Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lawrence – My Hometown

Dr. Shea and Miss McPhee

By Richard E. Noble

Dr. Shea and Miss McPhee’s sojourns to St. Rita’s School house on the corner of Arlington and Hampshire Streets constituted the bulk of my medical care as a child. It really seems shocking to me today when I observe my nieces and nephews caring for their kids – and themselves. I would have considered my nieces and their children all to be little sissies. I learned that going to the doctor, any doctor, was a sign of weakness.
I was able to get passed Miss McPhee and her eye charts right up until the eighth grade. I would memorize what the kids in front of me were saying. I thought of the whole event as a sort of game. It was me against Miss McPhee. The last thing my mother needed to hear was that she had to buy another of her kids an expensive pair of glasses.
I really thought the eye chart thing was a joke. Were these other kids really seeing anything more than a big E? Some of them had to be seeing something. Certainly everybody was seeing more than I was seeing. But who cared? I had no intention of reading any dumb books anyway.
The eighth grade nun kept setting traps for me. First trick she pulled on me was to have me stand up in front of the whole class and read some scrawl she had written on the blackboard at the front of the room. What blackboard? Was she kidding me? I always sat in the last seat in a back row. All the girls and the teacher’s pets sat up front.
When she found that I couldn’t read any of the scribbles that she wrote on the blackboard, she ordered me to sit in the first seat in the first row. Oh man was that embarrassing. All the girls in the class giggled.
Her next trick was to make me read out loud to the whole class. When she saw that my face was so close to the page that I could turn the pages with my nose, she asked for my mother’s telephone number. I told her that we didn’t have a phone. She gave me a note to give to my mother. I knew that one – the note went right into the sewer on the way home. Next she asked me to tell my mother that she wanted to have a talk with her. Yeah right!
When she finally asked why my mother hadn’t come down to see her, I made up this story. “My mother says that she pays good money here to have you people take care of things. If she has to come down here every five minutes for one thing or another she wants her money back.” I made this statement in the classroom and all the other kids laughed. The nun then turned my case over to Miss McPhee.
I considered Miss McPhee to be like a junior warden supervising the St. Rita’s Penitentiary. She gave me an individual eye test – just me. I couldn’t see squat but I had the eye chart lines memorized. I rattled them off one after another. They were all wrong. Miss McPhee had switched charts on me. What a sneak!
Miss McPhee actually came to my house on 32 Chelmsford St. and told my mother that I needed glasses.
I got the glasses but I didn’t wear them. The eighth grade nun forced me stand up in front of the whole class and put them on. I was of the opinion that “real boys” didn’t wear glasses.
The glasses really improved my basketball game though. That net actually had a rim holding it up. Wow!
Then came physical examination day. The girls got the day off. All us boys lined up in the corridors and stripped down to our jockey shorts. Imagine a whole school full of almost naked boys, all nervous and sweaty. This was probably the first time ever that any of us had our clothes off in front of a woman other than our mothers. If I close my eyes and concentrate, the pungent odor that permeated those hallowed corridors returns to fill my nasal passages. Its memory is almost as repugnant to me as the odor of the corned beef and boiled cabbage that filled my apartment hallway on St. Paddy’s Day. Whoa, barf city! Being a combination of Polish and Irish, I was boiled-cabbaged to death.
When we got to Dr. Shea and Miss McPhee we had to do a number of stupid things. Like stand on one leg, touch our toes, and touch our noses with our eyes closed. Then we each had to kneel on a chair. Miss McPhee stuck her finger in our jockey shorts waist band and instructed us to lean backwards as far as we could. When we did Dr. Shea took a sneak peek at our dingies – Miss McPhee got a free shot also.
When I talked to some of the other boys later, they all felt the same way. Dr. Shea and Miss McPhee must have been some kind of perverts. Why else would they be sneaking peeks at all our dingies? And these people were supposed to be professionals – a doctor and a nurse for god’s sake. It was difficult to believe.
Today my attitude has matured somewhat. Nobody was charged for any of those health exams. I have no doubt that Dr. Shea and Miss McPhee received no hazardous duty pay for any of this business. Of course, in those days, the good nuns received no wages either. It seems ludicrous that my mother complained to me constantly about the cost of sending me to a “private” Catholic School. Dr. Shea and Miss McPhee must have been some very special people – not to mention the dedication of all those nuns. It should go without saying that I no longer think of either of them as “perverts.”

Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on He can be contacted at Noble Publishing for bookstore discounts and volume sales.

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