Every year at Sacred Heart Grammar School, each grade -- K through 8 -- was pitted one against the other in a no holds barred, fund raising contest to save souls. The particular souls we were challenged to save were the souls of pagan babies.
For reasons never adequately explained, all these pagan babies lived in Africa. I imagined them in full face paint, living in Tarzan tree houses. Like the poor folks who watched Richard Cory walking about town, I secretly envied the pagan babies and wished to be in their place, spared only the salvation of Sacred Heart.
Now, as any formerly practicing Catholic knows, the only way to save a pagan baby is to baptize the pagan baby before death. Otherwise, a dead pagan baby is doomed to an eternity in limbo, flying and crying through endless clouds without parents, food or toys.
In the years I attended Sacred Heart -- 1959-66 -- pagan babies cost $5 each and came with naming rights and certificates suitable for framing.
Year in year out, Grades K through 6 barely raised enough to buy a single pagan baby's eternal salvation each while Grades 7 and 8, the most senior grades, historically fought it out for first place. Grade 8 usual edged out Grade 7 at the wire. In 1962, however, history was re-written by my second grade class, quite evidently the most thieving group of junior degenerates ever to grease the halls of Sacred Heart.
In the heat of the week long Pagan Baby Buying Contest frenzy, I daily stole all the change from my mother's purse while she was slept and kifed milk money left unattended by my more trusting classmates. I even once stole money from the Pagan Baby Buying coin collection can, but to my credit I did turnit back in as my own daily donation.
I can still remember Sister Mary Gerald's announcement on the loud speaker when the final monies were tallied. "Grade 8 raised enough to buy 3 pagan babies, beating out Grade 7, which raised enough to buy 2 pagan babies."
The cheering of Grade 8 reverberated throughout the two story brick school. We in Grade 2 were apparently the only class who noticed that Grade 2's results had yet to be announced. For a split second, it crossed my mind that we might actually be in trouble for our so obvious thieving. But then, Sister Mary Gerald announced that for the first time in the school's history, Grade 2 had beat Grade 8 and won Sacred Heart's Annual Pagan Baby Buying Contest.
My second grade class raised over $20, enough to buy 4 pagan babies and subsidize the soul saving efforts of the Grade 3 slackers. Grades K through 7 erupted at the news, applauding and cheering loudly. It wasn't that any of these other grades were particularly happy for us; they were just glad to see Grade 8 lose.
At Friday confession, I asked Father Padaway for forgiveness for my many thefts for the benefit of pagan babies. Before the year was over, Father Padaway would drunkenly drive the parish Cadillac into the Deering Oaks Duck Pond and leave the parish (hopefuly by cab) soon afterwards. But that day, he was still on the job and sentenced me to an insane number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
Lucky for me, I was already well versed in the multiplication tables and breezed through my penance.