Growing up Catholic creates certain opportunities for rebelliousness that might have other wise been missed. In the neighborhood where I grew up, there was an elderly woman named Josephine who lived across the street from my family. Josephine was an Italian immigrant that, in pure Catholic fashion, had a huge brood of children and spent most of her life caring for them.
She lived with her son and grandson and spent her days in the summer sitting on the porch watching the rest of the neighborhood. Josephine couldn’t read or write and by the time I met her, she had lost all her teeth. She preferred being barefoot on her porch which was one of the things that I liked about her. As a young girl, I didn’t mind spending time sitting with her on her porch but as I grew older and gained more freedom to leave my block, I spent less time on her porch swing.
There were times when Josephine could be down right annoying though. With six kids in our family, during the summer when we became bored, we would drive our mother to distraction. Once she had finally had enough, she would chase after us spatula in hand, ready to give one of us a swat on the back side. My mother would never spank us in public and knowing that, we would run out the front door and into the yard. Josephine, sitting on the porch would spy us running and my mother on our porch demanding we return to the house, would stand up and yell “Beat the hell outta those kids Sheila, the little brats!” To which we would yell back at her to mind her-own business.
Once in my early teens, there where times when I would leave the house on my way to be with friends, Josephine would yell for me to come and sit on her porch with her. When I told her no, that I was going somewhere, Josephine would angrily reply, “Go on then Little Miss Independent, I don’t want a snotty little girl like you over here any way.” She always called me Little Miss Independent like is was the worst thing in the world for a young girl to be. So Josephine poured gasoline on the fire of my rebelliousness.
Occasionally, on Saturday’s, my mother would agree to drive Josephine to church so she could go to confession. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to ensure her children’s salvation, she would also drag along any of her kids who happened to be old enough to go to confession and weren’t lucky enough to be away from the house at the time. One of those Saturday’s, my older brother and I weren’t so lucky.
On the way home from the church, Josephine reached over tapping my mother on the arm, and asked conspiratorially “What’d you get?’” then with out waiting for an answer, she continued “I’ve got to say seventy five Our Fathers and a hundred Hail Mary’s. I’m going to die before I say all those.” My mother glanced up into the rearview mirror at my brother and I and said “Kids, if you two say twenty five Our Fathers and forty Hail Mary’s then Josephine will only have twenty five Our Fathers and Twenty Hail Mary’s.” She didn’t wait for a reply but I can tell you that I sat in that back seat, crossed my arms over my chest and glared at the back of Josephine’s head. If she thinks I’m going to say prayers for her, she’s go another think coming. Josephine could some times infuriate me. So could my mother. I think I eventually said those prayers over the years. I think of Josephine and that day every time I hear one of those prayers being said at weddings, christenings and even in the movies. I just think to myself, this is for you Josephine, from Little Miss Independent.