Monday, November 12, 2007

Sisters & sneezes

My great Aunt Agatha was an enigma to me. I can only picture her as the nun with a black habit and Whipple that circled her soft smiling face. She had the same smile my grandpa Chet and Great Uncle Horace had, being that they were all siblings. If any three kids looked alike, they did, being completely and totally Irish. All three of them are buried in the family cemetery in Alliance, Nebraska. My memories of them involve only childhood flashbacks of her black habit, Grandpa’s old car, Horace’s small house in Alliance that he shared with his wife Agnes. Every single one of them was short in height but I didn’t notice because I was a kid and I was short too.

Sister Agatha must have been smart as a tack because she was a nurse anesthetist back in the day when they were rare. I think of her while I study and I wonder if I will ever get close to being the kind of nurse she was. One of the most irresponsible things I ever did without my parent’s permission, was give away her habit rosary that encircled her waist. When I was around 11 years old, I gave it to this little old lady named Rose, who used to attend daily Mass at St. Vincent de Paul church, because I felt sorry for her. She had severe arthritis in her hips which made it hard for her to sit, stand and kneel. I figured if she had Aunt Agatha’s rosary, maybe she would feel better. I am sure someone in this person’s family is wondering where Rose got that really big rosary. I did stupid things like that when I was a kid.

I never would have been accepted into Catholic school had it not been for Great Aunt Sr. Agatha. She was visiting us at the time my parents were trying to enroll us at the school (without much success), and apparently she went down to the school and mud wrestled Sr. Nan, the principal, for a 5th grade slot for me. I learned about the discipline of Catholic schools the very first day of school. Sr. Mary Antonilda, my 5th grade teacher, threatened to cut off my tongue with a pair of scissors if I didn’t turn around in my seat and stop chatting with another girl named Tammy, sitting behind me. I swear I thought she had scissors for this purpose and I never talked to my neighbor again while she was teaching us. I loved Sr. Antonilda. She was this wonderful short little nun who had this silvery wig and this incredible sense of humor. Whenever someone in the class sneezed, she would pace the floor in the classroom asking in a sergeant’s voice “WHO sneezed?” and when no one in the first row answered she would mimic “machine gunning” the first row on down until she got to the person who finally admitted they were the one who sneezed. Then, she would smile and say “God bless you!” Every time she did this, we would all burst out in a fit of laughter and couldn’t wait for the next time someone in the class sneezed.
Sr. Mary Antonilda allowed us to go to daily mass during Lent in lieu of lunch. I would walk down the hill to church and watch old lady Rose in her pew struggling to get up and down. I finally got the courage to sit next to her (every day) and dutifully helped her stand, sit and kneel with the crook of my arm. When my classmate, “Murph” noticed what I was doing, he used to race down to the church ahead of me to snatch up Old Rose before I could get to her, and when I snitched on him to Sr. Antonilda, she admonished "Murph" to find another old lady to help (in those words exactly because when I told on "Murph", I told Sr. A that he stole my old lady). I still laugh remembering those days in catholic school; the impression all these nuns made on me and how they fostered my sense of responsibility and my faith.

I hope that Great Aunt Sister Agatha realizes that the day she mud wrestled or negotiated for her precocious niece to go to Catholic school was the day that started a long journey to becoming a nurse, just like her, and but for the discipline and drill imparted by Sr. Mary Antonilda, I would not be the kind of student I am now; and when someone sneezes, a little stern voice with "a slight twinkle to it," goes off in my head and it makes me smile.

1 comment:

tom mcgowan said...

Woah, what happened, prey tell, if someone coughed?!? Or even burped?!