Friday, March 25, 2011

It's a Miracle!

My mother, when it came to meeting her Catholic obligation to procreate, chose to beg for forgiveness instead of ask for permission when she finally decided to stop making babies. She made an appointment to see a priest at our Catholic church, St. I-, and then found herself sitting across from Father K-, the middle-aged man to whom she confessed that she had insisted her non-Catholic husband (my father) have a vasectomy (which he promptly did).  She now, after the fact, wanted to know if she had committed a sin.  Father K- was a reasonable man (as reasonable as one can be while believing in a virgin birth and that the eucharist is actually the body of Christ) and he asked her, "Do you think it is a sin?"  "No" she said, "I have five children, I think I have met my obligation to procreate."  "Then don't worry about it," was the priest's response.  My mother had no intention of having anymore children, she just wanted to understand if she had sinned, needed to confess, and what was the appropriate amount of guilt, if any, that she should carry for her transgression.  Luckily the priest let her off the hook.  Five kids in eight years, she had done her job.  And so it was that in the early 70s there were quite a few of us little Rainwaters, all young, living in a small house in a Los Angeles suburb.

Growing up in a small three bedroom house, my two sisters and I shared a tiny room and my brother Jimmy and our youngest sister shared the small room across the hall.  Juls had her own bed and Lauri and I split a bunk bed with me on top.*  During these early years, I had many friends who had their own bedrooms in larger houses in families with fewer kids and more money.  And I coveted my neighbors privilege and privacy.  At night I would wait for the first star in the sky to emerge and then I would wish upon it, wish for my own room (and for a horse, for my young self longed to be a cowboy).  Of course it never happened, the room or the horse.  In fact, the first time I had my own room I was 27 years old.  And I have yet to own a horse. 

There's an old saying that in Catholic families you have two kids and then they raise the rest.  And there's some truth to this.  At a very young age I had quite a bit of responsibility for my younger siblings and at times felt a bit overwhelmed and stifled by that reality.  My mother felt some sympathy for me and in small ways tried to be responsive.  Aware of my perennial desire to have my own room, which was not possible, my mother got creative and bought me a little cabinet with sliding doors and placed it on the shelf above my bunk.  She explained to the other kids that this was my private cabinet and no one else was to open it.  She tried to create some personal space for me as I was, apparently, the kid most bothered by our cramped circumstances.  I was maybe 8 or 9 years old at the time and I remember a feeling of privilege in having my private little cabinet which I promptly crammed with the junk of a young tomboy.  I don't remember there being anything particularly private about the things I chose to put in my cabinet, all I remember is that it was my space that the other four kids were not allowed to enter.  It was my box of privacy in a house where there was virtually none.   

Now the story I am about to share was not revealed to me until years after it happened and I recently confirmed the details with my sister Juls who is at the center of this little tale.  And I think I should preface it with a brief description of my sister Juls.  She was a shy, skinny, bookish kid who did what she was told, excelled in school, never talked back...she was my opposite, the good kid, the easy kid. 

One day my sister Juls, uncharacteristically, decided to climb up on my bunk to see what was in my private little cabinet.  She slid open the door and saw my GI Joe doll reclined on top of some other junk.   Juls picked up the doll and for some reason decided to pull off the boot he was wearing.  To her horror, she looked down to see the foot of the doll had come off with the boot.  Convinced she had just broken him, she panicked and quickly put the GI Joe back in the cabinet along with the boot containing his apparently amputated foot.  Juls then spent days quietly fretting and worrying about her crime, her sin, her violation of my private space and mutilation of my GI Joe. 

GI Joe circa 1972. 
A few days later Juls decided to check and see if I had discovered her crime.  She once again climbed up on my bunk, slid open the cabinet door and then she saw it, the GI Joe once again intact, his foot attached to his leg.  Somehow my GI Joe had been made whole again, alone in that cabinet, by forces incomprehensible to her.  In her mind, the conclusion was plain: it was a miracle.  She was relieved and grateful that this miracle left her out of trouble, the way she preferred to be.  Juls never messed around in my cabinet again.  

Soon after witnessing this apparent miracle, Juls was in her CCD class (religious training for those of us who escaped Catholic school).  Her teacher was leading a discussion on miracles and asked the class for an example of one.  Juls, always the exemplary student, immediately raised her hand and then confidently explained that she had broken her big sister's GI Joe doll and that it miraculously had been made whole.   The teacher did not challenge her in class or humiliate her but quickly changed course by asking for an example of a miracle from the bible.  Although she was surprised that the teacher didn't seem to think hers was a good example, Juls didn't think much of it and continued believing she had witnessed a miracle in the mysterious making whole of my GI Joe. 

It was not too long after that CCD class that Juls and I were playing together, she with her Barbie and me with my GI Joe.  At some point I started to change the camo uniform of my doll and alas, when I pulled off his boot, off came his foot.  I casually pulled the foot from the boot and reinserted the peg into the hole in the lower leg of my doll and then I continued to change his uniform and put the boots back on his feet.  Of course, Juls watching me do this resulted in a profound disillusionment as she realized my GI Joe had not been miraculously made whole by god.  She realized that the foot came off quite easily and was just as easily reattached to his leg by her older sister, Mer, not god.  She realized that I had found the GI Joe dismembered in my cabinet and simply fixed it. She did not share all this with me at the time as she still felt guilt for violating my privacy.  But years later she confessed the story which I found bitter-sweetly hilarious.  And just the other day she reminded me of this little youthful disillusionment and we had a good laugh. 

Today if you asked Juls if she believes in miracles, she would say yes.  But not the Catholic kind, not the kind that result in the inexplicable repairing of GI Joe dolls.  It would be the seemingly magical synchronicities that lead our lives in the direction we are trying to go, the way the universe can help you along sometimes.  And I would agree.

* When I turned 12 we moved across town to a larger house where the girls each shared a bedroom and Jimmy had his own room.  My folks, practicing the rhythm method of birth control, had not bought their first home with the intention of having five kids in eight years, including one set of twins. And these days, I not only have my own room, I have my own house, which after 10 years still seems like a damn miracle to me. Seriously.

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