Kate, their dog and MaryEllen, Kate’s best friend
“It’s a Free Country”
We were a Lutheran family although my mother was raised Catholic. She became a Lutheran later in life. It may have had something to do with the fact that we lived across the alley from a Lutheran church, she had six kids and they had free daycare all summer. When asked about her new allegiance, she shrugged and said, “It’s a free country.”
Life Across the Street was Different
The McGranaghans had eight children, seven girls and one boy. They were Catholic and they lived across the street. Mary Helen was the closest to my age and we were best friends. As a five-year-old I was very confused by the fact that their teachers were their sisters. At least that is what they called them. It made some sense to me because they had so many.
The McGranaghan house was a place of wonder. They crossed themselves. They had incense and a “relic,” a piece of cloth encased in glass. It sat on an ornate gold pedestal on their mantel. When the adults weren’t around we pulled chairs up, reached for the relic and turned it over and over in our hands, sensing its mystical power. Mr. McGranaghan had flown thirty missions over Germany during WW II and one wall in their house was covered with colored ribbons and framed citations. Mrs. McGranaghan went to confession each evening at 5. She said it gave her freedom from guilt. I wasn’t sure, as a five-year-old, what confession or guilt was, but freedom sounded enticing.
As a ten-year old, my favorite place was the third- floor bedroom shared by Mary Marsha, Mary Margaret and Mary Katherine. They were teen-agers in the early 70’s and their room was a wonderland of India print bedspreads, Tabu perfume, Seventeen magazines and record albums. They had a pink plastic record player. Their Catholic school uniforms were strewn in the corner in a heap.
Whenever they were gone Mary Helen and I sneaked in and reveled in the feminine fairyland. My favorite album was PEARL by Janis Joplin. I stared at the cover of the album, which featured the singer in a jaunty pose wearing feathers and gazing out at the world with a devil may care confidence. I listened to the album over and over and memorized every word of ME AND BOBBY MCGEE.
I went home one day, filled with the music of my idol. I found a headband and a feather from and old Halloween costume. I wore it to dinner. I crossed myself as we were about to pray. My Dad immediately said, “Stop that. Lutherans don’t do that. Catholics do. We’re different and that’s OK. That’s America for you. We can worship as we please. Lou McGranaghan flew thirty missions over Germany to guarantee that.” I piped up, “Can I be free to be a Catholic then? Lutherans are boring.” I summoned my best ten-year-old Janis Joplin and sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” I was sent to my room without dinner to contemplate freedom. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Kate Fuglei is an actress and singer who divides her time between Studio City and Brooklyn. She has appeared in over forty episodes of television, including most recently in one of the first episodes of STAR TREK/PICARD. She is a published author with two novels based on the lives of the physicist Enrico Fermi and the educator Maria Montessori. The greatest blessing in her life is her marriage to writer Ken LaZebnik and her two sons, Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik. They inspire her every single day.
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