one to her, too!
I wiped my nose in the scratchy costume now dangling out of my bigboy schoolbag. “We’re only supposed to be angels and saints for Hallowe’en.”
“I see… And what kind of costume do you have?”
She thought about this for a second. “Wait right here.”
Sister Marie left me, tears still dripping on my clip-on school tie (that always smelled like crackers for some reason) while she moved quickly to the door of my 1st Grade Classroom. With a quick smile in my direction, she entered the room.
Whatever words were spoken, it happened quickly! After a few minutes, Sister Maria came back out and told me to put on my costume. Still afraid of the wrath of Sister Alberta, I warily complied.
Back in class, several of my classmates had assembled at the front of the room. Sister Marie announced that we were going to do a special presentation for Sister Ligouria, our Principal, as characters from the Enchanted Forest! As it turned out, there were a few others who weren’t exactly an angel or a saint - a troll here, a ladybug there. Even Scott and Colleen renounced their divine status and downgraded to a knight and a fairy princess just to be part of the show. We each went around the circle and told Sister Principal who we were supposed to be. In my lady witch costume, I think I even curtsied when I said I was a witch! By this time, Sister Alberta was dozing at her desk. I got my miracle – and a lot of candy, too!
Flash forward to today – I’m writing twisted graphic novels about revenge, murder and a few pagan rituals here and there.
Hmmm… Maybe Sister Alberta was on to something!
What’s your most traumatic Hallowe’en?
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