Introduction Book One: Angel or Not? Angel for Sure!
I didn’t even need my alarm. It was 6:32 A.M., my room was glowing pink from the rising sun and I was so excited! Some may think I’m crazy, but my summer was so borrrring that I couldn’t wait to get back to school. The last two weeks couldn’t go by fast enough. So I jumped out of bed.
Now, if I hurry, I thought, in two minutes tops I could be downstairs and beat hearing my mom’s first-day-of-school wakeup song: “School days, school days, those goodie golden rule days. . . Rise and shine for school today. . . ” I’m definitely too old for that one!
As I headed toward the door, I could hear Mom coming up the stairs. I opened my door just a crack, and to my surprise, I saw her entering my brother Anthony’s room, not mine! This, I had to see.
So I ran to his door and peeked in just in time to see him cover his head with his pillow and moan at Mom as she tried to tickle him while she sang. Anthony is a junior in high school and Mom is still singing, “School days, school days” to him. How great is that!
I stood there watching as Anthony and Mom were goofing around. She kept tickling and singing to him as if he was a small child. One day, when Anthony calls me a “baby,” I hope I get to bring this moment up, because right now you’d think it was Anthony who was the baby, he was squirming and laughing like a little kid.
What great payback ammo! Of course, we never used our payback ammo outside of our house because, well, that just wouldn’t be right. Angel or not? Angel of course! But payback ammo was always fun to collect and share with each other for a good family laugh. Having payback ammo is always good in the Hennessey home.
As I stood there watching them I could barely keep quiet. I actually had to cover my mouth with my hand to stifle the noise that was trying to escape my lips! My mom was a hoot and that song . . . oh, boy!
I turned away from the door, just as Mom came out of Anthony’s room. She did not expect to see me there and nearly ran me over.
“Up early, Angel? You must be excited!” Mom said as she gave me a huge hug.
“How could I not be excited?” I said. “I am starting fourth grade!” And yes, you heard her right, but in case you missed it, my name is Angel.
Fourth Grade . . . Here I Come!
I kissed and hugged Mom good morning and went downstairs, followed by Anna and Marie. They are my older sisters and, if older isn’t bad enough, let me just say my older twin sisters. Yep, yep, yep, twins and in the eighth grade. Need I say more: one older brother, two older twin sisters and me, the baby! The baby named Angel.
My mom seems to enjoy reminding me of it, too. “For as long as always is, you’ll always be my baby,” she’ll say. Try living that down! It’s impossible I tell you.
While I am explaining my family and heading downstairs, let me just add that we are Catholic and being born in a Catholic family should have entitled me to at least another sibling or two. Big families are wonderful and exactly what Jesus would want: lots of children around to spread His love. Anyway, many of my school friends have five or six kids in their families! So why couldn’t my mom and dad have had just one more child . . . then I wouldn’t be the baby!
Forget it, Angel, I must remind myself. You see, I’ve asked that question a bazillion times to my mom and the answer is always the same.
“We have four healthy, smart, beautiful children, Angel. We are blessed. Be happy with what you have.”
I’m sure you’ll understand me when I say that moms are all the same, they’re always reminding us to be happy with what we have. Well, I am happy but I can still hope for another brother or sister.
Anyway, baby or no baby, nothing was going to spoil my mood, because today I started fourth grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School and being the baby in my family was not going to bother me today.
Breakfast was the usual, with Mom busy making pancakes and pouring milk. Anthony was sitting at the table, barely awake, with his eyes half open and his hair standing in all directions. He looked like he had crawled out from under a wet rock. My brother attended Jesuit, an all-boys high school and never cared what he looked like. My mom was always on him to brush his hair before going out the door — like it mattered. Well, it mattered to Mom, but to Anthony it was a huge waste of energy because all the boys looked like that at his school.
Then there was Anna and Marie who were always primping with their hair, even at the table, and Mom was always telling them to stop. Of course there was me, and I learned a long time ago that if I got myself ready in my room, no one said a word about my hair and that was fine with me! I like my hair pulled back from my face, so I use a headband or put it up in a ponytail. Either way seems to make my mom happy and she never says a word about my hair.
“Two minutes and we leave. If you’re not in my car, you go with Mom,” Anthony announced. It is amazing how he seems to come to life just in time to drive us to school. Riding to school with Anthony was always cooler than riding with Mom, especially on the first day back from summer vacation. So, Anna, Marie and I stopped eating and ran to brush our teeth.
“It won’t matter,” I told myself. A day without brushing for a full two minutes can’t give me a mouth full of cavities — or could it? Angel or not? This time — not. I cut short the brushing and ran to kiss my mom goodbye. No way was I going to start my day without her good karma.
“Bye, Mom, love you!” I said as I sprinted toward Anthony’s car and hopped in. Just a note in case it comes up later: Anthony says it’s his car, but it is really my dad’s . . . Oh no, Dad! I forgot to kiss my dad!
But it was too late, we were already pulling onto the street. Anthony would never let me run back to kiss Dad goodbye. How could this day be nearly as good without a kiss from my dad? I could feel the excitement draining out of my body, just like the water in the bathtub does, when it goes spiraling down the drain. No way was my first day in fourth grade going to be as good as it could have been, if I survive at all! I sat quietly the rest of the way to school wondering if my dad felt the same way: sad that his Angel had forgotten him. Some angel I am — not!
I was brought back to Earth by Anthony saying, “Out you go, Lil’ Chick.” That was what he always called me. Lil’ Chick. I know chick is just another name for “baby” but it sounds cute and not babyish.
“Anthony, are you excited about today?” I asked.
“Why would I be, it’s just school,” he said. “Are you?”
“I was, but now I’m not so sure,” I answered.
“Just get going . . . you’ll be fine. It’ll be fun to see all your friends. You’ll see,” Anthony said as he reached back and gave me a little friendly shove toward the door.
“I’m going, I’m going. See you, Big Bud,” I said. (Big Bud is my nickname for him.)
“See you, kid,” he said, smiling at me. He really is a pretty cool brother.
Let the Day Begin!
The walk to the basketball court, where we all lined up each day before school began, seemed a lot longer today. Maybe it was because I didn’t see a single one of my friends. Where is everyone? I thought to myself as I searched the court. Could I have missed some note sent home about the fourth graders meeting in a different place?
No, probably not, but then where were Michelle, Danni, Mary Katherine and all the others? All I could see was a group of eighth graders. I knew they were eighth graders because my sisters were smack in the middle.
Then I got a glimpse of what I knew had to be Mary Katherine’s head. Mary K was what we called her, because she was one of something like sixteen Mary Katherines in our school. Our Mary K stood out because she was one of the tallest fourth graders, and also because she has the darkest, reddest hair of anyone in our school.
“Come here, Angel!” Mary K called out while jumping up and down. “How was your summer? Did you go to Disney or the beach? See any cousins? You didn’t see me so I know you didn’t see any friends — what did you do all summer?”
She gasped to catch a breath — I figured it was my chance to get in a word.
“We did nothing, Mary K, just stayed at home, nothing exciting,” I said. “What about you?” Here it comes, I thought, as I saw her face glowing with the I-can’t-wait-to-tell-you look Mary K always seems to have.
“Well, we went to Disney and to the beach, my cousins came in from Illinois and my aunt had a baby girl and named her after me, another Mary Katherine is born . . . ,” Mary K kept going, but at this point the noise on the court was so loud that I couldn’t make out the rest of what she said.
It was probably for the best, as I knew she would just be reminding me of what a truly boring summer I really did have. I looked around with a smile, half-listening to Mary K as she went on about her summer and half-wondering where Michelle and Danni were.
Michelle and I have been in S.H. (Sacred Heart is always shortened this way, even our teachers are okay with it) since we were three, and we are always together. Then, when Danni came she joined our pack. My dad calls us “The Three Musketeers.”
Michelle is blonde, tall and thin with blue eyes and a big smile, and she’s very smart and funny. Danni is a brunette with brown eyes, a little shorter than Michelle and I, very strong-willed and equally as smart. She moved here from Alabama and has a country accent that shows up every now and then, mostly when she’s excited.
Then there’s me, Angel Rose Hennessey. Brown hair, blue-gray eyes, tall, sort of thin, not so sure if I’m smart or funny, but I definitely try to live up to my name. With the name Angel it’s just expected of you to act like one. Mary K was just catching another breath, and that is when I spotted them. “Sounds like a great summer, Mary K,” I said, “but look, there’s Michelle and Danni. Let’s go see them.”
Both Michelle and Danni had been gone for all but the first couple of weeks of summer; Michelle had gotten home late last night. She had vacationed with her family, went to a month-long summer camp, and stayed with her grandparents, all more exciting than my stay-at-home summer.
Then the bell rang loud in our ears and, seconds later, Principal, Sister Ann called to us using her megaphone: “Welcome back students.”
With that, all seven hundred of us became instantly quiet. Respect — that is what is expected and most certainly deserved by Sister Ann.
She led us in Morning Prayer. This is how it is in Catholic school: We pray at the start of each day, before each class, before lunch, before each event, at the end of the day, and pretty much any other chance we get. It’s not a bad thing, because if you are constantly thinking and praying to God then how could you ever go too far off the Path of Goodness?
The choice between “angel or not” is easier if you are connecting often with God, right? This thought reminded me that I was still bothered by not kissing or even seeing my dad this morning, so I made a silent intention for him, and for me, during Morning Prayer.
Prayer . . . it’s what we do. As Sister Ann brought the prayer to a close I thought to myself, let the day begin!
Sister Rita or the Dungeon?
Just like that, it began. Sister Ann was making morning announcements, introducing the new teachers to our school, and Sister Rita was one of them. Sister Rita? Who is Sister Rita? Not just one of the new teachers . . . she was my new fourth-grade teacher!
Hold on a minute, back it up! Did I just enter The Twilight Zone or what? Mrs. White was supposed to be my fourth-grade teacher, not Sister Rita! Where’s Mrs. White? This can’t be happening, I thought.
Mrs. White was the greatest teacher, and everyone wanted to be in her class. She was kind and funny and beautiful. You couldn’t help but smile even when she corrected you, because she was so pleasant. The note sent to our home two weeks before school started said that I would be in Mrs. White’s fourth-grade class. Just knowing she was going to be my teacher, made the last two weeks of summer seem, less boring. This wasn’t fair! My mind was in such a whirl that I almost missed what Sister Ann was saying about Mrs. White. What was that, a baby?
“She’ll be back to school after Christmas break and will resume the fourth-grade class position at that time,” Sister Ann was saying. “In the meantime, Sister Rita will be your teacher.” Sister Rita took her place beside Sister Ann.
Well, here it comes . . . Angel or not? Definitely not with this next thought! Just look at her, she had to be approaching 150 years old! Her face was so wrinkled, and her expression was as cold! Oh yeah, I’m definitely no angel today!
She stood beside Sister Ann without even the tiniest smile. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I guessed they matched her face, old and cold. How was I going to get through this? How could I continue to be an angel with five months of Sister Rita? I’m DOOMED! Angel or not? Oh most definitely not!
I looked to see if Michelle was on my wavelength. Her face showed me that she was. Michelle’s mouth was so wide-open, I think I saw her tonsils! She began to shake her head slowly and mouth the words “We’re dead.”
I knew it. It was all because I didn’t kiss my dad this morning, I just knew it!
“Let’s move out! Fourth-grade troops, follow me,” Sister Rita said. Follow her we did, just like the scared winged monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, we were too afraid to do anything else but follow her. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to the dungeon we will go.... Yep, yep, yep. There’s no angel here! Sister Rita led us up stairs to the second floor, which, before I go on, I must describe to you.
Our school building is shaped like a big rectangle with the center of the first floor open, so you can look up to the second floor. There are classes all around the rectangle, both on the first and second floors. The younger grades through third grade are on the first floor, while the upper grades get the second floor. If you are standing in the middle of the hall on the first floor, you can turn in a circle and see every door to every class in the whole school! All summer long I envisioned this moment when I was the fourth grader and able to look over the railing at all the younger students below. It was going to be awesome! It has always been such a privilege to be one of the older students on the upstairs level, and I have waited patiently for this moment.
Only now, when the moment had arrived, I couldn’t begin to enjoy it, because it was so far off from how I had envisioned it would be. With Mrs. White, I would have been so happy, I would have felt like I was walking on the top of the world—of course I know, it’s just the second floor, not the top of the world. But it would have felt like it, instead with Sister Rita I am afraid of what’s to come, and I am not enjoying the moment, not one bit! It’s as if I am heading to the dungeon . . . the Dungeon of Doom.
As it was, everyone on the first floor was staring up at us, not with envy, but with fear in their eyes. Sister Rita was the scariest teacher to have ever entered Sacred Heart. All the kids watched as Sister Rita lead us upward to what was sure to be a morning of rules, and dos and don’ts, a morning of fear. “Angel or not?” you ask—still not.
I desperately wanted to scream. How could I have become this pessimistic? I was always the positive one. “Angel always looks on the bright side,” my mom has often said. But now, I am filled with doom, only thinking horrible thoughts. I’m a total pessimist!
We walked in silence to our classroom. When we got there, Sister Rita stood just inside the doorway, with a yard stick in her hand. As the girls entered the room she measured from the hem of our skirts to our kneecaps for proper dress code. At Sacred Heart, girls wear a plaid jumper or skirt, a white button-down shirt, with white stockings and navy saddle shoes. The boy’s uniform is just as plain, with a white button-down shirt, a plaid tie that matches our jumper, navy slacks and brown dress shoes. Both outfits scream out NERD!
Mom says, “That is the idea. Not any one of you should stand out because of how you’re dressed, but rather how you perform. That’s why your uniforms are “nerdy” as you say.”
“Okay, I get it,” I informed her at the start of last year. “We have a school of smart nerds and not-so-smart nerds, but at least we are all nerds together.” I had chuckled over my joke, but my mom had not.
Anyway, back to Sister Rita. I was just a couple kids back from the front of the line and at this moment I was so grateful that my mom was a true “follower of rules” and made sure that her children were always kept up to code. My skirt was the proper length so I was able to walk in with no embarrassment, and my reward was to take any seat I wanted. We all entered one-by-one, as even the boys were looked over for dress-code violations. Michelle’s mom was just like my mom, and Michelle was able to come in and sit right beside me. I had never heard of hem measuring at S.H. or I’m sure the twins would have mentioned it to me. Michelle and I exchanged looks, but neither of us dared to say a word.
Unfortunately, others were not so lucky with the length of their skirts. Of course, that would include Serena Cordoba, Brittney Miller, Crista Johnson and, without a glance up, I knew her by the sound of her footsteps: Sonya Bump. Until this moment, I actually didn’t know that the ever-dreaded Sonya was going to be in my class. Here I go again, “Angel or not?” you ask again. Oh . . . so . . . not!
Fear Is Spelled S-O-N-Y-A!
Fear has a way of sneaking up on you and sending you over the edge into a nightmare. My nightmare has a name — Sonya.
Sonya is the one person I allow myself the occasional sin of using the word “hate” when I think about her. I know hatred is not keeping with the “Path to Goodness” and all, but you haven’t met Sonya. Just the thought of her can make me angry and scared, all at the same time. She only brings out the worst in me. I had actually hoped that something would have happened this summer, like her dad or mom getting a new job and moving to Timbuktu, or anything that would keep her from coming back to S.H.
Just for the record and so you understand my fear, two years ago Sonya sat behind me in class and that is when our love–hate relationship began. I know what I am about to tell you is not very kind and is way off the “Path of Goodness,” but it is the truth. It was when I first realized Sonya was the only person I had ever hated. Angel or Not? Okay, okay I’ll correct it, besides I know, hate is a very strong word and my mom would be oh so disappointed in me for using it. So let me say dislike and explain our relationship. Although I am tall for my age, Sonya is an Amazon towering a full head above my head and she’s twenty pounds heavier than I am. She can be mean and for some reason she likes to Hawaiian Punch things. Now, why do I hate, sorry . . . dislike her? I’m a gutless chicken, that’s why. I don’t like being afraid of another girl in my grade and of course I hate the thought of seeing Sonya’s Hawaiian Puncher. One time, in second grade, I saw her run up to a tree, yell “Hawaiian Punch!” and hit the tree. Once she even Hawaiian Punched me . . . just one time in the middle of my back while we sat in class. She didn’t hit me hard, it was more of a thump — and it was more humiliating than it was hurtful. But the worst part of all was that she loved to show me her puncher, which would bring my fear, front and center and clearly visible on my face. I would turn as white as a ghost — Casper the Ghost. Of course, I was only a second grader then, but it has left me fearing Sonya still. She is the definition of bully!
Wow, my thoughts are totally not an ‘angel-like’ today. Then another thought occurred to me: With Sonya and Sister Rita around, when it is time for us to go to Reconciliation there will be no shortage of sins on my part. Which is a sad thing to admit, but I just can’t seem to stop the negative thoughts. Yep, yep, I will be going to Reconciliation a lot!
In case you haven’t received the sacrament of Reconciliation let me it explain it. It is the sacrament where you go before the priest and confess your sins. It cleanses your soul and makes you feel beautiful and ‘angel-like’ again, and will certainly be something I am going to need. How could I possibly keep up the angel mode with Sonya in my class, or in my school, or on the same planet for that matter? Impossible!
Okay, back to Earth, fourth grade and Sister Rita’s hem checking. True to form, Sonya did not take lightly to the “hem measuring” thing. In fact, she was so angry she actually glared at Sister Rita and made a “humph” noise when she was asked to stand to the side of the class with the other too-short-of-skirt girls. Did Sonya have the nerve to say something to Sister Rita? I thought. Please let it be so, then maybe they will send Sonya packing out of Sacred Heart and out of my life!
Then Sonya looked my way and the fear I spoke about before made its way to my throat, as Sonya showed me the “puncher.” I knew then, that I was doomed. Sonya was going to try to punch me the moment Sister Rita turned her back.
I was scared to death and my Casper the Ghost face was back!
Even worse, I had been so focused on my thoughts of Sonya that I hadn’t been paying attention, so I turned my ghost face back to the front of the room and to Sister Rita.
Sister Rita hadn’t stop with the hem-checking. Oh no, she was now having each of us put our hands flat on top of the desk so she could do a fingernail check. That’s right, she checked to make sure our nails were free of nail polish. Thanks again, Mom, I thought, because she had made sure I removed my summer nail polish last night.
I snuck a peek to my right to see if Michelle’s nails were clean. When I saw they were, I let out a sigh of relief. Sister checked everyone for proper nails, hem length, belts, shoes and socks, then reminded us that tomorrow these needed to be corrected. “If not,” she warned. “I will have no alternative but to send you to the office.”
After asking each of the not-so-properly-dressed kids their names and making a note of them in her book, Sister Rita looked up and motioned for them to be seated.
Thank goodness Sonya walks slowly, shuffling her feet as she goes. Because of this she had to take the only seat left, thankfully in the first row by the door and far away from me.
Not a Word of Welcome
Sister Rita decided it was time for introductions. Can you believe it? She did all of this without as much as one word of welcome! Boy, this is going to be a long day, I thought. Forget that — a long five months! And how am I going to keep up the angel mode? Lots of Rosaries, that’s for sure!
Sister went around the room having us stand beside our desks and say our names while she made more notes in her book. We all knew each other and had been in the same grade since kindergarten or so, but we were new to Sister Rita. When she was through, she decided it was time to tell us about herself.
This won’t take long, I thought. What interesting things could a nun have done, right?Angel or not? I am pathetically not! As soon as I get home I’m saying a rosary and asking Mother Mary for help. I am so far from an angel today!!
“First off,” Sister Rita began, “I am a believer in many things: following rules, always expecting the best from myself, never making excuses for my mistakes and faults but always striving to learn and grow from them. I believe God is everywhere, radiating His goodness to anyone who is willing to embrace it. There are many more things I believe in that you will become aware of and, contrary to what you are thinking, I love teaching and I love children, but I do believe both teachers and students learn more when we are disciplined.”
Then, to everyone’s surprise, Sister Rita smiled. It started out slowly, with just the corners of her mouth turning upward and then, it grew into the biggest, warmest smile you could ever imagine and certainly not what I had expected. Her smile sent a sigh of relief throughout the room, and it was so contagious you just had to smile back. Then, she did something even more unexpected — she hopped up and sat on the corner of her desk, folded her arms across her chest and said, “Okay, go ahead — ask me questions.”
It was almost a dare, the way she put it, like “Go ahead, I dare you to ask me questions,” but she said it in such a way that we knew she really did want us to ask. I can’t say I have her figured out yet but there was something about her smile and that speech and the way she hopped onto her desk that made me think everything was going to be okay—better than okay, it was going to be wonderful!
We spent the next half hour asking her questions and getting to know Sister Rita. We found out a lot too — for one thing, Sister Rita was a “hoot,” as my mom would say. She had us laughing super hard as she demonstrated how she once had to lug this “largely overweight man” out of the woods for three miles to get him to town. We found out that she had traveled to many places and had even spent some time with Mother Teresa helping sick children in Calcutta, India.
Sister had a few of us close to tears when she talked about the sad reality of starving children. The loneliness they felt every day, without a family to love and care for them. She reminded us to think about that before we poured our milk from our cereal bowls down the drain or scraped our food into the trash or even before we argued with our siblings. At least we had siblings.
I found myself filled with so much emotion in that half hour that I felt sad that it was going to end. Sister Rita was adventurous, exciting, and surprisingly warm and she was so, so, so far from the 150-year-old nun that I had thought she was. I felt sick with guilt from my earlier thoughts.
How could I have been so judgmental? So mean? I was so totally not an angel. I knew then, that I really had to work on this angel thing, because I certainly didn’t like the way I felt when I was nowhere close to being one.
The rest of our morning went by with organizing our books, learning what we would be doing in each subject . . . the usual first-day-of-school stuff. At the end of the morning I realized that although Sister Rita was very disciplined, she was equally as captivating with her stories, in such a way that we seemed to be balancing on a teeter-totter. I was feeling really good when we filed out of the room for lunch. I was happy, with a warm fuzzy feeling all over and I was actually smiling to myself as we entered the hallway that lead to the lunchroom.
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Introduction Book Two: Angel or Not? Ohhh So Not!!!
The school year was cranking along. We were learning the usual stuff—Math, Science, Spelling, Grammar, and Religion of course. Being in Catholic school, Religion is what we do and it keeps us on the “Path of Goodness.” Then there was my ultimate worst subject…Social Studies.
Sister Rita loved the subject and her stories were amazingly interesting, but it was almost time for our “States and Capitals” exam, and I was getting nervous. I have A’s in every class…except (yep, there is always an “except”) in Social Studies.
This morning during Social Studies, Sister Rita explained the upcoming exam and said that it would be an “easy A” if we put our time in studying. My heart lost a few beats when she said that, because I was anticipating getting my B grade “over the hump” and into the A zone with the very next test. I am just one point away from an A, and with a lot of studying and a bit of luck, I just may get my chance.
You see, I want to be the only one in my family to get straight A’s in fourth grade! My brother Anthony, also known as Big Bud, wasn’t interested in getting straight A’s when he was in fourth grade and my older twin sisters, Anna and Marie, wanted to but never did manage to make it happen. So the idea of getting straight A’s has become a dream of mine and has ruled my life for months. I think about it whenever I start getting tired of school and it gives me the energy I need to continue to push myself to excel.
In my dream, my entire family is there watching the monumental moment as I stand at the front of the church to receive the Principal’s Honor Roll. It is an awesome dream! I can visualize it now as my mind begins to wander off in thought.
I see myself, Angel Rose Hennessey–and yes my name is Angel—walking toward the altar. I walk up the steps, shake hands with our principal, Sr. Ann and then Fr. John hands me my award. I have a smile that stretches from ear to ear as I turn back toward everyone and start searching for my family. I notice Anna and Marie who are sitting with their eighth grade class, and they each have a huge grin on their face. Holding my certificate in front of me, I continue to look for the rest of my family. I see my dad first, then Mom, Grammy and Granddad. My brother is there too, and they are all clapping and snapping photos of me.
“Awwwh…” I let out a sigh of happiness as my day-dream came to an end, but not before one final thought or should I say one final affirmation.
I will be the only Hennessey child to get straight A’s in fourth grade! Yep, yep, yep, I can see it now. Angel or Not? Angel who earned the Principal’s Honor Roll! Oh Yeah!
Back to Social Studies
Just imagining how it will play out gives me that nervous feeling in my stomach. I will be so proud of my award. Who wouldn’t be? Principal’s Honor Roll is a great achievement. The more I envision the moment the more I know I can make it happen. It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of nights spent studying, but it will be worth it.
So, after hearing Sister Rita’s comment about getting an “easy A,” I knew this was my chance to make my dream become reality. As I sat there in class half listening to Sister as she answered questions from some of the kids, I decided to plan out how to study for the “States and Capitals” exam. I decided that I would make my own copies of the blank United States map that Sister had just handed out. I figured that if I made copies by tracing the outlines of the states, it would help me familiarize myself with where each state belongs on the map. Then I will fill in the blank map, writing down all of the names of the states and their capitals. I will practice every night until I can get every state and capital written down without looking it up on my answer sheet. I have exactly 7 nights to study, and if I practice filling out at least two, maybe three, maps a night, I should easily be able to ace the exam! I can’t wait to get home to put my plan into action! Just as I came to this final thought I was snapped back to the classroom by Sister saying…
“Okay, troops. Pack up. It’s time to head home.”
“Wow, the day went by in a flash,” I whispered to Michelle as we lined up together at the door.
“Like a heartbeat. I can’t believe it’s time to go home. Hey, do you want to ride bikes later?” Michelle asked.
“No thanks. Today’s Monday, and Mom always has the laundry waiting for me to fold.”
“Oh yeah, how’s that going?” Michelle asked once we got outside the school in the pick-up area.
“Well, I get $1 for every load of clothes I fold, which comes to five to eight dollars a week, sometimes as much as ten,” I said.
“How much do you need for the phone?” Michelle asked.
“A couple hundred dollars at least,” I answered.
“That won’t take long,” Michelle said. “Maybe you can get it by Christmas.”
“Are you kidding? I want it way before then!” I said. “Hey, there’s my mom. Gotta run. I’ll call you tonight,” I said, skipping off to my car.
What’s Laundry got to do with it? Everything!
I’m sure you are wondering what the laundry has to do with a cell phone, so let me explain. You see, in the Hennessey home you can’t have a cell phone until you are in eighth grade –it’s another family rule. My parents wouldn’t get my brother or sisters phones until their eighth grade year, so I can’t get one either— not until I’m in eighth grade. When Anthony was in eighth grade hardly anyone in the school had a cell phone, but now nearly everyone in middle school has one, and almost everyone in fourth grade has one too. So, I decided to ask why I had to wait ‘til eighth grade when the entire world is connected to their friends by a cell phone, even in fourth grade. Let’s just say it was another one of my dumb bunny moments. I had presented the question in front of my entire family during dinner, just two days after the twins got their cell phones. Anthony started to laugh and nearly choked on his food.
Anna hollered out, “NO WAY! You have to wait just like we did.”
Marie looked at Dad, then at Mom, and said, “That wouldn’t be fair, and you know it!”
It became a dinner where everyone was explaining how it works in “our family” and “the family rules.” You can probably picture the way it went with everyone looking at me trying to make me understand the point they were trying to make.
Anyway, later that night I had a brain storm of an idea and practically went flying downstairs to try it out on Mom. I had definitely learned my lesson about the “entire family” presentation—definitely best to go it alone with just Mom.
“Mom,” I called entering the kitchen where she was sitting at the table. I decided to jump right in with the question. No beating around the bush for this Angel.
“Yes Angel,” she said looking up at me.
“If I worked to earn the money to pay for a cell phone could I buy my own phone?”
At first, Mom just sat there and stared at me over the tip of her glasses. She stopped typing on her laptop and just stared up at me for a long, long time. So long that I thought she had blanked out on me. I was expecting her to say, “No Angel. Weren’t you listening at dinner? It wouldn’t be fair to the others.” But after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably more like three or four minutes, she finally spoke.
“If, and this is only an if, if you earn every bit of the money by doing an additional chore –not one you do regularly, like the dishes, but a completely new chore –then…” She paused for another eternity before saying, “I guess you can use the money for whatever you want.”
“Really? That’s awesome!” I said, and my face began to glow as all the blood I had been suppressing returned back to my face in a flooding fashion. I had been so sure Mom would say no that I had taken on the Casper look while I was waiting for her to answer. With the blood back in my face and brain, I remembered the “chore condition” she had added.
“So…like what chore would I do?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Mom said, thinking. “Maybe you could fold and hang up all the laundry?”
“I could do that,” I said with a huge smile because I was beginning to think this was going to go my way and I was really going to get a phone.
“So, I can get one then –a phone I mean?” I asked again, just to be sure I was hearing her correctly.
“Well, there will have to be some rules attached,” Mom said. “You will have to earn the entire amount before you get your phone.”
“What? How much will that be?” I asked, really having no idea how much phones cost.
“Let’s see,” Mom said, grabbing a piece of paper and a pencil off the counter and handing them to me. “I think that since you want a phone, a full four years before we think you need one, then you will have to cover all the costs required to get the phone.”
“Got it. How much?” I asked again, since she hadn’t answered my question yet.
“A cheap phone is about $100 dollars, and then you have to pay taxes. Plus if you plan to text your friends, you will have to pay for a year of texting.”
“But my friends say texting is free,” I pointed out.
“No Angel, it isn’t free,” Mom continued. “I have to pay for our family to text. We have a texting plan that costs $20 a month. If you were to get your own phone, by yourself you would have to pay $10 a month to be able to have unlimited texting.”
This was getting really confusing.
“So how much will I need to earn?” I asked again.
“There are twelve months in a year, so you do the math,” she said, pointing at the paper and pencil she had given me.
“If texting is $10 a month how much will that be?” Mom said, clearly enjoying making this a real learning experience for me. Angel or Not? A determined angel!
$10 a month times 12 months equals, $120.
“$120 dollars,” I answered confidently.
“Now add your phone cost, which should be about $100 plus taxes,” Mom added. “So what’s that add up to?”
This was too easy, but I played along with Mom. Angel or Not? Angel in disguise, for sure.
“Ummmm, well, let me see….” I smiled and tapped my chin, “two hundred and twenty dollars plus the tax of course.”
“Then you will have a charge of about $5 a month to cover the insurance….”
“INSURANCE!!!” I hollered, interrupting my mom. “What in blazes does a phone need insurance for?”
“In case you lose it or break it. The $5 monthly insurance allows you to replace the phone, for the low cost of $50.”
“Why can’t I just buy a new one when I lose it? Why do I have to spend $5 extra a month?!?!” I questioned, getting a bit irritated with how this was going.
“Because if you just have to buy a new phone it won’t cost the $100 that you got it for. It will cost $200 or more. With the insurance, a replacement phone will only cost you $50 instead of the $200.” Mom ended with a big “gotcha” smile.
Angel or Not? Not—I’m losing it here!
“You mean to tell me I have to pay $5 a month, plus $50 if I lose the phone!?!”
“Yep. That’s just how the phone company does it.”
“That’s a SCAM if I’ve ever heard one.”
“That’s how it works, Angel,” Mom said, “Do you want the phone or not?”
“Okay, okay what am I up to? $220 plus, $5 times 12 which is $60, so that is a total of…$280!” I said, really glad I was decent at math.
“I’d say that is about right, give or take $20 here or there,” Mom said smiling a devilishly angelic smile. And you ask who is being the angel here? Angel or Not? Mom sure is not!
She is fully enjoying trying to make this as painful as possible, hoping to discourage me from buying the phone. Angel or Not? I am one resolute angel!
“Okay, $280 sounds good to me,” I said, flashing my own angelic smile. “Can I start folding the clothes tomorrow?”
“Yes, but I won’t remind you. If you want the job it will be there for you every Monday and Thursday right after school. If 6:00 rolls around and the laundry is still there, I will fold it myself. Deal?” Mom asked.
“Deal,” I answered.
“Oh, one more rule,” Mom added. “You must earn every dollar that is to go toward the phone. You may not use any money you get from gifts like your birthday or from holidays. All the phone money must be earned by an additional chore and you must still keep up with all your other chores and school work.”
“Not a problem,” I said, with the biggest confident smile I could muster.
So the “deal” was made! I kissed my mom to “seal the deal.” Then I ran up the stairs, and when I got to the top, I started jumping up and down just like Sylvester Stallone did in the movie Rocky when he reached the top of the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his dog, Punchy. I felt like a champion who had just accomplished the impossible!
I couldn’t wait to get started. Once I had got to my room I made a chore calendar with columns for Monday and Thursday so I could keep count of how many loads of laundry I fold. I pinned up my chart on the cork board in the hall by the laundry room.
“Yes!” I shouted and punched the air, champion style. I couldn’t wait to get my new phone.
That was at the end of summer and here we are at the beginning of October. I wasn’t sure in the beginning if my parents thought I would be able to do it, but now they know I am determined. I have only missed a couple of days of folding clothes, and Dad also hired me a few times to pull weeds, so I am quickly approaching one hundred dollars.
The twins were a bit upset at first when they realized they could have worked for a phone and got one sooner—had they thought of it. Anthony didn’t think I would be able to fold enough clothes to earn the money, but he wished me “luck.” That’s my Big Bud for you.
Now every Monday and Thursday I have to be sure to hurry into the laundry room before the six o’clock hour. I would have ridden bikes with Michelle today after doing the laundry, but I also wanted to get started on practicing for the states exam and knew I would have a lot of tracing to do. Biking was out of the question, at least for today.
Since Anthony has football and the twins have cheerleading practice every day, on Mondays it’s just Mom and I in the house until they all come home.
On the ride home from school Mom asked me about my day.
“It was great,” I answered. “Our states exam is next Monday.”
“Really? It seems like just yesterday Anna and Marie were practicing for it,” Mom said.
“Yeah, well, it’s been four years Mom,” I said. “And I’m planning to “Ace” the test.”
“Good for you Angel,” Mom said. “It will take a lot of practicing, you know?”
“Ohhhh yeah, I know,” I said. “I have it all figured out, and I’m starting today.”
“That’s the way to master it. Practice, practice, practice,” Mom said as she parked the car in the driveway.
I jumped out of the car and blew into the house like a tornado.
I ran to do my laundry, which was mostly a lot of towels, so I was able to keep up the speed of a tornado. I marked my chart - six loads! Awesome! That brings me to, 86 plus 6…that’s ninety-two dollars. Yes!
“How many loads are you up to Angel?” Mom asked as she walked by me standing at the cork board.
“Ninety-two dollars! I almost have one-hundred dollars!” I said, jumping up and down excitedly.
One map, two map, three map, four!
I gave my mom a hug and said, “See ya…have to go study.”
I stopped off at the den to get a stack of printing paper. I know, you’re probably thinking I am a bit of a nut for not using the copier that’s sitting right in front of me. It would be easier to just print out some copies of the blank map, but a little voice keeps saying to “trace the map, Angel.” Angel or Not? This time at least, I am listening to my angels.
I ran upstairs and sat down at my desk and began tracing out the maps.
After what felt like forever, I had traced out two maps— just two! My hand was killin’ me! This was taking a lot more time than I had planned. I have been tracing…for how long? I glanced at my clock…an hour at least! Geez, my hand was really hurtin’! Maybe I should rethink using the copier. The only good thing I can see with tracing out the maps was that as I traced I was able to look at the states, their names and capitals, and get familiar with each one. Of course, my hand just might fall off from all the tracing before I even get to take the test! Yeah, the copier was starting to sound better and better. Nah Angel, trace them. My angels said, determined to have me trace the maps.
Okay, okay. I’ll trace some more. I should try to get at least another one done before dinner. So I placed a new sheet on top of the map and began tracing.
The hardest states were up in the northeast part of the map. They are so small and the names were so big they didn’t fit inside the state lines, which made it hard to keep it neat. I decided to make lines on the outside of the state for Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and a few others. This way I could write the state name and its capital in the margin of the map, which made it look a lot neater and would be clearer to read.
I was just finishing my third map when Mom called us down for dinner.
Before I headed downstairs, I decided that after we eat I would take my first practice test, just to see how I would do. I know it won’t be perfect but I have to start somewhere right?
Dinner was awesome! Mom made chicken stuffed with basil, tomatoes, capers, and topped it with cheese and other seasonings. It is one of my favorites! We were in the middle of dessert when Mom said to the family.
“Angel is one-third of the way to earning her phone.”
“Really?” Dad asked. “What are you up to?”
“I’m up to ninety-two dollars,” I said.
“Unbelievable! Why didn’t we think of doing that?” Marie asked Anna.
“Because we are lazier than our kid sister,” Anna said, smiling proudly at me. “I can’t believe you are going to do it, Angel.”
Angel or Not? Angel for sure! I love my family. Instead of giving me grief like they had when I first started, they were now very excited for me. I really do have a cool family!
After dinner was over we all hurried through “dish duty.” I cleared most of the table while Anna and Marie loaded the dishwasher. Every time we load the dishwasher and I notice it is packed full, I wonder what it’s like in a home with six or seven children. Do they have two dishwashers? They have to have two dishwashers because we have only four kids and we fill ours up completely. Or maybe they have to wash dishes by hand like my mom did when she was a kid? I wonder…
With dish duty complete I was free to go back to my room and take the practice test. As I ran upstairs I started getting a bit nervous. I hope I know them all –my mind was wishfully thinking. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking—and you’re right, I’ll be lucky if I know half of them.
Once in my room, I sat at my desk. I set my timer for 30 minutes which is usually the amount of time Sister Rita gives us to take our exams.
Once the timer started ticking, I started filling in the states. I didn’t get too far before I realized I didn’t remember very many. I started skipping all across the map, filling in one state in the east, then a few in the middle, and then a few in the west. This wasn’t working.
What I needed was a system. “Go back to the northeast and start there and move south” a voice seemed to be saying in my ear. So I tried to focus on the states in that area and filled out as many as I could before moving south. Once I got to Florida, I started back up by Ohio and moved straight south. Then back up to Indiana and moved southward. It was basically an up and down filling in system, until I was at Washington State, Oregon and lastly California. Ta Da. I was done. The timer had gone off at least five minutes ago, but that’s okay. I’ll get faster.
I was hoping not to tell you just how badly I did, but that wouldn’t be fair, and besides, you were right. Let me just say this, I failed the practice test big time! I got 23 states right. I knew only 11 capitals and I don’t think I spelled anything correctly. Getting an “A” on this test was starting to look impossible….but like Mom says. “The impossible just takes a little more effort,” in this case, it will take a lot more effort—a lot more studying.
At least I had learned a system… up down, up down, moving westward, I was gaining ground. Hey, I like the sound of that. It reminds me of a song. What was it? I know, Miley Cyrus’s song, “Hoedown Throwdown.” The tune was perfect! I decided that from here on, every time I take the test I am going to play the song. Music helps me think, and that was a perfect song, with the perfect beat.
Practice Makes Perfect :)
The rest of the week went by rather quickly. Every night I traced out as many maps as possible. Then I took the practice exam two or three times each night while listening to the “Hoedown Throwdown.” It was amazing how fast I could fill out the map when the song was playing.
It was Saturday evening and it had been a rather boring weekend. There was a mild hurricane passing offshore which covered Florida with a blanket of thick wet weather. It had rained most of Friday and all morning today. It wasn’t a bad hurricane, just a really wet one. The sun hadn’t even shown itself since Thursday. I spent most of the day in my room tracing and filling out the map. Since it was one of those rainy weekends, I really didn’t mind putting the time into studying. Practicing for the test was a great way to pass the time. I must have traced over the U.S. map a hundred times (of course I am exaggerating here) over the week, until I had accomplished my goal –which was to “Ace” the test every time I took it. I kept my iPod playing the “Hoedown Throwdown.” It was working so well that I just kept the song repeating over and over while I practiced. To the portion of the song that goes “Zig zag cross the floor, shuffle in diagonal,” I would write down four to six states in the northeast. Those are the ones that give me the most trouble. So I started zig-zagging my answers down on the map to the music, and I seemed to do better. I hummed along as I filled in the map. Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island. The song has this amazing beat that kept my pencil moving and my brain thinking clearly. I even came up with my own version of the song when the real song would end or when I was close to finishing filling out the map. “Zig zag across the map, write it down just like that. First the East states then the West… ”
It was almost dinner time and I was able to fill in the entire map during just three “Hoedown Throw- down” songs, maybe twenty minutes total. Not bad, I thought. I was beginning to believe –no, I was sure –I was going to get a perfect score on Monday’s real exam. Why wouldn’t I? I haven’t missed a state since Thursday night when I got South Dakota’s capital mixed up with North Dakota’s. Since Thursday I’ve been getting it perfect every time. Anyway, I decided I had enough practice and went in search of my family.
The house had been pretty quiet all day and I was wondering what everyone was doing. I headed downstairs. Mom and Dad were in the formal living room, and I could hear them talking about Anthony as I got to the last step of the stairs.
“His leg is better now. You have to expect that he is going to jump right in and play, Babe,” Dad said to Mom. He always calls her “Babe.”
“I know, and I’m happy for him,” Mom answered, “but I don’t want to see him hurt again. He needs to make sure his muscles are strong before Friday’s football game.”
“He’s strong. He has been strengthening it for two weeks now. He’ll be fine,” Dad said just before he saw me.
“Hey, look who’s here. Come over here, Angel,” Dad said, holding out his arms for me when I walked into the room.
“What’ve you been doing all day in your room, Honey?” Mom asked.
“Practicing for my map test,” I answered her as I plopped onto Dad’s lap.
“On a Saturday? You must want a good grade,” Dad figured.
“If I get a 100 on the test I will not only get that good grade, I will be guaranteed straight A’s for the trimester!” I explained.
“Wow, Angel. None of you have gotten straight A’s in fourth grade. That will be a first for our family,” Dad said.
“I know. That’s why I’m working so hard,” I said.
“Good for you, Monkey Girl. Practice makes perfect,” Dad added. “Okay, up you go. You have definitely grown! I can’t keep you on my lap without my legs falling asleep.” In case you missed it, one of Dad’s nicknames for me is “Monkey Girl,” and if you’re wondering why, I have no idea!
“She’s grown a full two inches since the beginning of summer,” Mom said.
“A true, fertilized weed,” Dad joked. I really have such a goofy family, but you’ve got to love them. I smiled back and asked, “Mom, what’s for dinner?”
“Dad thought we would order some pizza since this rain won’t let up enough to have a cook-out. How’s that sound?”
“How about we watch a Twilight Zone show tonight and have a pizza party?” Dad added.
“Works for me,” I said. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Anthony is at the school gym with his team and the twins are doing research at a friend’s house. They’ll all be home any minute,” Mom answered.
“So Dad, is Anthony’s first game this Friday?”
“Yes it is. I told you his leg would heal and he’d be playing soon.”
“I can’t wait ‘til the game. Can I bring Michelle with us?” I asked.
“Sure, the more the merrier,” Dad said.
We continued talking until everyone came home. The twins got home just a few seconds before Anthony and were telling us about their research paper. The moment Anthony entered the kitchen the smell hit the living room as if it had arrived on the winds of the hurricane!
“What’s that smelllllll?” Anna and Marie both shrieked. Then they covered their faces with their hands and went running for the stairs.
“Anthony! Outside with that gear,” Mom called out while covering her nose.
“Anthony! Get outside with that gear!” Mom called out while covering her nose.
I jumped up as if I were Speedy Gonzales from the Looney Tunes show, and ran out of the room super-speedy fast. Get out quick, I thought, before the smell of sour sweat takes me down!
Disgusting! How do they stand to be near each other? I wondered as I ran upstairs on the heels of Anna and Marie, who had now, begun gagging.
Football season always adds a component that I could definitely do without—it smells, big time! Angel or Not? Forget angel. I refuse to go near or help fold his rancid football uniform and pads!!! Even after Mom washes them they still have the stench of B.O. Yuck!
Once I got to my room I plopped down on the bed and could still smell the obnoxious odor. Could the B.O. have soaked into my clothes or maybe my hair! I grabbed my pillow and covered my face but the smell was STILL burning my nostrils. I gagged once and jumped up to go to the bathroom. Could it really have soaked into me? Man that would stink in more ways than one. What if I’m still stinking of B.O. on Monday?
I decided to scrub my face and hands—twice, and then I sprayed myself from head to toe with strawberry perfume, and gave my hair several good sprays too. Phew, that’s much better. I took the perfume with me back to my room, just in case I needed more.
By the time Mom had called us down for pizza, the B.O. smell had vanished and the yummy aroma of pizza filled the air. Which was a good thing too, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat if the horrible B.O. scent hadn’t cleared the living room. Angel or Not? An honest angel at least.
We gathered in the family room around the coffee table, where Mom had laid out a table cloth and added a candle in the center for ambiance. The pizzas were placed on the table, and we sat on the couch that almost circles the table. Mom started with “Grace” and we all joined in prayer. Then Dad started the show. It was Cinema night at the Hennessey Home which included pizza and a movie—a Twilight Zone episode.
If you haven’t seen the Twilight Zone, let me say this, the show is old and in black and white, and the acting is, well, pathetic, to say the least. That’s why it’s so funny to watch. It’s a mild horror flick with very weird situations that couldn’t possibly happen anywhere else but in the Twilight Zone. The perfect example of being in the Twilight Zone was when Sonya started bullying me at the beginning of the school year. Things started going really wrong for me and I was sure I was stuck in the alternate universe known only as—The Twilight Zone. Thankfully, once Sonya and I exited the boxing ring, I left The Twilight Zone and my world returned to normal.
Anyway, tonight we ate pizza, laughed at the show and the weird characters. It was another, fun family movie night. After dinner, when Dad and Anthony started talking about the big game on Friday, I decided to make some noise makers so we could cheer for Anthony on the sidelines. So, after we all cleared the dishes and put away the leftover pizza, I went in search of empty plastic bottles to use as shakers. I gathered up about five plastic water bottles and headed toward my room. After the test on Monday, Michelle and I can fill and decorate the bottles, but for the rest of the weekend I was going to stay focused on making an “A” on the map test. Work first, Play later, that’s the Hennessey motto.
“Night Mom, night Dad, night Big Bud,” I said, giving each of my parents a kiss and slapping Anthony “five” as I walked by with my bottles.
“What’re you doing with the bottles?” Mom called out behind me.
“I’m gonna’ make noise-makers to cheer for Anthony at the game,” I said.
“That’s a great idea, Angel,” Mom said. “Will you make one for me, please?”
“Will do. ‘Night guys,” I said, heading upstairs. I put the bottles in my room then went to brush my teeth.
To find out what Angel does to earn the title:
Angel or Not? Ohhh So Not!!!
And to find out how Big Bud's first football game goes :)
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