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  • Perhaps it is auspicious that not a one of us can ever imagine the potential good and beauty that might someday spring from a daunting or dire situation, a closed door, a deep doubt or insecurity, or something outwardly nondescript, unattractive, ugly, or seemingly useless. Therein lies the importance and necessity of being open to growth, patient, reflective, and striving to live daily with hope.

    When I was six and in the first grade at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School (no kindergarten or preschool for me), the term PTSD was unheard of - perhaps not even coined or categorized in the annals of mental health - nor its myriad symptoms. But ADULT OTHERS while also not cognizant of this condition - but filled with those inimitable attributes of compassion, understanding, and agape - soothed the edges of trauma for my mother and siblings and me that must have left us all with remnants of PTSD - some siblings moreso than others.

    The night of the first domestic-trauma - the one I could take you back to and lead you through and show you the very place - Father Lutz, our parish priest who befriended our family in such caring ways, took all of us to a hotel room. Granted my dad had been arrested and jailed, but something about Father Lutz must have made him decide that we young ones needed to be away from that horrible night at home (there were five children ages 8, 7, 6, 5, and 3). I remember his gentle hand on my head that night as my little body shook as I wept - his warm hand on my head meant the world that night as my mother had fled, an indifferent policeman had pointed a flashlight in my face, and hauled off our drunken father who had tried to kill my mother. We three older kids literally saved her life that terrifying night. My world changed that night - I changed that night - but the kindness and friendship of Father Lutz remained steady through years. Praise the heavens that my business-executive-often-drunk-and-violent father frequently traveled. Wednesday evenings found Father Lutz in our kitchen making the best spaghetti and meatballs ever. Once we were all in bed, he would then belt out his favorite Irish tunes from our living room. I knew even at school that there stood peace and cheer in his white farmhouse of a rectory on the hill, and my mother and siblings and I cherished our frequent visits there where his beloved parrot "Ike" carried on with happy greetings everytime we walked in. Father Lutz remained our friend until his death. I know that in the sixth year of my life, I grieved the loss of my father although my parents would remain together for another 24 years. I never looked at him again with love or care, but an indifference that sustained me and kept me detached from him through future terrors as we continued a life under his domination. He still haunts some family members - from the grave.

    When Father Lutz died years later, I cried over his loss. When my own father died, I did not.

    Still, after this defining night, I remember feeling timid many times and anxiety-filled any time I was separated from my mother - even if that separation occured in the grocery store. I lost myself in school and books where I adored Sister Mary Jude and learning. Who knows if Sister Mary Jude was tipped off by Father Lutz (me thinks so), but she always treated her small charges with love and gentleness. I recall her helping me into my daisy costume (all the girls were daisies) for a school play and giving me a hug. I remember her crying in the classroom the day JFK was assasinated and explaining to us bewildered first graders what that was all about and why we were going home early that day. While I hardly understood the concept of death, I knew about the fear of harm. I knew about violence although not the word.

    Books became my comfort and joy, and I can still recall where the bookmobile parked every Friday and the kind driver librarian who date-stamped my load of treasured stories. When one is six, she doesn't make self-assessments about personality traits or other such characteristics. But I knew I loved books and reading and school.

    However, I never felt as if I were stellar-smart. I will leave that to second grade and Mrs. Toomey.

    There was a tacit understanding among us second graders: no one really liked her, but many of us actually feared her - I among the latter. She was quite a large woman who I know with certainty drove an old Studebaker. I must have started to develop my sense of style - something my grown children and husband insist I have - because at age 7 I really liked Mrs. Toomey's car, but inwardly wondered how the hell she fit into it.

    Most of that year is a blur except for our year end Spelling Bee where each 2nd grader (about 35 of us back then in the mid-60's Catholic school classroom) lined up next to each other around the perimeter of the classroom. Yes, we had to follow standard spelling bee protocol, and I, the ever-steady-rule-follower dare not upset the strict protocol of Mrs. Toomey. However the spelling bee dragged on for what seemed an eternity. As the clock ticked toward the 3 o'clock bell, student after student departed the orbit of spellers and dejectedly returned to his and her seat. I was still standing, and this was at once a surprise and terror to me. Soon, I was the only student standing. And no word that Mrs. Toomey challenged me with could knock me out of the bee. I steadily grew in inward and outward embarrassment as I felt her piercing disapproval. After all, the bell would ring in about five minutes.

    My already blushing face went tomato-red when Mrs. Toomey boomed her final instructions to me - loudly and in front of all my staring peers: "Okay, Miss Smarty Pants, spell 'Constantinople' ".

    I was shocked, confounded, nonplussed. But I knew I must at least try. What the hell was a constantinople? Geez, Tommy had just returned to his seat after mish-mashing the word "truck."

    "C-O-N-S-T-A-N-D-T-I-N-O-P-L-E"

    What can I say? At seven, I did phonics exercises for fun. Still, I was awarded first place along with the prize: A small plastic statue of the Blessed Mother. And maybe, just maybe, I was right then and there already living in hope and somewhat smart after all. At least, Mrs. Toomey thought so.
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