In the 1940s, the Medical Arts Building on McCallie Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was one of the tallest buildings in town. My father would park the green Ford (born in 1936, the same year as me) in the parking lot at back and my mother would whizz me up in the elevator to Doctor Starr's office on the fifth floor. This was at a time when doctors still made house calls for serious afflictions, but for minor ailments my mom insisted on dragging us downtown.
The doctor probed my skinny chest with his cold-nosed stethoscope. He prodded my white belly with his rubbery fingers. He peered down my throat with the help of a shiny reflector attached to a strap around his head. "Hmm," he said. Then, "Hmm, hmm." He tilted toward my mother. "He'll be fine in the morning," said Doctor Starr.
And I was.
My soul too needed tending.
The nuns at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School lined us up two-by-two for the march to the church and every-other-week confession. I stood in line outside the confessional, between Billy Swanson and Carmen Costello, waiting my turn, and wondering what exactly were my sins. I knew that my acute awareness of cute Carmen was fraught with significance, and possibly sin, but I would have had no idea what to confess. A year or two later I would have a name for it: impure thoughts. "Bless me, Father, I have had impure thoughts 4623 times." Except I wouldn't give the exact number. I usually rounded off at five, a nice compromise between "goody-goody" and "depraved."
But in 1945 it was the usual roster of made-up sins we all confessed: disobedient (four times), told lies (twice), selfish (three times), disrespectful to my parents (twice). That seemed about right. I stepped into the box and the little wooden window slid open, and Father Shea said, "Hmm?" And then, after a silence, "Hmm." I rattled off my sins, received my absolution and penance (five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys), and left the box in a state of grace.
Only to pass cute Carmen going in.