It was the funniest thing Id ever seen. Well, Ill have to admit that I was only about 12 or 13 at the time, but in looking back over the 45 years since, it still ranks right up there. Joe Green, easily the biggest kid in my St. Josephs Academy 7th-grade class (played tackle both ways on the football team), and I were summoned to the principals office. Sister Margarita honest that was her name stood about four feet tall, and thats probably giving her the benefit of the doubt. I believe she had a classic Napoleonic complex. You know, one of those people who compensate for being vertically challenged by tending toward the dictatorial? She was the top honcho at Galesburgs south-side parochial school and also taught piano.
Anyway, I cant quite remember just what our transgression might have been. After all there was seldom a week went by when I wasnt taking up space in her ante-room. But I can state with absolute certainty that I and Master Green were undoubtedly guilty as charged. After one of her patented lectures about our duty as upstanding young Catholic men, she lost it, as the diminutive religious was famous for her quick temper. She walks up in front of Joe, who had his near six-foot frame standing at rigid attention, and then leaps off her little feet to give him a smack across the face.
I guess she wanted some sort of eye contact when the blow landed. So I do what any self-respecting "cool" near teen of the day would have done, I bend over with uncontrolled laughter. You see, much like my demeanor these days, I had a real problem taking anything too seriously. Now, Im certain that my display probably had no less than two motives. One, Im sure I still had a thought of an insanity defense, which would have been helped by laughter in the face of imminent doom. And secondly, it was funny. I mean it was one of those rare moments in your life you will never, ever forget, as the fact that I am recounting this tale more than 40 years later attests. Well, it didnt take long for the court of last resort to rule on my insanity plea, as she turned toward me with a glare that could have killed anyone old enough to have known better. "Well, Mr. Stiles, so you think thats funny, do you?" she asks not really expecting an answer. "lets see how funny you think it is when I dispense your share of the punishment." "Sster," I said as I tried to straighten myself back up and brace for the blow, "I dont care if you hit me with a brick ... thats still funny."
My eloquence did not win any stay of execution, but you should have been there. It was funny enough to completely erase the pain of the slap from my memory, as I wasnt near as tall as Joe and she didnt have to work near as hard to pull the lever on me. However, Im willing to wager that the nun shared the story with her cohorts, almost all of whom knew of whom she spoke, later that same day back at the convent and Id be very surprised if they didnt see it much the same way I did. And about the Mexican drink of the same name as my executioner? Im willing to bet that the guy who invented the stiff, salt-rimmed tequila cocktail was another of Sister Margaritas students.