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Michael Martone
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Contributor's Note
 
Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was educated in the public schools there except for first, second, and part of his third grade year when he was a student at Queen of Angels Catholic Church School. His father and mother had been one of the first couples to marry in the new north side parish. There wedding was held in what had been designed as the school's gymnasium but hastily converted to a sanctuary with the promise that sometime later a real church would be built on property that was being used as a football field out back. His father was an usher and in The Holy Name and The Knights of Columbus and his mother was a member, in name if not spirit, of Queen of Angels Rosary Society. His mother who was, also, a freshman English teacher at Central High School, a public school, withdrew Martone after her son developed nightmares and night terrors she suspected were connected to his third grade lay teacher, Mrs. Freeze, and her use of the abacus, and enrolled him in Price Elementary two blocks away. The move made Martone's parent's doubly guilty. They had already refrained from receiving the Holy Eucharist during Holy Communion since they practised birth control. His father used condoms. Much later Martone's mother would be prescribed birth control pills to regulate her cycle, after a miscarriage, the use of which was endorsed by Father Dave, a liberal-minded priest who wore side burns and said the mass in English. The result of such dispensation allowed their resumption of partaking in the sacrament, the sinful prophylactic of the treatment ignorable now that it had been endorsed as a medical necessity for Martone's mother's heath and well-being. But at the time of their son's withdrawal from parochial school, Martone's parents still wrestled with the moral dilemma of their sexual habits and the evidence of their sin, their single child there beside them in the pew each Sunday at Queen of Angels. So even while going to the public school, Martone attended weekly CCD classes, where he prepared for his confirmation, and summer school run by the Crosier Brothers. He was also instructed not to attend the classes held in the trailer at the public school, a mobile classroom sponsored by the protestant churches that was parked nearby and provided elementary religious instruction just off school grounds and gave the occasion to pray. Martone had liked his first two years at Queen of Angels. In first grade, his teacher had been Sister Mary Urban, a nun in the Order of the Most Precious Blood. The sisters there wore habits of gray skirts and guimpes with black and white wimples. In first grade Martone was The Narrator in the Christmas pageant. In second grade Sister Mary Regula adored him for fainting while he fasted for his first Holy Communion, mistaking his swoon for spiritual ecstasy. Martone awoke in her gray lap and she carried him to the alter. Henceforth, Sister Mary Regula always selected Martone to be class monitor when she left the room. Once, he reported that everyone in the class except Michael Griffth and Nancy Carroll, his best friends, had been bad, but in the confusion of Sister's returning Michael and Nancy heard only their names called and mistook that they had been accused. From then on they loathed Martone. The fall-out from this incident might have spilled over into the third grade and Mrs. Freeze's basement classroom. Martone only remembers the crowded dark room. He used the point of his pencil to slid the colored beads of his abacus up and down the the rails of each of the columns. There were so many students in the class that there weren't enough workbooks to go around. Martone placed a hard plastic sheet over the page they were working on in the workbook when he got one. He would answer the questions showing through the plastic sheet using a green wax pencil. Mrs Freeze would slowly make her way around the room, visiting the students who had the few workbooks at the time, and check the answers. Once she corrected the mistakes, writing the appropriate responses on the messy smeared sheets, she grunted her approval and instructed that the pristine workbooks should be passed on to the next student. Martone remembers then taking out his little plastic bottle of water, his crusty scrap of shoe shine cloth to clean the greasy markings of the plastic sheet. He used his fingernails to loosen the wax. His scrawled answers smeared and spread, tinting the plastic green. It took a long time to thin the wax and to wipe it into a smudged but, at least, translucent state, a vortex of a watery green swirls and streaks. Martone believed, even then, that the plastic sheets and the cleaning thereof was a metaphor for the soul and that the wax pencil markings were a tally of sins, concepts he had just learned about the year before in Sister Mary Regula's class. He scrubbed and scrubbed the plastic sheet while he waited for the workbook to be handed back to him so that he could attempt to answer the next set of questions as Mrs. Freeze made her slow way back to him to check his imperfect work.
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