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Wed Jan 7, 2015, 09:36 PM

 

My Last Year with the Nuns: A Typical Catholic Boyhood, from Latin Hymns to Racial Violence

January 7, 2015
by Brendan Kiley

On the morning of April 29, 1965, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake rumbled through Seattle, killing seven people and causing around $12.5 million in property damage. It also got an eighth-grade boy at St. Joseph Catholic School out of serious trouble. Seconds before the quake hit, the eighth grader—named Matt Smith—was sitting in a crowded pew at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill trying to look innocent while the severe Sister Conda studied the faces of her students, trying to find the boy who'd been making croaking noises while the class practiced "Tantum Ergo." Then the building started to shake. A few panicked, but Sister Conda was unperturbed.

"The nuns are in their element, when you think about it," Smith says in the first scene of My Last Year with the Nuns, his spritely—and, at times, surprisingly disturbing—autobiographical monologue about a year in his life back when Capitol Hill was Seattle's Catholic stronghold. "The earth is shaking. This could very well be the end of the world. Who better to be than a nun? In church? With 850 uniformed children, singing 'Tantum Ergo' in Latin? Their life choices are looking good right now."

But the disturbance was enough to shake Sister Conda off the scent, and Smith escaped to "the paper shack," where he and other boys would go to get copies of the Seattle Times for their paper routes—and, more importantly, to smoke, cuss, fight, hawk loogies, swap vile jokes, and try to navigate that dangerous age when boys are stuck with the moral sophistication of children but are beginning to develop the physical strength and emotional cruelty of adults.

The paper shack, Smith tells us, was free of adult supervision and—besides Little League baseball—the only interracial zone where "black and white kids would commiserate." This temporary integration is key to Smith's story, which begins with minor pranks and then slips with chilling ease into a personal history of racially charged violence. Smith is an energetic and engaging narrator who moves between different characters with the grace of an Olympic skater—he's been performing My Last Year with the Nuns onstage since the 1990s—but he tells his story with an eerie and affecting moral flatness. From the perspective of his eighth-grade self, one friend tearing up another's pornography collection is just as troubling as small gangs of white kids and black kids roaming the neighborhood, looking to beat each other up.

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/a-typical-catholic-boyhoodandmdashfrom-latin-hymns-to-racial-violence/Content?oid=21395554

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