Hi there boys and girls! Gather round and let’s play a game!
Oh, aren’t you all just the sweetest things? So dressed up and well-behaved! Your parents must be very lucky to have such obedient and well-behaved children. They love you so much. God loves you too; you know that? Why, I’ll bet you never cause your parents aaaannnny grief at all! Because, as you know boys and girls, if you don’t behave…
YOU ARE ALL GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL!!
Yes, I grew up Catholic. I went to parochial school where I was taught by nuns dressed collar to toes in black habits. I was also an altar boy, and served mass for brash Irishmen of the clergy—free drinking Jesuits, more likely to dive headlong into a bare-knuckle whiskey scrap than fall prey to modern day indiscretions. The lessons taught by the nuns and priests provided heavy doses of consequences and guilt, where punishment for potential wrong-doing was sternly described in wary terms of “or else,” rather than the vivid Bosch-esque images of torment you may imagine. Implied damnation can be so much more effective than the real thing.
Besides, the priests and nuns really didn’t need to describe the torments of hell. Not when they had effective teaching aids to scar the Holy Hell right out of your soul! One such teaching aid was a monthly magazine that parents could subscribe to for their kids.
The Catholic Children’s Treasure Box was published monthly by the Maryknoll Sisters, and each issue was chockfull of games, activities, and Bible stories about children who obeyed their parents and had all of the good graces of God. Just look at how happy those children are in the cover illustration above!
Issues of the Treasure Box were handed down from my oldest sister Gina, to my sister Marianne, and eventually to me and my brother. I LOVED pouring through the Treasure Box each month, and spent hours and hours engaged with their simple activities and reading the wholesome stories. There were stories about Adam and Eve, Saint Theresa, a mischievous guardian angel named Wupsy, and then….
OH MY GOD! THIS DEVIL SCARED ME!!
Encountering images of devils, demons, fallen angels and the like was not at all uncommon throughout the pages of the CCTB; the story of Adam and Eve, in particular, was like a hornets nest of demonic illustrations. But where those devils were clearly drawn with evil intent (sly prankish grins, orange skin, reptilian wings), they at least looked somewhat human. This devil was nothing of the sort. Flaming hair! Red eyes! Warted nose! Pointed tail! Spots! And scaly, sharp toenails!
This devil was far, far too much for my impressionable five year old psyche to bear, and my mind commenced to imagine this Orange Haired Devil lurking everywhere. I envisioned him not just standing behind walls, but actually living within the brick and mortar, plotting and planning, biding his time and collecting his wicked thoughts. Surely, he waited for just the right moment to reach forth a scaly hand to pull me screaming into the fiery depths below. I didn’t dare sleep with my back to the wall! How would I ever see his fingers materializing through the wallpaper if I was not duly vigilant? But to face the wall was to face his glowing red eyes emanating from the wall, watching and waiting until I drifted off to sleep. What was a kid to do except run to the protective safety of mom and dad’s room!?!
Eventually I got over my fear of the spotted devil and his many minions of tempestuous troublemaking brethren. In fact, a quick perusal on my fine art photos would likely reveal that—next to my ever adorable kewpies—devils probably take second billing of recurring characters that appear throughout my work. I put them in photos; they don’t reach through my mattress and grab my ankle. Seems fair, yes?
And, to close, let’s all enjoy Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader—wholly inspired by the words that filled my adolescent imagination as I read the Catholic Children’s Treasure Box.
What terrified you as a child? Don’t worry, your disclosures won’t be shared with Satan.