Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Diverse Nuns

I went to Catholic school. There was a rectory on one side of the schoolyard where several nuns (who were also teachers) lived. They were a diverse bunch. One was a “modern” nun. She wore regular people clothes and had long, hippy hair. Another wore a modified habit. It was basically a tea-length grey skirt with a white blouse, and a little nun hat. 

My favorite was a huge nun who wore the classic habit that covered every inch of her except for her face and hands. I don’t know how she survived wearing all that heavy black fabric during the summers in Bakersfield. She was very tall, towering over the kids and most of the adults. She had a deep voice, almost like a man’s. Imagine Darth Vader in a habit and you’ll be close. On top of that, she called everyone by their full first name. There was no overly familiar “Cindy” or “Bobby” crap going on in her class, you were “Cynthia” or “Robert” so get used to it.

She was my homeroom teacher in 5th grade. It was the most orderly class I’ve ever been in. Initially we were all terrified, but as time wore on, it became clear that she was not at all mean. She kept order through sheer force of personality. She didn’t smile unless you had done something truly exemplary. Or you needed her to. 

At Christmas I had given her a pocket calendar my mother had picked up for free at a Hallmark store. I had agonized over the gift. This nun really had turned away from worldly possessions. Of all the nuns and priests, she walked the walk most convincingly. Rather hard to shop for.

By this time, I was a terrible Catholic. I didn’t go to church on Sundays, hadn’t been to confession in ages and didn’t take communion anymore (because I hadn’t been to confession in ages). So I was beyond happy when I saw her reach deep into a pocket as she walked past my desk one day and pull out the little calendar. She stopped walking as she consulted its pages, then looked over at me and smiled briefly. It makes me choke up a little just remembering that.