Posted tagged ‘nuns’

“Sometimes it’s the same moments that take your breath away that breathe purpose and love back into your life.”

January 21, 2018

This is not one of my better mornings. My grumpiness is wasted as I’m here by myself. I’m also tired as I was restless all night and didn’t sleep well. I’m coughing though I don’t think I have a cold, but just in case I’ve decided to stay home to watch the Pats instead of watching with friends. No Typhoid Mary here.

Today is relatively warm. The sun is shining but from behind clouds. Nothing is stirring. It’s a quiet day.

The laundry is upstairs and put away, but I have two more bags of laundry waiting to be washed. They’ll wait a while. I have plenty of underwear.

Getting older sometimes means getting a bit jaded. I think that would be the worst, to see the world as only dulled or tired. I look for the adventure in each day, for something new or something changed. When I get the mail, I stop at my car, rest my back and watch the world for a few minutes. I see the beauty. I realize how lucky I am.

When I was little, I made memories. The school corridor, wider than a river, went on for miles. Nuns were all six foot and muscular, even the old ones. The Five and Ten was magical. Everything you wanted or needed was on one of its shelves. The railroad tracks just kept going and going as far as any of us could imagine, even to China. The woods were filled with adventures. Blueberries grew everywhere. The turkey needed two people to lift it out of the oven. The Christmas tree touched the ceiling and filled the living room.

Life is gigantic when you’re little. It’s a surprise wrapped in paper and lots of ribbon. The sun is brighter, the snow deeper and the rain heavier. New still happens. Believing is easy. Santa is real and so are the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. I know the memories I share with you every day may have been tempered by time, but I swear most of them are true, except maybe the one about the nuns. A couple of them might have been five ten.

“I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”

August 31, 2017

Today is a delight. The humidity is still among the missing. The morning was even a bit chilly. I wished I had a sweatshirt on when I was outside waiting for Gracie. It rained all Tuesday night into Wednesday early afternoon but then the sun came out and the rest of the day was lovely. I hung around the house yesterday and finally did the laundry. It has made it upstairs only as far as this floor, but I still feel accomplished.

The kids around here go back to school next week, the day after Labor Day. It was also when I went back to school. I complained every year because that is the responsibility of kids the world over, but I didn’t really care. By the end of the summer I had run out of things to do. I was bored though I would never have admitted it.

On the weekend before going back to school, I checked out all my school supplies again and again. I sharpened my pencils and loaded and unloaded my school bag. I used to carry it with the strap across my chest, and I’d check out the look in the mirror.

I got to wear a new outfit on the first day of school, the only day of no uniforms. My mother would lay out our outfits on our beds. New clothes and new shoes were special.

On the schoolyard, I’d see my school friends for the first time since the summer had begun. When the bell rang, a hand bell rung by a nun, we’d go into the building but not in lines. Those would start the next day after we had found our classrooms and classmates. There were two classes of every grade, each with 40 or more students. One class got a nun while the other class didn’t. The nuns by their very natures kept us quiet and attentive. We didn’t dare do otherwise. The not nun teachers were just as strict. We all knew the being attentive position. It was sitting at our desks with our hands folded on top of it.

After the first few days, school became routine. We were back in uniform. Bells ruled our lives. We entered and left the school in lines. We did homework. It was a long way until June.

“Fate chooses our relatives, we choose our friends.”

May 8, 2017

This morning is chilly. My heat went on earlier. The sky is peppered with clouds. I’m thinking it’s a day to stay close to home. Luckily I have everything I need and everything Maddie and Gracie need.

When I was a kid, the future was a day or two away.  Once in a while, I’d be asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. That always took me aback so I chose saying teacher just to have a ready answer. I actually had no idea. I was still planning what I’d do on Saturday. I always thought that was a silly question. People like my aunt the nun asked it because they had no idea how to talk to a kid. How’s school was their other question. Good, the great non-descriptor, was my answer.

My father used to drag us to Connecticut once a year to visit my aunt the nun. She was my father’s older sister. Getting there was quite a production. We’d wear our play clothes until my father stopped at a brick highway rest stop in Connecticut where my mother cleaned us up and we put on church clothes. My aunt was always a nun to me as she became one before I was born. Those were the days of black and white habits and wimples. My aunt never seemed comfortable with our visits. Mostly she just paid attention to my father whom she called brother. He hated that. I remember how quiet the convent was. A nun would deliver cookies and lemonade almost without making a sound. She just whished. Part of the visit was always a tour of the school where my aunt taught. We’d follow behind her from the convent to the school like ducklings behind their mother. The tour was always boring. We knew what schools looked like and hers was no different, but we were glad to be moving not just sitting in the reception living room. We’d finish the tour and then go back to the convent to say our goodbyes until next year. I swear we all let out sighs of relief, even my father, as we were leaving.

I was never close to that aunt even after she ditched the habit. She used to come from Connecticut every year to spend Christmas with my parents. We were all nice to her in a stilted sort of way knowing my cousins were favored and we were abided.

My father often said you could pick your nose but not your relatives. I always thought that was gross but he was right. I offer up my aunt the nun as proof.

“The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.”

May 20, 2016

Today is a perfect spring day on Cape Cod. It is a bit chilly but a long-sleeve shirt should do, the sun is sharing the sky with a few clouds and there is a slight breeze rippling the young leaves of the oak tree outside my window. It is a good day for a walk.

Monday is plant day, one of my favorite of all days. I bring my list and wander the aisles pushing my cart. I buy herbs for the small garden close to the house especially lots of basil for pesto. I buy perennials for the front gardens. This year my list includes native flowers like the butterfly milkweed, the common boneset and the spotted geranium. When I get into the garden shop, I have trouble controlling myself. I so love to shop for plants.

When I was a kid, it never occurred to me that every day was the same. I’d have cocoa and toast, sometimes an egg, for breakfast and then leave for school. The walk wasn’t long. We crossed railroad tracks, went by the junior high school, an old brick building which used to be the high school, crossed a sometimes busy road and walked just a bit more to the school. The convent was across the street, the rectory was beside the old school and the church was beside the rectory. We’d head for the school yard and talk or play until the bell rang. It was a hand bell which the nun would ring three or four times. I liked the sound of a hand bell, and sometimes I’d watch the nun stand by the door to ring the bell. She’d raise the bell high above her head and swing it down as far as her arm could reach. We all knew it was time to get into our lines. I remember watching Little House on the Prairie. The teacher pulled the rope connected to the hand bell. It was the same sound.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

February 22, 2016

I saw them this morning right beside the front steps. My snowdrops, the first real stirrings of spring, have bloomed. Those tiny white flowers have endured snow, below zero temperatures and freezing rain. They are my heroes of spring flowers. They bring hope and joy. Seeing them made me almost giddy. Today is a good day.

The sun is bright but the chilly breeze makes it sweatshirt cold. I have a few stops including the hardware store, not often on my list, and Agway for cat food and litter, two boring places for shopping. I just can’t get excited about nails or screws or wire. As for Agway, they have flowers come spring which redeem the other parts of the store, the boring parts.

I always used to wonder what was under the headpieces the nuns wore. I thought nuns were bald until once I saw a tiny bit of hair from under a coif. I never understood why their outfits were called habits and why most of their habits were black and white, even their thick stockings were black. When my aunt the nun didn’t have to wear a habit any more, she dressed in normal clothes. She also had the worst taste in clothing. I suspect it was because of decades of wearing her habit and not having to choose what to wear or how to accessorize.

Nuns in habits were a bit scary looking when I was young. Most weren’t mean but the habits made them look as if they had the ability to be. A glaring, burning look was all a nun needed for discipline. It wasn’t until I was in the eighth grade that I heard one yell. She was Sister Hildegarde, a legend among us. Even now we all still remember Sister Hildegarde and each of us has a favorite story. I liked her because she was oblivious. I left school during the day, but I always asked permission. She always gave it and never once asked a question about where I was going. I’d just tell her I had to leave but I’d be back. I’d wander around the square, go to the library or have a picnic near the benches at the town hall. I’d mosey back to school after an hour or more of freedom. She’d nod at me to acknowledge my return when I came in and sat down. Usually my friend Jimmy was with me. He took the same delight I did in skirting the line. Nobody else ever came with us. I don’t think they had the same sense of adventure we did or maybe they were just a bit scared. We did it for the fun of it.

“I’m a detective, but nuns could stonewall Sam Spade into an asylum”

April 24, 2015

Today is yesterday and it’s the day before that. The temperature is in the 50’s and it is sunny and cloudy. The breeze, almost a wind, makes the day feel colder. I have things to do so Gracie and I will be out and about including a trip to the dump where it will feel like winter when the wind whips across the dump’s expanse.

My father loved to go to the dump. He usually went every Saturday and always asked for someone to go with him. There were few takers. That dump was a dump of old with high piles of trash and seagulls flying overhead squawking the whole time. The piles and the seagulls could be seen from the highway. I always told people coming to visit to keep their eyes peeled for the dump as we were the next exit.

My father would be disappointed at the dumps now with all their recycle bins and trash bins. The fun is gone and so are the seagulls.

I always found nuns mysterious and a little bit scary. I used to wonder what their hair looked like under their habits, and I also wondered why they had white handkerchiefs stuffed up their sleeves instead of in their pockets. I thought it was sort of gross. My first nuns had white blinders so they couldn’t see sideways without turning their heads. It was always to our advantage that by the time the nun turned we weren’t doing anything. She could hear the whisper but not pinpoint the source. The nuns also had a piece, sort of a half veil, across their foreheads just below the wimple. We got quite the shock  when we went back to school when I was in the eighth grade. The blinders were gone and all that was left was a little visor across the top. That nun could see everyone and everything. Nuns 1, kids 0.

“Then Sister Aquinata abandoned the nonviolent methods and produced a rolling pin from somewhere.”

September 6, 2014

Today hasn’t had the best start. I turned off the air conditioner and opened the doors and windows upstairs and downstairs. When I opened the doors, a blast of hot humid air immediately made me regret the decision so I went around closing the doors and windows and turned the air back on; of course, Gracie then wanted out so I opened the door, let her out, shut the door and kept watch. She stood by the stairs for a few minutes surveying the yard then turned around and wanted back in so I opened the door and let her in. She did it again and so did I. After she came in, I sat on the couch and noticed one of the cats had been sick on my computer top. I cleaned it up, sat down and started to read the papers. Gracie sat close on the floor by me and stared, just stared and drove me crazy. I gave her a treat which she ate on the rug then she got on the couch for her morning nap, mission accomplished. I then opened the first paper and finally had my cup of coffee. That it didn’t spill I found amazing.

A thundershower for today and rain continuing into the night and maybe into tomorrow is the forecast. The day is dark. A small breeze ruffles the leaves on the oak tree. No birds are at the feeders this morning and not even the spawn has made an appearance. They must be hunkering down before the storm. I guess that’s what I’m doing.

Mostly everybody I knew went to St. Patrick’s Grammar School. Each grade had two classes loaded with kids. Some of my classes had as many as thirty-five or forty kids, but despite the number, there were never discipline problems. When I was young, I thought the nuns were scary and crossing them was done at one’s own peril. Nobody even whispered. I do remember an acceptable sound. When kids raised their hands to be called on for an answer, they’d wave their arms and say “Sisster, sisster,” hoping to be noticed. It always sounded like hissing from a roomful of snakes. Lunch time meant we could talk quietly. We could even get out of our seats but only for a basement or trash run. At our school we didn’t ask to go to the bathroom. We asked to go to the basement as that was where the two bathrooms were. The older we were the higher we were and the longer the trip. The first graders had to go down two sets of stairs while the oldest kids had to go down six. The girls’ bathroom was really old with wooden stalls and exposed pipes across the ceiling. Sometimes there was water on the floor, but I loved that bathroom. It meant freedom if only for a short while.

 

“Then Sister Aquinata abandoned the nonviolent methods and produced a rolling pin from somewhere.”

August 23, 2014

The house is so cold I was surprised when I went to get the papers at how warm it is outside. This is so not the usual August. I should be complaining about the heat and saying to strangers as we stand in lines together, “I can’t take this humidity.”

I do the Globe crossword puzzle every day. Often there is a clue asking Bert’s twin. I know the answer is Nan because I used to read The Bobbsey Twins. I figure others know the answer because of context or familiarity with the clue. What I wonder is why The Bobbsey Twins. It isn’t as if they’re widely read. I took one off my shelf not long ago and read a few chapters. It was a book I had received as a birthday gift when I was nine. There is an inscription from my Grandmother. The book was so dated it was funny but not in a kind way. I really enjoyed that series.

My mother always told me I was the smartest little kid. She might have told my siblings the same thing, but I’m going with she didn’t for ego’s sake. She told me I used to sit on her lap while she read to me usually from a Golden Book. When I was two, I could name every animal on the back in Spanish. Okay, not in Spanish. I just threw that in to shock you, but I did know the names of all the animals in English. My mother thought that was quite an achievement for a two-year old. It even made my baby book of milestones.

Because I was the oldest, my life was chronicled. My biographers will have a field day with such information as my first word, mama, my success at potty training and my speaking in sentences before I was even two. I walked at nine months. My mother was quite faithful in filling in my baby book. My siblings weren’t so lucky. My brother had several entries, being child number two, but by child number four there was only an envelope with a few jottings on it. Her first word is forever lost.

I was trying to remember my first day of school but I don’t. I do remember going to the nursery school across the street from where we lived in South Boston. I remember because of the trauma. I cried the whole time and had to be dragged across the street the second day. My mother then wisely decided I didn’t need to go to nursery school so the planets realigned and life returned to normal.

I think I must have been fine for elementary school, and I figure my mother walked me to school that first day. It was an easy walk in almost a straight line so even without her I never feared getting lost. I did fear the nuns. They were different and in those habits they seemed barely human because all we saw on each of them was a face and hands. That was creepy. They did make noises when they walked because the giant rosary beads around their waists clicked against each other. It was like an early warning system.

The older I got the less I feared nuns. I don’t know exactly when, maybe by third grade, but I know at one point I recognized they were mostly humans in strange garb.

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”

May 6, 2014

I have been waking up early the last few days or at least early for me. I think the sunshine makes me not want to waste any daylight. The dog, cat and I don’t get up right away but stay in bed, them sleeping, me reading. My book is just about finished, and I hated leaving it this morning but thoughts of coffee and the papers were enough to roust me from bed. It was a noisy morning. From my bedroom window I could hear the sounds of the early day. Somewhere a lawn was being mowed and I could hear the kids waiting for their bus. Two neighbors, their combined seven kids and one dog are not quiet. The little kids’ bikes rumble up and down the neighbor’s drive-way. She’s not there. The dog barks if a car drives by him. The bus arrives about ten to nine, two of the kids get on, everyone waves to them, the bus leaves and the bikes head on down the street: a couple of Big Wheels and two bikes with training wheels. This afternoon they’ll do it all again for the return trip of the school bus.

I grew up in a golden age. We walked to school and all over town. We played in unfenced yards or went to the playground down the street. It was an innocent age where the only bad guy was a Russian with his atomic bombs, but duck and cover was more of a game to us than a strategy. We played cowboys and Indians. We had heroes like Superman. I don’t think my parents ever locked the front door. The world was never scary except maybe for the guy with the hook. We watched westerns on TV. They always had a good guy and a bad guy, and it was easy to tell them apart. In school, each class had 35 or more kids in it, but the nuns ruled with iron hands. Not one of us dared cross them or we’d get killed at home. The worst thing we ever did was whisper or pass a note. On Saturday nights the whole family went to the drive-in and on summer Sundays the beach. The car was cramped and there was no air-conditioning, but we all survived though with some complaining and pushing and screaming about territorial rights. The phones had operators who connected us, and ours was a party line. We knew just about everyone in our neighborhood. We also knew they’d tell our parents if we did anything wrong. Summer was pure bliss. Some days we walked to the zoo or the pool. The zoo was free; the pool was a dime. My mother sometimes gave us an extra nickel so we could buy a snack from the stall outside the pool. We’d sit under trees at picnic tables and eat our snack before the long trek home, all the way across town. We never gave much thought to the future. We were kids and the future was the next day or as far away as the weekend.

That was the easiest time in my whole life, and I think of it with great fondness and a whole lot of nostalgia.

‘Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused – in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened – by the recurrence of Christmas.’

December 19, 2013

Yesterday what usually takes an hour and thirty minutes or, at most, an hour and forty-five minutes took three hours and forty-five minutes. I went from the Cape to a town about 15 miles from Boston to pick up my sister to go out to dinner. Along the way were electronic signs saying things like Exit 12, seven miles-forty five minutes. My favorite was the five miles, fifty-five minutes warning. They weren’t wrong. On the radio, the traffic guy kept saying he hadn’t seen the like of these traffic jams in and out of the city ever before on a normal day. The traffic was the same the day before but a snow storm was the cause. By the time I got to my sister’s, my body was permanently molded in the shape of my car seat. I got out and stretched but to little avail.

My sister came right out as we were pretty late for our reservation and off we went. I decided not to look for a parking spot and, instead, parked in a lot right by the restaurant which a sign explained was not for patrons of the restaurant. The sign in front of where I parked my car threatened towing. I threw caution to the wind figuring I had already had my hell on Earth for that day. The hostess didn’t look up until after we had given our name. When she did, we both let out a happy, surprised shout. We hugged. She, Sully, explained to my sister we had known each other since the first grade at St. Patrick’s and then told a story about Sister Hildegard, the nun about whom we all still tell stories. Sully got whacked by her for talking in line. Sully’s mother took the stance all parents did when it came to the nuns, “You must have deserved it.”

Dinner was delicious. Mine was lobster ravioli in a light brandy tomato cream sauce. My sister dined on sautéed shrimp with mushrooms and artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce over penne. I had them make me a cosmo with pomegranate juice instead of cranberry. That first sip alone almost made the trip worthwhile.

I amazed myself by not being crazed. What could I do? I listened to Christmas music and sang along. When I got off the highway, it was to more traffic at a red light, but I was at Spot Pond and across the way I could see the colored lights from the zoo, an every year attraction. A huge lit tree with swags of lights was right next to the road. I didn’t go through town but went the back way through streets I used to walk as a kid. I saw two of the most decorated houses I’ve seen all year. They were so amazing I drove that way to my sister’s house after dinner so she could see them.

The ride home was at g-force. I was a red flash on the highway and made it home in under an hour and a half. Gracie was thrilled to see me. I immediately changed into slippers and comfy clothes. I must have had a Pollyanna moment because when I thought about the trip I decided seeing my sister made it worthwhile. Dinner too was delicious, and it was a wonderful surprise seeing Sully again. Christmas sneaks up on us in most unusual ways.