It's a disgusting thing but Paddy Gilhooley, who knew better as
a child, had begun farting in church very early in life. He started in grammar
school, many decades ago, long before the nuns selected him in fourth grade to
be an altar boy to serve Mass.
The Mass was then said in Latin with the altar boys' responses
also said in Latin. The nuns picked Paddy because he was tall and was able to
memorize things rapidly. By training him in fourth grade, the nuns believed
Paddy would be able to serve Mass for the next four years till he graduated
from grammar school.
Paddy was less than thrilled to be singled out for this honor.
He had nothing against God or the Mass but he knew that fourth-grade altar boys
were always assigned to serve the Mass at 6:30 a.m., way too early in the day
Being selected to be an altar boy, however, helped Paddy's
grades even if more than once the nuns had to summon his father to the school
about some aspect of his behavior that did not live up to the code at St.
Nicholas of Tolentine School.
St. Nick's was a fine school whose mission was to educate the
children of immigrants whose fathers had jobs good enough to buy small
bungalows in the neighborhood known as Chicago Lawn. This was back in the 1940s
when food was cheap, houses were cheap and salaries were commensurately low.
Most of the immigrants were from European countries--Germany,
Poland, Lithuania, Italy and Ireland. Parents were interested in their children
getting an education good enough for them to pass the entrance exam at one of
the parochial high schools in Chicago. These high schools were renowned for
offering college preparatory curricula. Tuition was around $250 a year. That
was a big sum in those days but Paddy Gilhooley's father, an electrician, and a
non-drinking Irishman, had already saved the $1,000 required for Paddy's four
years of high school. Now Mr. Gilhooley was saving to send Paddy to college.
Paddy's father wanted the best for his son. Once he had enough
money put aside for Paddy's college education, he planned to save more money to
put him through law school. Mr. Gilhooley didn't emigrate from Ireland to have
his son work with his hands. No sir, his son would go to law school and work
with his mind. That much was settled.
Paddy, however, was a bit of a scamp when no one was looking. He
discovered early on, for example, that one way to square the score with the
nuns who required good behavior at all times was to fart in church, preferably
in serial fashion, one missile after another, silent but, as his classmates
aways said, deadly.
He started doing this in first grade when he had to sit with his
classmates in one of the first three rows in church. These were the pews
reserved for the first-graders at the Children's Mass. Right behind the first
graders were three rows of second graders. And behind them, three rows of third
graders--and so on. The procession continued, three rows at a time, all the way
back to the eighth graders who occupied their own three rows in the rear.
The eighth graders were monitored carefully by the nuns. One
false move and any miscreant child would be led by the ear out into the foyer
of the church, where he - and it was always a boy - was dealt with summarily by
the principal, usually the toughest nun in the convent at the time and always
an immigrant from Ireland. In fact, the whole convent consisted of 16 nuns
imported from Ireland to deal with these children of immigrants who were not,
by any means, a refined group. Quite the contrary.
Paddy realized the nuns were only doing their job - trying to
maintain order in God's House. But he enjoyed getting involved in devilment and
looked forward to being in eighth grade when he'd be able to sit in the rear of
the church where the nuns kept a close eye on boys like Paddy, most of them
feisty to a fault, ready to do anything at times to create a little commotion.
In first grade Paddy learned early on that farting in church was
especially troublesome to his classmates, especially the girls who seldom if
ever misbehaved. It took awhile for the nuns to identify which child was
stinking up the first three pews at the Children's Mass. But when several
little girls sitting behind Paddy began pointing at him, the jig, so to speak,
was up. Sister Mary Lorraine led Paddy down the aisle by the ear and placed him
in the custody of the principal, Sister Marie Patrick, a stout bullet of a
woman who did not suffer misbehavior happily.
"Why did you do that, Paddy, at Mass, especially? Surely, you
must know better. Your parents will not be happy when I tell them."
Paddy, though only seven years old, had learned to keep a
straight face and deny anything he was accused of. But it didn't help that
despite great efforts by his mother, there was no way to comb his hair since it
featured seven cowlicks--the barber had counted them for his curious mother.
She had tried gobs of the most popular hair tonic of the day, Wildroot Creme
Oil, but the cowlicks always popped up, often in the middle of Mass and just
about the time Paddy would let the first of several farts fly.
"Sister, I didn't do nothin' at all," Paddy finally said. "I
think it must have been Stanley. He eats Polish sausage and sauerkraut. Ask
But Sister Marie Patrick knew better so she led Paddy into the
little office in the back of the church until Mass was over. Then she waited by
the doorway to see Paddy's parents after Mass so she could discuss the problem
with them. She really didn't know what to say to them but she figured it out by
the time Mass was over.
Upon hearing of the charge against Paddy, Mr. Gilhooley, in his
best suit and tie, was outraged. How could anyone, especially a nun from
Ireland, say a thing like that about Paddy, who was going to law school in a
Paddy himself, standing off to the side and watching the
proceedings, enjoyed everything immensely but kept a stoic face. Even at this
age, with his spectacles always slightly askew, he looked a little like a very
young James Joyce or maybe George Bernard Shaw.
He never smiled or laughed when he was in the vicinity of people
of authority, especially his father or the nuns. His mother had seen him smile
several times and had told his father that Paddy was not as serious a child as
his father thought a lawyer-to-be should be.
Finally, however, Sr. Marie Patrick, after mentioning to Mr.
Gilhooley that she was from the same county in Ireland that he was, convinced
him that indeed Paddy had been stinking up the front of the church during Mass.
"Where did he learn such behavior," Sister asked Mr. Gilhooley,
who said he had no idea and looked at Mrs. Gilhooley, who knew full well that
young Paddy had grown up in a home where his father not only farted with
bravado but also used to sing, after each fart, an old ditty that was famous in
"Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you
Mr. Gilhooley was especially apt to fart and sing on Saturday
afternoons while listening to the radio as Notre Dame stomped on some lesser
foe in a football game. The more points Notre Dame would score, the more Mr.
Gihooley would fart and sing.
And when Paddy's mother would complain that her husband was
setting a bad example for Paddy, Mr. Gilhooley would explain once again how
many farting matches he had won as a young man in Ireland. As the story would
have it, Mr. Gilhooley would show up at the pub for the matches held late on a
Saturday night. His presence was frowned upon because he didn't drink anything
stronger than ginger ale.
Finally, Mr. Gilhooley decided to agree with Sr. Marie Patrick
that young Paddy was guilty of what might not be a mortal sin but certainly
qualified as a venial sin at the very least. He was also afraid his wife, an
innocent woman if ever there was one, might pipe up and say Paddy had learned
to fart from his father while they listened to Notre Dame games on the big
console radio in the living room.
"Sister, I tell you this," Mr. Gihooley said. "If Paddy ever
farts in church again, you smack him with that ruler of yours right across his
keister and don't stop till the little bugger starts crying. Then you call me
about it and when he gets home, I'll wallop him again. You and I will put a
stop to this once and for all. Paddy is going to be a lawyer and no Irish
lawyer farts in church."
Sr. Marie Patrick appeared mollified and released Paddy to his
parents. His father led him out of the church by the ear for the long walk
home. Paddy knew what he was in for once they got there. His father would take
him to the attic door and open it and show him the big black belt that hung
drooping from a hook. Mr. Gilhooley had even spliced the end of the belt so it
would look like a serpent's tongue.
Whenever Paddy acted up around the house, Mr. Gilhooley would
take the belt off the hook, wrap it around his fist and smack the tongue of the
belt against his palm while telling Paddy if he ever did it again - whatever it
was the boy had done on that occasion - the belt would be applied to his
keister till he couldn't sit for a month. Paddy would immediately show sheer
terror and say that he would never do whatever it was again.
Years later, Paddy, now a retired attorney, could laugh about
all this as he told the story to his grandchildren. It was especially funny to
Paddy because his father never hit him with the belt even though Sr. Marie
Patrick had called his father several times to report that Paddy had continued
to fart, albeit in the classroom and not in church.
Notre Dame in those years won several national football
championships. As a result, Mr. Gilhooley continued to fart proudly and sing
his heart out on many Saturday afternoons in autumn.
In eighth grade, Paddy was allowed to join in the farting
himself but he would never join in the singing. His mother would never have
allowed it. The poor woman couldn't tell one fart from another so she knew
nothing about Paddy's participation at that level. But she always told
neighbors that when you compared Paddy and his father, the apple didn't fall
far from the tree.