This past weekend, on an adventure with Mander and Bry, we stopped by Babcock State Park for a little photo taking. It really was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It reminded me of another trip there, back when I was in fifth grade and Sts Peter and Paul Catholic School utilized this park as a field trip destination.
I was a heathen in school. An outright heathen. How do I know this is true? Father Maguire told me so. Of course I had just cracked the chapel window by throwing a rock at my cousin and he was holding me by my earlobe and encouraging me to survey the damage I had caused, all the while trying to control himself while loudly telling me: “You’re a heathen Michelle. A heathen! I am going to leave this crack here to remind you every day what a heathen you are!” I believe, to this day, I love the Irish accent because when I was being talked to sternly or yelled at by the good Father, it sounded less menacing and more like the foreign movies I love(d) to watch. Another great heathen moment requiring an Irish lecture was when one of the boys dared me to hit Sister Delores with a snowball. We hoped to knock off her habit to confirm if she had a crew cut as we imagined she had. I can confirm only this: those habits were on there tight.
This school photo was from my fifth grade year, just to offer some perspective. My aunt was in beauty school and Ma believed she could “tame” my hair with greater ease by allowing the aunt to hone her perm skills. If this is her best, I am thinking she might have failed the “perms for preteens” portion of her class. Buck teeth, J.J. Walker up-do and green plaid vest – I was a fashion icon! (Might explain a few things in present time.) Also, if you know me, just know that back then I talked even more and even faster. I was a constant chatter box. There was one time I told my class that when I became a woman I wanted to have children via in vitro fertilization. Boys were gross, kids were cute and I saw a video in a doctor’s office while Ma was seeing the doctor for her lady bits. Sister was none pleased by my feeling the rest of the class should be brought up to speed.
There was also the time I took a Playgirl centerfold of a male ballerina that I found at my cool aunt’s house. This was for show and tell and a sort of follow-up impromptu conversation with my classmates regarding in vitro and where babies came from. Sister Mary Rose (the nun on the right in this photo) thwarted my unauthorized sex ed class and called Ma. Sister loved my shenanigans. I just know she did. She would have a twinkle in her eye as she called me “Mickey Mouth” and told me to shut up and sit down. I am sure I was exhausting. I also distinctly remember a time when I had an upset stomach and she gave me a pink peppermint. It is one of those odd memories. I can remember where I was standing in the classroom and everything.
So, back to the field trip to Babcock State Park… As you can see, Sister Rose wore a full Habit. On the particular spring day in question, it was a very warm day and kids were everywhere. I happened to see Sister sitting on a bench by herself. Now, Ma had chastised me more than once for wanting to wade in the shallow area of the rocks in front of the grist mill. When I saw Sister sitting there all alone, my heathen brain hatched a plan I thought could possibly work. I sat down next to Sister and said, “Whew, it sure is warm today.” “Yes, Michelle, it is.” “Sister, why don’t you take off your shoes and stockings and we can put our feet into the water just there at the edge of the stream.” It was a long shot. But the day was hot and the kids were all off, occupied elsewhere and we were alone.
She looked at me with that smile that she had and said, “Let’s do it!” Off went her shoes, down went her knee highs and to the stream we headed. We sat just at the edge, water barely over the top of our feet. When she was finally relaxed and enjoying the refreshing dip, I thought I would push it a little further. “Sister, you could put your hand on my shoulder and we could go a little further in, I can be your support.” “Ok, just a few more steps.” It really was only a few more steps. For those of you who have never tried to navigate a country creek – the rocks are usually slick with moss and old leaves. Such was the case in this instance. You are always at risk of maybe slipping. Also the case. But, if you have good balance, you can catch yourself and continue trekking through. Unfortunately, Sister Rose had no such balance. She went down, ass over habit, feet flying out from beneath her, fully in the water – habit and all. And there was a moment, suspended in time, that I thought I might have finally crossed the line to damn my soul by killing a nun. On the other side of that moment was Sister Rose, laughing and giggling hysterically, butt totally submerged in water. “Well, that’s one way to cool off.” Ma ran to us, screaming that I was trying to kill Sister Rose and what was wrong with me, why did it ALWAYS have to be me… The whole time Sister continued to giggle and laugh.
I would like to think I brought her more joy than issue. She taught me that you could believe in the rigors of religion and still have a funny side. She also was the first person in my life who made me feel totally accepted no matter how goofily I presented myself.
She got me back later that year when I returned to her classroom. Our school had four classrooms with two grades in each room for grades 1-8. She cast me as the Virgin Mary in the Christmas play. I laugh so hard at that, even to this day. I guess she was trying to teach me that even a heathen could have grace.
I had so many life lessons taught to me by the various nuns in my childhood. Sister Mary Ann was stern and scary but was kind when you had an issue that involved crying. Sister Delores forgave my snowball fiasco and taught me piano (but no Rock and Roll, only the waltzes).
Sister Rose taught me that you can be small in stature yet large in impact. And, no matter how rigid your lifestyle, sometimes you have to roll down your stockings and tiptoe through the babbling brook.