Reflections of an Unlikely Oracle
By Carole Murray
I was born in L.A.'s Queen of Angels Hospital on All Souls Day,
Loretta Young was in the next delivery room giving birth to a son.
My first generation American parents named me Carole, an anagram
of Oracle, but also a nod to Lombard. (The "e" was everything.)
My childhood was an idyll of palms and the Pacific, pony rides and
ice cream parlors. I played in a backyard that was a jungle of cala
lilies and fig trees, tiny frogs and ancient turtles. Every day
when my dad came home from work he did magic tricks for me, producing
candy with his sleight of hand. My mother cooked like an angel --
fried chicken and spaghetti, roast beef and mashed potatoes, and
on Valentine's day, an iced layer cake that she let me decorate
with cinnamon hearts. I appeared to be on the fast track for the
life of a blond surfer girl, the ultimate Beach Boys' Wendy.
good to be true? Fear not.
the course of a week my father died suddenly, was buried on Christmas
Eve, and my family uprooted itself to Jersey City. I arrived on
New Years Eve, 1955, at Idlewild Airport, a curious six-year-old
desperate to see her first snow, yet owning no winter clothes.
a guest visited my first grade class at All Saints School we would
be asked the Big Question. "How many of you have a religious
vocation?" All the tiny hands flew up, eager at the chance
to be Father or Sister. It was even more exciting than being a Fireman
or Mommy. To become a nun had a certain mysterious cache. (I once
bought a very expensive nun doll just to see if she had hair under
the habit. She didn't.)
than waiting for some guy to propose, I could to be a Bride of Christ
on my own timetable. The dress rehearsal -- First Holy Communion
-- was a sacred occasion when we welcomed Jesus into us, body and
soul. We dressed up as miniature brides and grooms and sang the
rousing anthem, "Oh Lord, I Am Not Worthy!" The lyrics
successfully penetrated my fragile child-psyche. I spent the entire
night before my Communion in the bathroom hurling up my unworthiness.
the long years wore on, we began to question our vocational choices.
Too many boys were lured to the sacristy by Father, then sedated
with a bit of sacramental wine. The good Sisters of Charity bruised
too many girls in the name of discipline. I moped around the house
in my pajamas reading the lives of the saints. I was particularly
struck by the response of St. Therese of Liseux when she produced
her blood-flecked tuberculin spittle. Giddy at the promise of impending
death, she rejoiced with orgasmic fervor. I envied her. I would
have gladly traded my miserable existence for the guarantee of an
early exit and timely canonization. And if the Communists came over
and challenged us to renounce our faith, like the good Sisters said
they would, I could be twice blessed in my sainthood- not only a
Virgin, but also a Martyr.
bigger we got, the harder they hit. Nuns would stand on chairs to
"box the ears" of the boys who were twice their size.
One kid got a shiner for screaming "you old bitch" at
the Bride of Christ who came at him with a wire coat hanger, promising
to throttle him within an inch of his life. (He was a local hero
for years.) My folded hands were split open by a brass ruler for
the ungodly crime of arranging my arithmetic homework incorrectly.
I sat paralyzed as Sr. Catherine Baptista made ten bloody geysers
erupt from my knuckles.
didn't look as if the vocation thing was going to work out. And
as for sainthood, I was already saturated with impure thoughts.
Now I had to answer the question, "What do you want to be when
you grow up?"
up five hundred hormonal teenaged girls, dressed in navy blue blazers
and pleated skirts, and things will get ugly. The highlights of
these years include seeing kids get expelled because they skipped
school to greet the Beatles in New York, hearing girls being pulled
into the sewing room to have their hair sheared off because it was
too long, and personally, being summoned to the principal's office
for a furious cross-examination because my ears were visible in
a yearbook photo. (It was considered Unchristian to show your ears.)
deciding upon a vocation, my mother suggested teaching because teachers
got the summers off. Since I knew I hated children, even though
I was one, I nixed that prospect.
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