Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Fourth grade Jesus envy


Frustrated primary school studentAnd while we are talking about fourth grade, I am reminded of Maureen McArdle's neck in front of me in the third row, that smug smarmy neck gloating and preening at me for nine long months, as day after day, week after week, she bested me in maths tests and social studies projects and science experiments, finishing first in whatever academic contest had been posed to the class by Mrs O'Malley, who looked like a linebacker with spectacles, and she, Maureen McArdle, owner of that smirking neck, again and again got her paper back with a gold Jesus on it, whereas I earned a series of silver Jesuses as long as your arm.

No boy ever accumulated such a parade of silver Jesuses as the undersigned, who brought them home day after day, week after week, Jesus glinting like a brilliant new coin from my satchel, and showed them to my mum, who tried her best to pretend that a silver Jesus was every bit as good as a gold Jesus.  

At least it is not a bronze Jesus, she actually said once, a line I remember because I never heard that sentence before (or since), and because my brother Thomas had earned a bronze Jesus in kindergarten that very morning, apparently for not peeing on himself, for once, or perhaps for managing to eat his lunch without incurring injury, for a change.

You wouldn't believe how many times this kid started out to eat a candy bar and ended up with a cast on his arm, or tried to open the peanut butter jar and finished by using the last seven bandaids in the pantry to staunch the blood, which caused my father to once again use lewd and vulgar language, which he had sworn, in front of a priest at the Nocturnal Adoration Society meeting, not to do, but did.

The bronze Jesuses in our class, I note, were scattered like cherry petals, cheap goods, willy nilly (and there actually was a kid in our class named Willie Nilley), everyone earned one eventually except Michael O'Sullivan, whose grandfather had married a Lutheran — a mixed marriage, yes, but not a good example of miscegenation, Michael, as Mrs O'Malley said, tersely, while handing Maureen McArdle yet another gold Jesus.

I kept my silver Jesuses for some years, in a drawer filled with Jesuses of various shapes and hues and materials, there was the Jesus patch presented to us by a visiting Jesuit one time, as a sort of team logo, and there was a small statue that may or may not have been Jesus, presented to me in sixth-grade basketball, although the coach, one of the dads, and not one of the dads who had ever played or seen basketball played before, it turned out, told me that if it was Jesus, which he was not totally sure it was, it was a rare case of a long lean Jesus portrayed in tight gym shorts, sculpted as if he, basketball Jesus, had just launched a jump shot, his right hand following through correctly so as to impart backspin on the ball, and his left hand serving as a guide, something like the tower that guides a rocket until the moment of liftoff, at which point the tower, or left hand, having executed its function, flies free, are you listening to what I am saying, Brian?

Anyway, the reason I tell you this story is to relate the time I set out to actually, no kidding, steal a gold Jesus from Maureen McArdle's desk at recess.

I had been driven mad by the infinite parade of silver Jesuses, and I could take no more silver Jesuses, and I set out, greed and rage in my heart, to procure a gold Jesus, come hell or high water. I say this ruefully, aware of the stench of sin, but a man must face his demons, even those that taunted him when he was ten years old, and I crept toward her desk, wondering what that awful stench was, and hoisted the lid of her desk, and found her most recent gold Jesus face-down in what appeared to be the soggy remnant of a liverwurst sandwich.

Thus ended my roaring ambition for a gold Jesus unearned by personal toil and discipline, and I have been a better man since.

I think we can all agree that this is a lesson that should not be lost. When next you find yourself weary beyond words of silver Jesuses, and your dignity and discipline have dissolved to such a degree that you find yourself on your knees at recess slinking up an aisle of cracked and ancient linoleum toward a desk glowing with gold Jesuses, take it from me, your friend Brian, that this is a poor idea, not a project that will end well, and return to your seat forthwith, and face forward, with your hands where I can see them, and forget the smug prim neck of Maureen McArdle; for while you will go on to a glittering career as a penniless essayist, she will eventually become an Episcopalian bishop, I believe somewhere in the Midwest, says my mother on the telephone. Let us say a prayer for her eternal soul. Do you still have your silver Jesuses? Did I tell you what happened to Thomas? 

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, silver Jesuses



submit a comment

Existing comments

You may be a penniless essayist, Brian, but your words are delightful - gold star stuff. And about the 'miscegenation' issue - we have a very diverse family, with have some Lutherans (gasp) amongst us! Sparing a thought for Maureen McArdle may be worthwhile too - it can be quite a defensive mechanism at work in cultivating a smug smarmy neck.

Pam | 28 August 2012  

Thank you for your humour - and shining a light on my day

Pat | 28 August 2012  

Many thanks Brian. I am breathless as I complete reading this offering. Panting as I searched for a full stop I luxuriated in the glut of commas. I can recall similar classroom scents and environs, but hanging like a silk across my memory is the image of the angel hovering behind little girl and boy waifs as they step warily across one of the narrowest bridges ever painted, the missing planks forever more taking ownership of my infant attention.

Vic O'Callaghan | 28 August 2012  

Beautifully written! Brian, may all your Jesuses be gold, and may at least some of your imminent Christmases be brown :)

Barry G | 28 August 2012  

Well thanks Brian, just as I had finished penning what I thought was a funny and moving story about my childhood, you post this and I am relegated to silver Jesus again. I know where your desk is and I hope you've had a decent lunch.

Steve | 28 August 2012  

Brian, at least you didn't dip her pigtails in the inkpot and she didn't retaliate by breaking a chalk board over your head.
Never mind about the silver Jesus's or doubting Thomas, with the former in your heart is where it matter.

L Newington | 01 September 2012  

Please keep going. We all need the insight and humour even Down Under.

Eilish Cooke | 05 September 2012  

Similar Articles

Exploring teacher suicide

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 05 September 2012

A teacher commits suicide in her classroom. Her replacement wants to help his students explore their grief, but is met with resistance from other staff members. There are echoes here of institutional cover-ups, where a colleague is protected at the expense of the wellbeing of children.


Children breathe the air of protest

  • Various
  • 03 September 2012

Children need to walk together, arm in arm with strangers, wear badges of hope and T-shirts with lifelines, sing words of wisdom and history, chant choric responses of camaraderie in a mass movement of human voices. Understand the justice of causes and the constant need for change.