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Before the Fall…
As the story was left, I was banished and needed to find shelter. The only place I could find it was with my husband.
Here is the back story of that life.
As a young girl, my intention was to enter the convent. My friend Debbie B and I would play "nun". Her mother was the seamstress for the local Dominican convent and she had created miniature versions of these habits, in their entirety, for us to wear. Sometimes on the satanic holiday of Halloween.
This alone should have been a deterrent since it took about a half hour for each of us to be stuffed and sucked into the black linen dresses, complete with choking collars and tress hiders. They were hot and cumbersome, but I truly felt at home.
However, one day, as we were walking two by two in the courtyard of St. Mary's grade school, a sinking feeling passed through me. I was not going to be a nun. At that moment I felt nothing but empty, and then fearful. I knew I would go to hell if I did not enter the convent. I knew I would probably lead a decadent life and forever be cast in the fires of hell, never to see the beautiful clouds and angels preached about on the pulpit by Father Deleke and Monsignor Alstad.
As a young girl of eight, I had taken piano lessons from Sister Carol. I adored Sister Carol, and as many young girls do, I idealized her. I dreamt of her and when at school, I could think of no one but her.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I would go to the front door of the blond brick building, the door a wooden framed structure with the "craft" touches.
The room where the piano sat was behind that door. No foyer.
Sister Carol was patient, and loving, and very funny. And I refused to improve on the piano. My mother was aghast when she heard me. She had often walked in while I practiced in the basement of St. Mary's and commented on how well I did. Yet when she came to retrieve me from these twice-weekly lessons, it was as if another child were playing.
You see, if I improved, I would be advanced and Sister Carol would no longer be my teacher. It didn't take long for my mother to pull me out.
Sister Carol was the most day-to-day love I had felt until my baby sister was born.
My father eventually bought a Hammond organ, coming with free organ lessons.
I took these lessons from one of Hammond’s salespeople. At first site, most parents would never have left a young girl with this gentleman. He was tall, lanky with greasy hair and long, unmanly languid fingers. But he was harmless enough, and I bore no romantic interest. Consequently, I learned quickly, teaching my father and soon the sound of Ebb Tide and Claire de Lune filled the air of our house 38th avenue.
Yet the wonderful patience and love that I felt from Sister Carol stuck with me, as did other women in habits, Sister Vera, and later, Sister John Mary from St. Marks. I loved all of them and they became my role models.
I put the thought that haunted me as a young girl out of my mind.
When I was 16, I entered the doors of the same convent where I had tortured Sister Carol so many years before. This time, not through the visitor/student door as a child of eight, but the doors where only the “sisters” entered. I was to spend a weekend there; a social worker had arranged the visit.
The door shut behind. There I stood, alone in the foyer with the prerequisite coat rack and umbrella stand and an antique mirror and halting throne.
The mother superior took my hand and then put her arm around my shoulder.
Today, as I write this I am drawn to tears, at both the completeness of that moment and what I sacrificed to be what I am today.
She led me into the “family” room where several of the holy ladies spent their evenings. There was no television. There was a piano. The same piano I had played as a young child. I guess it had become retired from teaching and now waited for the graceful hands of the holy only to ring the sounds of Christmas Carols.
The room smelled of old wood, pine cleaner and the carbon blue of the mimeograph machines teachers used to duplicate work for the students. I could smell the remnants of dinner, roast beef perhaps?
There was no carpeting; hook rugs covered the polished wood floors. The chairs and couch had the tweedy, prickly fabric so customary in “Early American” décor. The decorations consisted of everything from holy statues to knick-knacks of children and flowers. Magazines, books, papers of students being corrected by the Sisters who taught.
One of the sisters sat on a chair in the far corner of the vast room with a guitar. She was picking a tune, a sheet of music across the ottoman as she found the chords.
Sister Francis, who had led me into the room, was gone. I had not heard her leave, nuns floated away, never walked.
I stood in the doorway, my pathetic overnight case in front of me as both my hands grasped the handle. I suddenly felt very small, and embarrassed by my jeans, sandals and peasant blouse.
The sister who was strumming the guitar was the first to look up, the rest followed. Several rushing up, one taking my suitcase another helping me to take off my Sandals. Another handed me a glass of milk, as if I were five years old. I detested milk, but took a sip so as not to be rude.
The Sister in the corner who had been strumming the guitar was also called Sister Carol. It seems that my Sister Carol had left years before. I somehow resented this nun taking her name, but soon found her to be every bit as wonderful. She put her arms around me, hugging me close, leading me to the ottoman where her music was. She took the pages carefully placing them on the tiny bare space not covered by books and papers on the bookshelf directly behind her. She then reached behind her chair and pulled out another guitar, identical to the one she had.
That is where I learned to play the guitar.She and I laughed and tortured the others for an hour or so before I was led to my sleeping quarters. A cell as they called it. Decorated, not.It had a single bed, no headboard, a white chenille bedspread, my favorite to date, a small bureau and a crucifix over the bed. A small window offered the only light in the room, and it was so high, I could not see out. There was an oil lamp on the bureau. I fidgeted with it, looking around for something to light it.
The door opened, and the new Sister Carol peeked in.
“Do you have everything you want?”
“Yes, thank you” I had nothing. But I had everything. I omitted asking for light, it was obviously their bedtime, though it was only 8:00 pm.
That night, and the next morning, preparing breakfast in the huge industrial kitchen and enjoying a meal in silence, followed by vespers were magical.
But they were not to be...More...
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