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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Praying & Swearing: Huh?

I get it: the two activities seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Not for me!

Let me explain: for as long as I can remember, I crawl into bed and say a prayer, the first part of which I must have learned in Sunday school. My family didn't live near my Sunday school, but my parents thought it was important to attend and drove me and, later, my younger siblings, there and back. I didn't like Sunday school but loved Mrs. Gilbert, my Hebrew teacher. She was supportive, patient, and never minded when I butchered the language which I managed to do often.

My prayer (clearly, one used by millions) goes:

"Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take."

When I was younger, I didn't have a clue what a soul was and, in truth, didn't understand the finality of death. I must have liked the rhyme scheme--a a b b. As I got older, after Maggie, my Irish terrier, my beloved companion, died, I understood the finality of death. As far as the soul goes, I'm still grappling.

You'd think that after repeating such a bedtime prayer that I'd fall right asleep and maybe dream of angels or heaven or fluffy, white clouds. Nope. I carried on and repeated all the swear words I'd collected: shit, ass, damn, hell, fuck (Oops), fart (Really?) fairie.

Now, I'm not sure when I first heard the word fuck and can assure you that, even after the mandatory discussion about the birds and the bees, I remained in the dark. I picked up the other swear words from adults or from older kids in the neighborhood. But fairie? That startles me. I'd added it to my list only after hearing a bully on the block insult another boy who didn't want to play football in the alley. HIs accusative tone made it clear it wasn't a good thing, but that's as far as my comprehension went.

I laugh now when I think of this list which, by the way, I tend to fire off in silence from time to time. Why I continue to repeat the words teleports me back to my childhood and conjures up memories of riding my bike around the block--even further--without adult supervision and with no need to lock my bike when I dumped it on a friend's front lawn and left it there until dinnertime.

I giggle when I realize that I thought fart was a swear word.

But I am embarrassed to have included fairie in that list. I think it wasn't until the ninth or tenth grade when I began to comprehend the insult associated with the word.

Mr. LaRue was by far my favorite teacher. He wore a bright, red bow tie and nifty sports jacket every day, no matter the weather or a field trip in 80-degree heat. His enthusiasm for the French language captured my imagination, and I dreamed of living in France, eating cheese and French bread, sipping wine, and conversing like a Frenchwoman. (I minored in French in college and spent a summer in the French-speaking part of Switzerland between my sophomore and junior year.)

Mr. LaRue wasn't married. He had lived with another man for years. At first, I figured the two were roommates, best friends who could afford a bigger apartment by sharing expenses. Only later, did I realize that the two were a couple who loved one another--two men who loved just like my parents or any other couple I knew.

I wish I could say I wasn't shocked, but I was. The words homosexual or gay were definitely not part of my vocabulary nor anyone else's. There was no discussion of men loving men or women loving women in the short section about sex or coupling in health class. And as far as I knew, none of the boys or girls in my high school showed any romantic interest in the same sex. This was back in the sixties. It was a different, uninformed, secretive time. Hush. Hush.

Years ago, my mother told me that Monsieur LaRue had been summarily fired by the school board after decades of teaching. There was, according to my mother, some talk of protest, but nothing came of it. Monsieur LaRue is certainly dead by now. He'd be at least one hundred. But at night, after my little prayer, I say one for him.


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