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McMystic: Reflections of an Unlikely Oracle
By Carole Murray

In the Beginning

When 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.

Too good to be true? Fear not.

In 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.

Grade School

Whenever 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.)

Rather 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.

As 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.

The 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.

It 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?"

High School

Lock 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.)

When 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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