Preserving our kids’ innocence It won’t last forever, but it’s worthy of our protection

Kathy Cribari Hamer

North Texas Catholic

1/3/2013

Her name was Catherine Fabiola Proudfoot, and I will never forget her.

Of course, she had a name that demanded recollection, like Slobodan Milošević or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, men whose rhythmic, almost poetic monikers have always fascinated me. I like to say those names aloud. I also like to say Catherine Proudfoot’s.

Every time I saw Catherine, we prayed together, then listened to music. We maintained that sweet tradition for a
good reason: she was my piano teacher.

Catherine is the only adult I remember calling by her first name. Unless you count the nuns: “Yes, Sister” and “No,
Sister” are first name usage, aren’t they? 

Catherine’s house was walking distance from mine. That is, “walking distance” in Pueblo, Colorado 1950s terminology. It was down three blocks, around the building that housed my kindergarten, past Hustead’s Grocery and Uncle Sammie’s house, and through a neighborhood that in retrospect reminds me of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I was in sixth grade when I began walking to Catherine’s. 

During that school year my friend Joey got hold of his father’s gun and accidentally shot my friend Donnie. It was the day of my piano lesson, and as I walked to Catherine’s house I worried and worried.

I remember every street corner and every tree in Catherine’s neighborhood, because as I walked, I struggled through the fact that innocence as I knew it, was gone. 

Catherine and I said our prayer that day, but we didn’t play piano. She told me stories, she answered my  questions.

When I got home I learned Donnie had surgery, his spleen was removed, but he was alive. It was an accident.

Last month, though, I was remembering first grade, not sixth.

I was recalling the irony that my first grade classroom, just like the now historical class in Newtown, Connecticut, contained 8 boys and 12 girls.

It might have been in our own 8-boys and 12-girls classroom where a heinous crime took place. To us, though, in Pueblo, in the pre-sixth-grade Donnie-was-accidentally-shot era, bad things like that never happened.

At my daughter Meredith’s house, the children Sam, Natalie, and Emma pray aloud at meals. Each voices intentions and after the killings at Sandy Hook, they prayed for the young victims and their families.

“When it began,” Meredith said, “Dustin and I thought it was kindergarteners who had been killed. Everyone was sad, but for Emma, it was less real, I think. 

“A few days later, when we prayed for them, Emma asked how old they were. When she learned they were her own age, and first graders, she cried inconsolably.”

Emma is the age I remember when we had the same number of children in my first grade class as the Sandy Hook School had in the class that was slaughtered.

She didn’t want to know the details, my daughter Meredith, a children’s therapist, reminded me, “We do need to answer what they ask. But we don’t want to give too much information.”

Learning the children’s ages created loss of innocence for Emma. “It is important to let our kids have innocence,” Meredith said. “That night, Emma cried, ‘Is our school safe?’ I talked with her and said those things don’t always happen; the school is safe, and it was our job to keep her safe.” 

“It is important for children to have beliefs and even fantasies,” Meredith said, “because losing them is the same as losing innocence.”

I remember when I began to lose my innocence — when Joey accidentally shot Donnie. One person who helped me was Catherine, who gave up our piano lesson to talk, listen, and pray.

One time, when my daughter Meredith was not a wise mom/therapist, but an eight-year-old — close to Emma’s age — she wanted her first pair of ice skates for Christmas. The skates were not in our budget … and we’d already finished shopping.

So Meredith asked Santa Claus. 

It was a conundrum. How far would we go for innocence?

We chose to keep the fantasy. When Christmas came, Meredith opened her presents and did not find ice skates. But then she looked outside and saw ice skates hanging from the highest tree in our yard. 

Many, many years later I would hear my daughter retelling that event to her children: “They were hanging there,” she was saying. “Santa had to have dropped them from his sled.” The children listened spellbound.

Lifting her hands in visual belief, she concluded, “We didn’t have a ladder that high at our house.”

Meredith was maintaining innocence for her children, as Catherine Fabiola Proudfoot did for me.

I pray for innocence to return to the children in and about Sandy Hook. And everywhere.

Her name was Catherine Fabiola Proudfoot, and I will never forget her.

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