So it seems like I am spending most of my free time on my writing classes. Yes, classes, plural. I signed up for a second one, this one focused on writing for children. No, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up either.
My first assignment for the new class was to write a scene based on some detail from my childhood, evoking the voice of the child I was at the time. What follows is a fictionalized scene based on a couple of true moments. In case you are wondering, the setting is 100% mine. I went to Catholic school for the duration. Also, when I was in third grade, they read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe out loud to us, probably because of the underlying Christian themes, which were totally lost on me at the time. Everything else is made up.
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Whenever someone got sent to the principal, everyone ooohed until Mrs. Long shushed them. But when Sister Xavier came and asked for me, no one said anything. Probably because I NEVER get in trouble.
I was happy to go. Mrs. Long had just finished reading a chapter of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. That book was as magic as the wardrobe leading Lucy to Mr. Tumnus. Whenever Mrs. Long finished a chapter, finding myself suddenly back in our classroom always gave me a jolt. I didn’t think I could stand multiplication tables just then.
Sister Xavier didn’t say much as we walked down the hall. Maybe she didn’t want to open her mouth because the hall reeked of ammonia and Regina Grasso’s throw-up. I was surprised when we walked outside and onto the path toward church, but I knew to wait for an explanation rather than ask for one.
As we descended the wooden steps behind the school, the pretty pattern of sunshine and leaf shadows flitted over us. I always imagined the speckled sunlight tickling my feet, but it never really did, of course.
At the bottom, we entered the rectory through the back door. Sister Xavier led me into what looked like a library and smelled like our attic. The air tasted like an attic, too – heavy and a little dusty.
A nun, dressed in a white dress and veil – a habit, I mean – stood in contrast to bookshelves the color of a Hershey bar. She was smiling.
“Sarah, this is Sister Rose. Sister Rose, your new pupil. I’ll leave you to it,” Sister Xavier said before leaving.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Sarah. Come sit down,” she said, gesturing toward a small table tucked in the back. Up close, I could see the crinkles around her bright green eyes. “Do you like math?”
“It’s okay. Boring sometimes,” I told her. This comment would have scored a punishment from Mrs. Long, but somehow I felt safe saying it to Sister Rose.
“Well, we want to change that. From now on, you’ll be working with me to do math that’s a bit more…challenging. How does that sound?”
“Okay.” I knew that pride was a major sin, but I couldn’t help it. Pride filled me up until I could have floated away on it.
She handed me a sheet of word problems, and I dove right in. Sometimes I felt like the answers pulled me through the problems, urging me to hurry up and find them. As I worked, I heard nothing but my pencil scratching the paper. The quiet made the work seem important, like taking a test.
After I finished, Sister Rose looked over my answers, smiling. “Wonderful job, Sarah! Let’s see what you make of the next set.” She seemed delighted. With me!
The rest of our time together went much the same way. I did the problems; she praised me, even when I made a mistake or two. Her voice was so kind, not impatient like Mrs. Long’s or angry like Dad’s. When we got back to my classroom, I wanted to hug her goodbye, but I didn’t.
Nuns can be funny about stuff like that.
Photo credit: Roger Hane’s cover for the 1970 Collier-Macmillan edition of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)