Over on the socials, I’m in a group page with a shared interest in the area where I grew up. Somebody recently posted their recollection of a certain nun – one who was bolted to our church and was also the headmistress of our junior school. The recollection and the comments that quickly piled in, were none she would’ve been happy to read, but somehow still were light enough, and for the most part they came with a shrug. I didn’t remark. I wanted my own space for that.
Which is this, by way of reply.
A heart no longer beats in that nun (did it ever?) but let’s rename her Sister Assumpta for the hell of it. Broader than she was tall, and greyly like a pot on the stove – heated to spitting, spite and froth by whatever flame and craving raged under her. This wide bride was placed (post-War, by forces unknown) in charge of small children for whom I cannot remember her having a smile or a soft voice. A clanking bag of threats and harm. Woe betide you… and always the swish and the palm-searing thwack of her cane. In short, she was short of everything: compassion and kindness and stature; short-tempered. But long-lived.
Alongside her, and her-almost-opposite, worked Sister (let’s call her) Josephine. Rake-thin and bony against her boss’s squat and pudding frame. Sister Josephine took us for sports – for football, even, red-tracksuited, whistle-in-mouth, jogging the touchline with her veil comically training behind her; jet-trail of our Flying Nun. Sister Jospephine looked after the Altar Boys. Assumpta just wanted to disfigure them. So, there, for balance.
An aunt of ours became pregnant, unmarried, at eighteen. Condemned to a home, the history goes, she was forced by the nuns to scrub stone floors on hands and knees.
My mother met an old teacher-nun of hers from the school that was the horrid gothic grave crouched on the hill coming up out of the city. Somehow both sprightly and decrepit, the dust-covered bully grabbed my mother’s arm in her claw and hissed something approximate to remembering. I remember: Mum being terrified anew of the nun, forty years on; how she had made her school days a misery. With harsh words for the hell of it.