Wishin' and Hopin'by Wally Lamb
Wally Lamb, the beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed, I Know This Much Is True, and She’s Come Undone, delivers a holiday treat with Wishin’ and Hopin’—an unforgettable novella that captures the warmth and joy of the holiday season. Poignant and hilarious, in a vein similar to Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story and David Sedaris’s The Santaland Diaries, Lamb’s Christmas tale focuses on a feisty parochial school fifth grader named Felix Funicello—a distant cousin of the iconic Annette!
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Wishin' and Hopin'A Novel
By Wally Lamb
Harper PerennialCopyright © 2010 Wally Lamb
All right reserved.
The year I was a fifth grade student at St.
Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School, our
teacher, Sister Dymphna, had a nervous
breakdown in front of our class. To this day I can
hear Sister's screams and see her flailing attempts to
shoo away the circling Prince of Darkness. I am,
today, what most people would consider a responsible
citizen. I have an advanced degree in Film Studies, a
tenured professorship, and an Eco- friendly Prius. I
vote, volunteer at the soup kitchen, compost, floss.
A divorced dad, I remain on good terms with my
ex- wife and have a close and loving relationship with
our twenty-six-year old daughter. That said, my
conscience and I have unfinished business. What follows
is both my confession and my act of contrition. Forgive
me, reader, for I have sinned. It was I who, on
that long ago day, triggered Sister's meltdown. For
this and all the sins of my past life, I am heartily
Lyndon Johnson was president back then, Cassius
Clay was the heavyweight champ, and John,
Paul, George, and Ringo were newly famous. Our
family had a claim to fame, too. Well, two claims,
actually. No, three. My mother had recently been notified
that her recipe, "Shepherd's Pie Italian," had catapulted
her into the finals of that year's Pillsbury Bake-Off
in the "main meal" category and she was going
to be on television. I was going to be on TV, too
a guest, along with my fellow Junior Midshipmen
on a local program, Channel 3's The Ranger Andy
Show. So there were those two things, plus the fact
that our third cousin on my father's side was a
At the lunch counter my family ran inside the
New London bus station, we displayed three posters
of our famous relative that if, say, you were a customer
enjoying your jelly doughnut or your baked
Virginia ham on rye, you could, by swiveling your
stool from left to right, follow the arc of our cousin's
career. The black and white poster on the wall behind
the cash register showed her in mouse ears and
a short sleeved sweater, the letters A-N- N-E- T-T- E
spelled out across her flat front. In the poster taped
to the front of the Frigidaire, she'd acquired secondary
sex characteristics and moved on from TV to the
movies, specifically Walt Disney's The Shaggy Dog, in
which she had third billing behind Fred MacMurray
and a half-human, half-canine Tommy Kirk. Poster
number three, positioned over the fryolator and polka
dotted with grease spots, depicted our cousin in
living color. Transistor radio to her ear, she wore a tower
of teased hair and a white two piece bathing suit,
the top of which played peek-a-boo with what our dishwasher and
part time grill cook, Chino Molinaro, referred to as her "bodacious bazoom-booms."
Alongside Frankie Avalon, Annette had by
then become the lead actress of such films as Beach
Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, her celluloid
star having ascended as her bra cup size worked its
way through the alphabet. That's something that is
much clearer to me today than it was when I was in
fifth grade. Still, even back then, poster number
three had already begun to set something a twitch in
me, south of my navel and north of my knees.
I'm not making excuses here, but Sister Dymphna's
emotional state was already fragile before that
October afternoon, a scant six or seven weeks into
the 1964 65 school year. My older sisters, Simone
and Frances, had both survived tours of duty with
"Dymphie," who, faculty wise, was widely recognized
as St. Aloysius G's weakest link. In Simone's
year, she had yanked a kid's glasses off his face and
snapped them in half. In Frances's year, she had
turned her chair from her students to the blackboard
and, elbows against the chalk tray, indulged
in a crying jag that lasted all the way to the three
o'clock bell. (Frances, who would later become a
teacher, took it upon herself to stand and announce
to her peers, "Class dismissed!") Sister Dymphna was
thought of as moody rather than mentally ill
"high strung" during her manic episodes, "down in
the dumps" during her depressive ones. The latter
mood swing was the preferred one, my sisters had
assured me. When Dymphie got riled up, a heavy
dictionary or a hooked blackboard pointer could
become a dangerous weapon. But when she was
depressed, she'd wheel the projector down from the
office, thread it, and show movies while she sat slack
jawed and slumped at her desk, oblivious to bad
On the day Sister went crazy in front of us, she'd
been mopey since morning prayers. We were therefore
watching a double feature: before lunch, The Bells of
St. Mary's with Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby in
nun's habit and priest's cassock, and after lunch, The
Miracle of Marcelino, a film about a pious homeless boy
who is adopted by a community of monks. Lonny
Flood and I hatched our plan in the cafeteria during
what I guess you could call intermission.
Not unlike radio's Casey Kasem, Sister Dymphna
rated my classmates and me each week from
first to last based on our grades. She published a list
at the far left of the blackboard and seated us accordingly,
her smartest pupils in the first row from left to
right, the academically middling students in the
middle, and the slowest kids stuck in the back by the
clanging radiators. Rosalie Twerski and I were,
respectively and perennially, numbers one and two.
My friend Lonny Flood usually found himself in the
back row, often next to Franz Duzio. Lonny was
both the tallest kid in our class and the oldest: a
twelve-year-old double detainee whose sideburns and
chin fuzz would become, by Easter vacation, shave
worthy. Conversely, I was the shortest and scrawniest
fifth grader, counting boys and girls a ten-year-old
who, to my mortification, could have passed for seven.
To make matters worse, with my big black eyes, up slanting eyebrows,
and mop of dark, curly hair, I bore a striking resemblance to Dondi,
the adorable little Italian war orphan in the comic strips. On
numerous occasions when I was down at the lunch
counter, some new arrival would enter the bus depot,
sit at a stool, and stare at me for a few seconds. We
all knew what was coming next. "Say, you know who
that kid kind of looks like?"
"Dondi!" Pop, Ma, Chino, and whichever of my
sisters had drawn waitress duty that day would say it
Looking like a lovable little cartoon character
was a double edged sword. On the one hand, it made
me vulnerable to my sisters' ridicule. On the other
hand, my resemblance to Dondi hey, even I had to concede that
I was adorable would frequently afford me the presumption of innocence
when, more often than not, I was guilty. If, for example, Lonny Flood
and I had stood shoulder to shoulder in some junior police lineup,
I would most likely be the first suspect eliminated and Lonny the one fingered.
"It's him!" the eyewitness might announce, pointing
at Lonny, who kept a foil wrapped Trojan hidden in
the change pocket of his Man from U.N.C.L.E. wallet
and who claimed to know the dirty words of the
song "Louie, Louie."
And who, in fact, had brought the pocketful of BBs to school that day.
Lonny and I conspired over half-pints of fruit punch and the lunch room's
"turkey a la king with savory buttered rice." That said, neither of us had
targeted the winged vermin that, an hour later, would cause such havoc
and send Sister Dymphna on a temporary trip to "the funny farm."
No, our intended victim, whose guts Lonny and I
both hated, was the aforementioned Rosalie Twerski.
Rosalie was pigtailed, hairy legged, and insufferably
obsequious the kind of kid who, two minutes
before the dismissal bell, might raise her hand
and ask, should the teacher have miraculously forgotten
to assign a page of arithmetic problems or a
dozen Can You Answer These? questions from our
social studies book, "Do we have any homework tonight,
Sister?" As I've mentioned, Rosalie's position
at the top of the academic heap was a virtual lock,
but nevertheless she was forever foraging for extra
credit points she didn't really need. Her family was
rich, or, as my mother used to put it, "la di da." The
Twerskis' house on White Birch Boulevard had columns in front
and a trampoline and a Shetland pony out back.
Instead of clomping off the bus or hoofing it like the rest of us,
Rosalie arrived at school every morning in her mother's maroon
Chrysler Newport. Each year, she returned from Christmas vacation
a week later than the rest of us, with a Florida tan and
a bucket of stinky show-and-tell seashells that we had
to pass from person to person during science. Her
father owned a printing company, Twerski Impressions,
which made Rosalie the recipient of an endless
supply of the cardboard she was forever converting
into the extra credit posters and placards with which
our classroom was festooned. Suck-up that she was,
she specialized in visual aids that lent themselves to
the nuns' two favorite subjects, grammar and
religion. In one such poster, the parts of speech were
anthropomorphized: the active verb did push-ups,
the passive verb sat and snoozed, the interjection
slapped its hands against its cheeks, exclaiming, "Oh!"
In another poster, cartoon letters "A" and "I" held
hands like best friends or boyfriend and girlfriend.
Said letter "A," "When two vowels go a-walking, the
first one usually does the talking." "That's true," letter
"I" agreed. "But remember, it's I before E, except
On our first day in Sister Dymphna's class, Rosalie
had arrived locked and loaded with a poster titled
Mortal Sinners: Burning in Hell or Headed There! Below
the Magic Markered headline, she had scissored and
glued magazine pictures of the damned and, beneath
their images, had identified the transgressions that
had cast them into Satan's lair: Lee Harvey Oswald
and Jack Ruby (murder), Marilyn Monroe (suicide),
Nikita Khrushchev (Communist), Rudi Gernreich
(invented the topless bathing suit). Sister Dymphna
loved Rosalie immediately and installed her as line
leader, office courier, and our class's ambassador
to the diocese-wide United Nations Day. So you
couldn't really blame Lonny and me for putting BBs in our
mouths and straws between our lips that afternoon as Sister,
engulfed by a melancholy so profound that, as The Miracle of
Marcelino unspooled, she did not even register that Pauline Papelbon
was eating State Line potato chips right out of the bag, or
that Monte Montoya and Susan Ekizian were playing
Hangman instead of watching the movie, or that
I had surreptitiously moved my seat to the back of
the room for better positioning. By a prior agreement,
Lonny and I had agreed to aim for the back of
"Ow! Who did that?" she shouted when Lonny's
very first BB hit its target dead-on. Heads swiveled
from Marcelino to Rosalie, and then to Sister
Dymphna, who seemed not to have heard a thing.
Lonny fired again, but this BB flew past Rosalie's left
shoulder and ricocheted against the blackboard. His
next one whizzed over her head and hit the movie
screen. I somehow managed to inhale my first BB
rather than propelling it forward, but coughed it
right back up again luckily, since the Heimlich
maneuver had yet to be invented. On the screen,
saintly little Marcelino was weeping for the poor.
With my tongue, I repositioned the regurgitated BB,
took a deep intake of breath, and raised my straw
in preparation of a forward thrust. That's when it
caught my eye: the little black blob nestled against
the left side of the public address box.
Unsure of what I was aiming at, I fired and
missed. Fired again and hit it. It moved. When my
third BB also hit its mark, it emitted a high-pitched
pinging sound. A wing unfolded. My fourth try was
a miss, but my fifth was bull's-eye accurate. The bat
skidded several inches along the wall, flapped its
wings twice, and took flight. It soared from one side
of the classroom to the other and then began circling
the perimeter. It dipped and swooped between
the projector and the screen, its shadow bisecting
Marcelino's face in close-up. Alarmed, my classmates
sprang from their seats, screaming, running for the
door and the cloakroom. Arthur Cote raised the top
of his desk, stuck his head inside, and let the top
bang back down. Rosalie Twerski ripped one of her
posters off the wall and curled it over her head like
The commotion awakened Sister Dymphna from
her funk just as the bat zoomed across her field of
vision, did a U-turn, and landed on her desk. The
two faced off for a second or two. Then the bat
opened its mouth, hissed menacingly, and took flight
once more. That was when Sister began screaming
about the devil. I was momentarily taken aback by
this. I'd known that Bela Lugosi, Grandpa Munster,
and other vampires could transform themselves into
bats, but I'd not been aware that the Prince of Darkness
could perform that particular parlor trick, too.
Then I remembered that Sister Dymphna was crazy
and that the bat was probably just a bat.
Her shrieks were high pitched and cringe
inducing, and I watched in horror as her flailing arms
sent her statue of the Blessed Virgin teetering back
and forth on its pedestal, then crashing to the floor
where its head and torso parted company. "Satan, I
rebuke you! Merciful Jesus, save these poor children!"-
To save herself, Sister dropped to the floor
and crawled beneath her desk in an approximation of
the duck-and-cover exercise we had practiced in the
event that those evil atheists, the Soviets, ever dropped
the bomb on the submarine base in nearby Groton
a despicable act of which, we were assured, Khrushchev
was fully capable.
Excerpted from Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb Copyright © 2010 by Wally Lamb. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Wally Lamb is the author of four previous novels, including the New York Times and national bestseller The Hour I First Believed and Wishin' and Hopin', a bestselling novella. His first two works of fiction, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True, were both number-one New York Times bestsellers and Oprah's Book Club selections. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Christine. The Lambs are the parents of three sons.
- Willimantic, Connecticut
- Date of Birth:
- October 17, 1950
- Place of Birth:
- Norwich, Connecticut
- B.A. in Education, University of Connecticut, 1972; M.A. in Education, 1977; M.F.A. in Writing, Vermont College, 1984
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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When you are reading Wally Lamb's lastest book you will smile all of the time and laugh out loud half of the time. Did you attend Catholic grade school during the 1960's? Then run don't walk to the book store and pick up this delightful Christmas treasure. Wonderful stocking stuffer. Mr. Lamb kept this book under 275 pages. Wally if you read these reviews, please bring us more stories about Felix and his family.
It's a charming book. I have always enjoyed Wally Lamb's other books and it was quite refreshing to have something so humorous from him. While I never attended parochial schools, I feel that I know what one is like from the book. It has a real charm about it and will become one of my annual Christmas traditions. Happy Holidays Everybody!
Set in New London, CT in 1964, this story portrays family, from the child's viewpoint, at its best -- loving, supportive, and full of hope. Wally Lamb captures and seamlessly presents the reality of a more innocent time and warms our hearts with laughter and appreciation in the process. A wonderful book.
If you would like to venture into the world of a fifth grade boy going through his family and school life this is a must read! Wally Lamb captures the mind of child perfectly and hilariously. I giggled out loud on every page, in every chapter! This is a light hearted book I will read over and over again.
Our book group gave "Wishin’ and Hopin’" 4.5 stars! What a fun, light quaint read with wonderful "come to life" characters. So many characters in the book are very memorable. Those book group members that went to parochial schools truly related to the story's main setting. Lamb gave the group flashbacks to commercials, TV shows...of the mid- sixties. Well written, would recommend! Left us wishin’ and hopin’ for more Wally Lamb!
I loved this book. I had high hopes being that Lamb is one of my favorite authors, and he didn't disappoint! A great read this time of year.
Looking back over years to In December 1964 when Cassius Clay and the Beatles were kings, Felix Funicello, whose family's claim to fame is being a third cousin to Mickey's Annette, attended the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School in Connecticut. A fifth grader at the time, he, with the help of twice left back Lonny Flood, caused the meltdown (back then we said nervous breakdown) of their teacher Sisters Dymphna. At the time Felix, the smallest child in the fifth grade was going on Ronald Reagan's TV show Ranger Andy as a Junior Midshipmen and his mom was participating in the TV Pillsbury Bake Off show. The school is doing a Christmas play production while the newest student is Russian tomboy Zhenya Kabakova who competed with the boys in their sports like dodgeball and "bezbull." All the students assumed she is a Soviet spy. Felix who was ranked as the second best student knew he could never catch the #1 Rosalie Twerski because she worked the teachers. When his mom melted down on TV frightening the host Reagan, Felix vows to save the family honor. Looking like the comic strip character Dondi, he goes on Ranger Andy and tells a dirty joke that turns Reagan's face red. However, it is the shenanigans involving the Christmas play that will go down in parochial school infamy. This humorous hysterical historical tale targets two prime groups though other readers will appreciate the pranks too. Young adults will root for the feisty almost famous Felix and nostalgic boomers like me (elementary school student at the time) who know Annette by her first name and remember the Louisville Lip before he became Ali. Wally Lamb provides an engaging look at 1964, a pivotal year in American culture with the British invasion and our first environmentally conscious politician Lady Bird beautifying America. This is a winner. Harriet Klausner
I read this book quickly, as I do all of Mr Lamb's books...I was thrilled to see another book out so soon from him! It was charming, and like all his books, his narrative feels authentic. She's Come Undone has been my favorite book since it was first chosen for Oprah's book club, and I've read them all and love them all. This is a quick, easy, enjoyable read, and I can't wait for the next one!!!
Fun book to read.
Kiss your hand three times and post this at three others book and check under your pillow
Wishin' and Hopin' was a delight. Being Italian, teaching in a Catholic School for seven years and knowing fifth grade students certainly increased my enjoyment of this book however it is not a pre-requisite. The scenes in the Catholic Schools were very realistic as well as the dialogue among the fifth grade children . I laughed out loud when the nuns wimple fell off because when I was young I remember my first glimpse at finding the nun I was so afraid of had a bald head. The scene with the Christmas play was also riotous. A nice light read o a dreary winter afternoon.
After long and stressful days, a great read to relax and enjoy. Kept me smiling.
Easy and fun read for the Holidays! Loved it!
I have read and enjoyed two of Wally Lamb's books in the past. While this book was a little different from his normal content, it was a wonderful, amusing, light-hearted read. Even though the book was set in 1964, I couldn't help but see similarities between my own childhood and classmates in the 1980's... Didn't we all have a Rosalie and a Lonnie in our class? I also saw similarities with my son's current 5th grade class. Several times throughout the book I laughed out loud! If you are looking for a light, humorous read, I would definitely recommend this book.
This book wil make you smile