Monday, September 30, 2013

Sister Mary Elephant

When I was a little girl, my father's sister Gilda died, and my cousin Philip came to live with our family in our small house in New Jersey. I don't have much memory of how that worked out initially, other than that he set up a very cool bedroom for himself in our basement filled with teenage boy stuff and posters. I cringe now to imagine how awful it must have been for him to have lost both parents before he was even into his teenage years, how he lived with three little girls in a different town from the one he grew up in, how he went to a new school and then eventually moved with all of us down to Atlanta, Georgia in 1973. Atlanta, Georgia in 1973 was a very different city than the one that exists now, and I have strong memories of feeling foreign, like a stranger, not welcome but chided for not automatically saying yes, ma'am or no, sir to my teachers at the local public elementary school I first attended. My parents eventually put me into a very exclusive private school that, for the first few years, made me feel even more foreign. Most of the kids that went to this school were from, I guess, what you'd call The Old South. Most were very wealthy, lived in grand neighborhoods surrounding the school and, it seemed then as a painfully awkward adolescent, had no exposure to people like myself -- a half-Italian nerdy girl from New Jersey who couldn't catch a ball or run fast or do anything, really, other than read books really fast and make stellar grades. Did I mention it was miserable? It was miserable.

So, this morning, forty years later, as I drove up 6th after dropping Oliver off at school and headed toward the big baking goods store to pick up supplies for an upcoming order, I listened to the news, the dominant theme being, of course, the pending shut-down of the federal government. I listened to some of the blowhards from Congress talking about Obamacare and how it must be repealed to save us from certain disaster, and then I listened to the report of the opening of California's exchange tomorrow (I've already visited and it looks promising for our family!) and then I listened to some poor soul in Nevada who is looking to extend her unemployment benefits because she can't find a job, but the systems in place to help her will surely go down tomorrow if the blowhards in Congress get their way and then I thought again about my cousin Philip in the paneled room off our den in our house in Atlanta. I thought about his record collection while the voices of the radio droned on and I navigated the hundreds of orange cones on Venice Blvd and then pulled into the parking lot of the baking supply store and navigated through a film set in the parking lot, the voices still talking and talking. Suddenly, Cheech and Chong's voices came into my head, some album of Philip's that was mildly inappropriate for the time, mainly because Cheech or Chong made fun of nuns -- was it Sister Mary Elephant? -- and I heard them talking in my head, right over the thick southern drawl of some conservative Georgian talking about Obamacare, and what they said was:

Classsssssssss! SHUT UP!

Thank you.

Listen to Sister Mary Elephant here.


  1. Any post that combines health care policy, Cheech and Chong, and baking supplies makes me smile. Only you, Elizabeth ;-)

  2. It's all so absurd that I just want to go and smack those guys. Hard. And send them home.

  3. I agree with Karin -- the disparate elements you're able to link together is phenomenal. Also, I had that VERY same experience at my hoity-toity school in the northeast. Too bad we couldn't have been miserable together.

  4. Ditto Kario! I was going to say that you conjured up so many conflicting emotions for me, I didn't know where to begin responding!

  5. What I love is the way you hold everything up but don't necessarily attempt to reconcile, to make it all fit. Sometimes it does but sometimes it all just exists at once.



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