When you sort through the records of your memory, as I have done while reflecting on the Vietnam-era draft, who knows what disc is going to slip out of its sleeve?
One day my English teacher Mrs. Picklestem -- tall, late 40s or early 50s, high-waisted belt above a spreading middle, rimless glasses, round face, hair pulled back in the time-honored schoolmarm bun -- is telling us about the Canterbury Tales. Somewhere in there she says we won't be reading the tales themselves because they are dirty.
A student says, "But Chaucer mentions the bible several times in the Prologue."
Mrs. Picklestem coughs up a knowing, throaty, evil chuckle. "Yes, but the bible has dirty parts, too."
An incredulous gasp from the class. She has us right where she wants us, I guess.
She says, "Oh, the bible is really dirty. You didn't know that?"
Her face so far is deadpan, her tone condescending. But then her countenance takes on the look of someone who has walked into a small unventilated kitchen on a hot day while a huge pot of cabbage (or collards -- either will do) is boiling. A truly sour, disdainful, disgusted look.
"Oh," she says, seemingly damming up a volcanic regurgitation, "there are plenty of dirty passages in the bible."
Was she trying to nudge us through the creaky, rusty back door of biblical scholarship by making visions of scriptural sex-romps dance in our heads? Was her bitter scowl directed at the good book's careless editors? Why did she look so . . . sour?
Whatever her intent, suddenly we, the boys at least, were anxious for some serious scriptural study. I won't say that we all raced home to our leather-bound red-letter edition bibles or our humongous family bibles with the family tree in the middle and spiced with a smattering of vulgar artistic renderings of heaven and hell, but several of us starting giving the scriptures a little more attention.
Some started at the beginning in their search for raunchiness, others tried the time-honored Baptist method of "just opening the bible at random, and you'll get the lesson you need."
The former group turned out to have the most luck. Before they even reached chapter 20 of Genesis, they ran into some shocking dirtiness, especially when they found out what " to know" means in King James English.
Because I didn't want to explain to my parents why I was reading the bible, I retired to my bedroom to carry out my own teacher-inspired Easter-egg hunt through those wispy leaves imprinted with the Word of God .
So I worked away in solitude and if I heard footsteps approaching, I was obliged to cram the bible between the mattresses as I would any other naughty literary masterpiece.