03 November 2016
Today, two things are intersecting for me: Think ... Write ... Thursday! and Gratitude Week.
Carole and Kat want us to write about our favorite teacher or a teacher who had a major influence on us. Michelle is asking us to think of something that irks or annoys us, and find at least one good thing about it.
So ... Nuns.
When I was a kid, nuns were the bane of my existence. Most of the time, I attended Catholic schools, and back then, most of the teachers were nuns - old school nuns, in habits and with POWER. And I probably could have dealt with that if my father didn't have two aunts who were nuns - Sister Mary Joseph and Sister Marie Jeannette.
Now, Sister Marie Jeannette was the younger one (meaning we still thought she was old but she was younger than Sister Mary Joseph, who we felt was "mega-old."). She was the director of a Catholic orphanage, and seemed to genuinely like children. She was kind, with a sense of humor, and always had a smile. We didn't get to see her that often though, since she was busy with her work.
Sister Mary Joseph on the other hand, was a retired nurse. She was the nun of nightmares. Old, conservative, bossy, and expecting to be kowtowed to. She felt it was part of her mission in life to visit her nieces and nephews and their children regularly, and would find someone to drive her around to these visits (women we called "The Ideal Parishioner"), which, needless to say, were always drop-ins. My father would be at work, or out, and she would show up, expecting my mother and all of us to drop everything to visit with her. My mother - always reminding us that "it's your father's family, you know" - got to the point where she would see a car pull up, see Sister starting to emerge, and yell - "the nuns" - which meant that if at all possible we went out the back door, walked around the block and by the time we got back, Sister and aforementioned Ideal Parishioner would be gone. Once an unsuspecting boyfriend of one of my sisters was left to deal with her, because he didn't get out in time.
So. Between Sister Mary Joseph and many of the nuns who taught me in elementary school who were just like her, I had a vendetta against most nuns.
Then I got to high school, where we had a combination of nuns, brothers, and lay teachers. And in my sophomore year, I took the required Civics class and was assigned to the class taught by Sister Virginia. At this point, many nuns were no longer wearing their old school habits, and Sister Virginia always wore a white blouse, navy skirt and vest, with a cross necklace, stockings, and sensible shoes. And none of it was the uber-spongy-polyester that the others favored. She also had a lovely, short, salt-and-pepper hairstyle and glasses, and always a smile. She was "old" (meaning, probably ten or more years younger than I am currently), but not old school.
I have always been interested in geography, politics, and government. Probably because it was discussed a lot at home and we moved around so much. Sister Virginia rocked Civics class. We did projects, we held town meetings, we debated issues, we held campaigns and elections, and it was amazing. She loved what she taught, and clearly loved teaching. Most students responded well, and engaged in the class enthusiastically.
And so, from Sister Virginia, I learned that a good teacher can make all the difference in the world. I learned the meaning as well as the responsibilities of good citizenship. And I learned that NUNS was not always an awful four-letter word. During college, someone told me that Sister Virginia had died of cancer, and that seemed particularly unfair - as cancer always is. But when I vote next Tuesday, I know I'll hold a special thought for Sister Virginia in my heart.
Just as a note - since becoming an adult, I realized that part of what possibly made nuns seem so horrible when I was a child was that, like most women, they had few choices for their professions. They could be nurses or teachers. I'm guessing there were plenty who had to become teachers and were not fond of teaching and/or children. Which is a shame. I know I couldn't have done it, as I am not a good soldier that way.
We have all indeed come a long way.