Shrimp boats is a-comin'

Their sails are in sight

Shrimp boats is a-comin'

There's dancin' tonight.

The acrid smell of burning leaves slips in through our kitchen window. My mother is breading shrimp for dinner, a rare meatless-Friday treat. She is singing.

I had just gotten home from St. Really Catholic School in Humboldt Park, Chicago. That day the ‘African missionaries’ - very white and very … well, not African - visited our fifth grade class. I was pious. I was going to be the Pope. I was ten. And now I was inspired with visions of Darkest Africa and souls in need of salvation. I also learned that you could enter the seminary – a boarding school - in high school. This would mean leaving home and my twelve brothers and sisters. Freedom and a vocation.

Now, my mother was the daughter of quietly devout Missouri sharecroppers. Her two older sisters finished eighth grade and, with no opportunity for further education, took jobs as “domestics”. Within a year each applied for admission to convent schools and subsequently became nuns. My mother was therefore...

(Contact p-pasulka@northwestern.edu for full text).