Nancy Roman

The Field Trip

St. Maria Goretti (painting 1929)

St. Maria Goretti (painting 1929) (Wikipedia image)

In her comment a few days ago, Tess remarked that I must have been a very observant child.

Oh yeah.

I am hardly ever serious now.  But I was a serious kid. I sought logic in an illogical world.

Some of my questions were just kid stuff:  Why do I have to do Arithmetic homework, when I already know Arithmetic?  Why do I need a bath when I was just out in the rain?

And sometimes I questioned the rationality of the world:  Why don’t rich people just buy stuff for poor people?  Why aren’t there any colored girls in my class?

The adults around me may have thought that I was fresh, and maybe I was, but there’s more than one definition of ‘fresh’.

When I was around ten, my class went on a field trip.  This was extraordinary.  We never went anywhere.

There were five Catholic elementary schools in our town.  Four of them were within walking distance to the local movie theatre.  The theatre manager was no fool.  Every year he booked at least one religious movie and offered discount group prices for the matinee.

In fourth grade, I was finally old enough for the pilgrimage to the theatre.

How I loved the movies.  My mother would raid the couch cushions every Saturday.  She could usually come up with fifty cents each for us three girls (my brother was too little).  It was thirty-five cents for admission and fifteen cents for snacks.  In the late fifties and early sixties, you could get a lot of candy for fifteen cents.  I usually went for the Goobers for ten cents and two MaryJanes for a nickel.  I could get popcorn for fifteen cents, but then I would be thirsty and I didn’t have any money left.  Besides, if I had a soda I would need to go to the bathroom.  And I would not miss any part of any movie.  Not even the previews.  Back then, once you paid your admission you could stay all day.  I saw every movie twice.  My mother encouraged this.  She also loved movies and she loved when they ate up my whole afternoon.

The day of the movie outing, the Sister collected twenty-five cents from each of us – the discount rate – and lined us up for the walk to the theatre.  We always marched two by two.  I think the nuns had read too many Madeline books. But there were an odd number of boys and girls and I had to hold hands with Curtis.  That was distressing.  But he was very short and I pretended he was my little brother, and I was babysitting.

The movie we saw was about St. Maria Goretti.  It was an Italian movie, dubbed in stilted English; I learned through the years that these annual religious movies were almost always Italian.

I googled recently to see if I could find the name of this movie.  I found a film – actually considered quite a good one – called “Heaven Over The Marshes” about the death and canonization of young Maria Goretti, who was murdered rather than submit to rape.  This film was made in 1949, and I saw it around 1961.  So this movie could have been twelve years old. It might have been.

Rows and rows of children sat and watched this adult-themed movie with a bunch of nuns.  I remember clearly the murder scene.  The older boy and the young pretty girl. I didn’t know anything about rape.  I didn’t even know anything about sex.   And they wouldn’t let us have a snack.  This was just as confusing, as I had a dime, and it wasn’t even Lent.

Then we marched back to the school. I think now that perhaps the nun was at a loss explaining this movie to a bunch of ten-year-olds, since we went right to work on Geography, finding Italy on the map.

I couldn’t wait any longer.  I needed to make sense of it. I raised my hand.  “I don’t get it,” I said.

“What don’t you understand?” asked Sister (reluctantly, I’d guess).-

“What was that boy trying to do, that she kept saying no?”

There was a very long pause.

“He was trying to touch her legs,” Sister said.

I was a logical little girl.

“I would have let him,” I said.

I hope that Sister went back to the convent that night and had a little chuckle over my uncensored innocence.  I really hope so.  I don’t want to go to hell.


  1. What a horrible thing for young children to watch a movie with a murder scene…! I avoid things like that even as an adult.
    But I’m sure Sister had to think quickly to answer your question. And I, too, wonder if she smiled about your innocent reply.
    I enjoyed reading your memories.


  2. bigsheepcommunications

    Fascinating that you remember the experience so vividly, especially the question you asked and the response you got. I wonder if the school was more careful with its choice of field trip movies after that?


    • I even remember scenes from that movie. And yes, I think the school was more careful. The next year the movie was St. Francis of Assisi.


  3. This is a great story (I love the Madeline reference and pretending Curtis was your little brother)!

    I went to Catholic school in 8th grade, but was never Catholic (my dad was/is), so my homeroom nun wasn’t too pleased when one day I started trying to poke holes in her story. I STILL don’t get it. “If Catholics are supposed to love everyone, why is being another religion or gay a sin?” I believe I was told I was being impertinent. (Or maybe I’m making that last part up because I watched “Pollyanna” too many times.)


    • I loved Pollyanna. And when I saw it on TV a few years ago, I thought it held up pretty well. Very sweet.


  4. What a great story. Love that you spoke up. I was the Catholic student who never spoke up. I hope the nun went home questioning some of the ways the Catholic Church taught children back then.


  5. Talk to me...I'm your Mother



  6. Talk to me...I'm your Mother

    Didn’t see the “Like” button and now can’t seem to delete my extraneous comment. But anyway I’m busy wondering if I would achieve sainthood if I kept my legs sacred. Love your perspective!


    • In my opinion, it counts more when you type “like”. So thanks!


  7. You were very lucky. I spent first and second grade in public school before transferring to our parish Catholic school. During the first two years there were field trips to the local dairy. That was cool because you could depend on getting chocolate milk or maybe one of the tiny cups of vanilla/chocolate ice cream. Then I transferred and there were no field trips — just the May procession (and I never was chosen as Mary) and the seeds I had to sell (hopefully that will help me go to heaven).


  8. Chuckles! You are very lucky the sister didn’t give your knuckles a wrap. I think I may have said something similar if I was in your situation.


  9. pharphelonus

    I’m not even going to delve into the horror part of seeing the movie, or thenun ignoring what you’d seen, but want to say this:

    “and it wasn’t even Lent” is brilliantly hilarious.


  10. My nuns adored Mario Lanza – so we got to watch The Great Caruso – a completely secular film, in addition to The Bells of St Mary’s and The Song of Bernadette. By the time they’d finished with me, (aged 7) I wanted to be a nun. It didn’t last.


    • The only attraction for me was the romantic outfit. Now that they dress like everyone else…well, no.


  11. You have an uncanny knack for remembering the tiniest moments of your life..and returning to them with humor. Must have been quite an adventure for the nuns…:-)!!!!


    • My sixth grade teacher actually tracked me down last month. Sister is 91 now, and was still teaching school up until about six years ago!


  12. When I was little, my aunt let me watch American Gigolo. Luckily I was able to eat snacks since I found the movie pretty incomprehensible.


  13. Where on earth did you find the flipper/stilettos? And what made you even look for them?


    • Just a complete stroke of luck. I was googling for plain old blue flippers for this post and these showed up. Just a crazy perfect fit.


  14. Loved going down memory lane to Catholic School days. Lucky you asked for an explanation. I never did. In those days being seen and not speaking was the law. Most of the lives of the saints were gruesome and it seems to me now, were told with relish. No wonder I was scared of my shadow—notthat I understood most of what was being described.

    You have a nice way of bringing back the old days.


  15. That is so funny… every Catholic (or ex-Catholic) I’ve ever met has ended every story they’ve told with a cautionary note about going to hell or being guilty! I was a logical little girl, too, who drove my elders crazy asking “why?” My mom still brings it up. So since you’re not my mom, maybe I can ask you, why does every Catholic (or ex-Catholic) end every story with a cautionary note about going to hell or being guilty? Does that mean only the protestants are going to heaven because they’re innocent? Just askin . . .


    • We Catholic-raised human beings end every thought with a consideration of whether it will damn us to hell. We are supposed to.


  16. You’ve been nominated for the Tell Me About Yourself Award! Please see my blog for details! Congratulations!!


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