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Catholic Girls

by Bridget Kevane


On a recent autumn day I was putting my daughter’s laundry in her room. Across her wall hang two thin clotheslines with photos that she periodically changes. There are the typical family photos of us, trips, events, celebrations, of the past, always marching backwards in time. There was a new photo clipped to the barely visible clothesline, a photo of my seventh grade classmates from Academic San Ignacio. It was eerie to see all our faces in those scratchy white button-down shirts and dark brown, almost black, plaid chalecos with the school emblem. Everyone’s hair neatly combed back. There we are: Hilda C., Lisette S., Sonia V., Alba, Diana G., and Gretchen I. It is hard for me to remember me then, my life, my classmates, the island, my home. The faces seem out of place here in Montana, a state that did not exist to me as a child in Puerto Rico; had I known of its existence, Montana would have appeared to me as exotic and northernmost in my imagination, full of ice and snow, an all white landscape, perhaps with some igloos. So very different from the huddle of my tiny sweltering tropical island, the swaying of palm trees, the smell of sea salt in the air. And yet here I am now in this snow-scape and it is they, my classmates from Puerto Rico, who appear remote and remind me of a world long left behind. A Catholic world. A world of Hispanic culture. A world of Spanish. A world that reminds me of flesh and blood and sin and sacrifice, of infernal heat, mosquitoes and mangos. ***** My parents escaped the United States the year after they were married. My father, from Storm Lake, Iowa, and my mother, from Janesville, seemed to agree on one essential element. Escaping the mainland. I don’t know if it was that they both grew up in small towns or if they were both seeking something more. But they agreed on the seeking part and it took them abroad. They never returned to the States. My father built a successful career as a partner in one of the big eight accounting firms, Arthur Andersen, opening branches in Europe, Greece, Italy, and later Puerto Rico. When my family moved from Italy to Puerto Rico in the sixties I was five. We arrived on the island with five Italian-born children, and three more would be born in San Juan. Upon our arrival, my mother immediately enrolled those of us old enough, myself included, in a nursery school. This is where I first became Puerto Rican, where I dropped any sense of being from Italy, as much sense of place as a five year old can have, where Italian morphed into Spanish, where English remained the private language, where I first learned of el niño Jesus. This is the first place, this nursery in a concrete house on a street that seemed very far away from our home, with heavy trees and lots of other little kids who spoke Spanish to me, where we learned songs like “Los pollitos dicen pío, pío, pío,” and where the island attached itself to me, heat and all....

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by Bridget Kevane
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