Showing posts with label old school nuns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old school nuns. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2019

My Sister of Charity

This nun was fun

Sr. Mary Clifford Soisson, SC

This is a weekly column consisting of letters to my perspicacious progeny. I write letters to my grandchildren (who exist), and my great-grandchildren (who don't) — the Stickies — to haunt them after they become grups or I'm deleted.

[Photo by Angela]

Warning: This column is rated SSC — Sexy Seasoned Citizens — Perusal by kids, callowyutes, and/or grups may result in a debilitating intersectional triggering



Erratically Appearing Hallucinatory Guest Star: Dana — A Gentlerreader

"For a Catholic kid in parochial school, the only way to survive the beatings-by classmates, not the nuns-was to be the funny guy." -George A. Romero 

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies (& Gentlereaders),

Six of my first eight teachers were members of a Roman Catholic religious community, that has roots extending back to 1809, the Sisters of Charity.

Sister Mary McGillicuddy changed my life, Miss Crabtree, not so much.

[Um, don't you mean Ms. Crabtree?]

No, Dana, I do not. I'm so old that Ms. magazine wasn't published till the year after I graduated high school and which, according to Wikipedia, is when that particular honorific caught on.

Now that name tags read, "Hello, my name is _______ and my personal pronouns are _______  " it sounds/seems almost quaint.

Sister Mary and Miss Crabtree are composite creations. S'ter Mary McGillicuddy represents the six nuns mentioned above. Miss Crabtree stands in for the two lay teachers I had in Catholic grade school.

To a lesser extent, she represents the handful of female teachers I had in public high school; the word handful is an indicator of my encroaching decrepitude.

The majority of my teachers in public high school were male, the principal and vice-principal of the two high schools I attended were both also members of the toxic sex, particularly the vice-principals (readers of a certain age nod knowingly).

However, this column is about a real Sister Mary, Sister Mary Clifford who was my teacher in seventh grade and whom I recently discovered died in 2010 at the age of 89.

She was my first and only "cool" nun. She was the first and only nun I liked. She was one of only two nuns I wasn't afraid of.

She taught me, at the age of 12—without meaning to—that nuns were just H. sapiens in peculiar clothes, not members of a separate, parallel species.

Sisters of Charity, New York -1965

Eileen Soisson was born on the 17th of July, 1920 in the Borough of Bellevue which borders and is butt up against, by gum by golly (sorry...) Pittsburgh (with an h).

Like me, she attended Catholic grade school (hers still exists) and public high school. She received a scholarship to Seton Hill (not Hall) College which was founded by the Sisters of Charity. She took her vows in January of 1942.

She was not only my seventh-grade teacher she also was the principal of the school, St. John the Evangelist, which was located on the Sou'Side-a-Pittsburgh, across the street from the 12th street playground.

Somehow, I was one of her pets. To this day I don't know why.

Being a pet of the principle meant that at least once a week I got out of class to accompany her when she borrowed one of the parish priest's cars to take care of some sort of business, usually grocery shopping for the convent that was right next to the school.

It was never just me—there was always at least one of the other boys, sometimes two depending on our mission—but it almost always included me. In retrospect, I can guess why it was always more than one boy but at the time neither I nor any of my classmates (that I'm aware of) noticed or cared.

Different era...

But.  Why.  Me?

There was this girl, Ellen somebody? who from year to year was always a teacher's pet, but that made sense. She had a beautiful voice and the nuns were always finding excuses to get her to sing.

I didn't give it much thought at the time, just enjoyed it, rolled with it, took it for granted. Somehow, even my classmates didn't razz me about it and normally this was a group that called each out for everything

I still have no idea what she saw in me, but I do know why I liked her so much. She was genuinely nice. She kept at least one foot in the real world at all times. She wore her vocation like a corsage, not a crown of thorns.

She clearly enjoyed driving and when I was out and about with her she acted like a doting aunt, not my teacher. She'd answer our questions about parish politics, other nuns, her life, etc., questions we'd never think of asking in class (it just wasn't done) as honestly as she could.

But always diplomatically, always taking the high road, never stooping to gossiping or backstabbing. Keeping the faith, as it were.

It was probably why I caught no crap from my peers—everyone liked her. She ran a tight ship in class but possessed not a trace of Crazy Nun Syndrome.

[Note: If you've ever been exposed to CNS, which was a common malady at the time, no explanation is required. If you haven't, no explanation I can provide will come close to describing it properly.] 

Prior to Sister Mary Clifford, I had six teachers.

Four Sisters of Charity afflicted with CNS; one lay teacher that was about 150 years old; another lay teacher, for second grade, that taught us how to curse (rather genteelly by today's standards) by conscientiously explaining which words we were not permitted to use under any circumstances.

Eighth grade: different school, unremarkable nun. But I wasn't afraid of her thanks to Sister Mary Cliffords unintentional life lessons.

In her defense, she did an excellent job preparing us for Catholic high school knowing that intellectually speaking, things were about to get a lot more intense. And life lessons or not the nun that ran that school scared the hell out me, as she would any right-thinking person.

Fortunately/Unfortunately (it's very complicated) my parents couldn't afford to send me, so I was off to a public high school.

But thanks to Sister Mary Clifford, as my faith slipped away, I knew that nuns were just people, sometimes very special people. Look at her eyes.

Poppa loves you,
Have an OK day

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Hey...I like hey, when it's used as a social convention I mean. It's particularly handy at work. First pass: Howyadooin? Get that over with as best you can. Howyadooin requires a thousand words, no, a short book, but I'm in a hurry.

Next, and subsequent passes: Hey. Verbally punctuate and shape it any way you please. Hey. Hey! Heeey.... A very handy word. One syllable social lubrication. But I am in a hurry, as I said. I just began with hey, for no particular reason... and well..., well anyway, I'm back now.

The reason I'm in a hurry is that I've just decided that the post that I had prepared will not be available until Sunday. There's a whole bunch of mostly boring reasons for this, as well as what follows.

Starting this Sunday, Sunday is my official day to post. In addition to the boring reasons referenced above, it's been suggested to me by someone I trust, that the sort of stuff I write about and the way I write it goes well with Sunday morning, coffee and bagels, the Sunday paper... I know you can feel it., smell it.

Well, I do anyway and that's why I'm cranking this out (relatively speaking) and I'm going to post it in just a second (I'm a relatively slow writer) to meet a self-imposed deadline that's important to me.


I'll write something every day between now and Sunday just to see what happens and as a peace offering if you get into this before I have a chance to beef it up, and you're disappointed.

Wednesday afternoon: Define (some of) Your Terms, Sir

Bonkercockie -- I stumbled on this word while wandering around the web and it was love at first sight. I didn't care what the definition might turn out to be. As it turns out the creator was easily located via googling, and the definition is a flexible one. I like to use it in place of B.S. because that feels obvious and natural to me, but the inventor uses it in other ways as well.

Hooplehead -- Often credited to the creator of the best TV show ever made, Deadwood, it looks as though the word was abroad in the world long before David Milch (sort of) popularized it. While my research indicates the definition is noncontroversial (fool, dope, hick etc. -- as seems obvious) the etymology is somewhat vague.

Gentlereader --  A somewhat archaic term that is actually two words I like to combine into one. It dates to Victorian times and is a device an author uses to directly address a reader. I combine the words just because I like the look and feel of the result.

I think we should all strive to be gentlepersons, and this will the subject of an eventual post. I always write with an imaginary gentlereader looking over one shoulder and my muse over the other. From my perspective, it's a way of saying thanks for taking a few minutes from your life to bother reading what I have to say.

Thursday Morning -- Nuns

When I was a kid my worldview was shaped by nuns. I'm an old dude so this means that I'm talking about an era when nuns still had hair on their chests and were proud of it.

I didn't care much for nuns at the time, and even though my feelings have changed somewhat, I have no doubt that one or two of the good sisters I spent nine months out of the year with, for eight years running, were at least mildly psychotic.

Fortunately, one or two were probably saints. Most would probably be less than pleased that I grew up to be agnostic. I say most because I'll betcha a bottle-a-pop that at least one of those bizarrely dressed women was secretly agnostic.

The reason my feelings have changed is that from my current perspective, that of an adult (more or less), I can now appreciate that as a group, they were an invaluable part of my life, even the nuttier ones.

They were part of a culture that believed (as I still believe) that kids were adorable little infidels in need of civilizing. Some handed out corporal punishment, as did some parents, too frequently. Some, like some parents, not enough. But you knew where you stood and you knew what the rules were.

They had the temerity to believe that a few thousand years of Western Civilization, warts and all, had come up with a system of morality, ethics, politics -- even common courtesy -- that worked and was one of the many reasons we callowutes were damn lucky to be able to take the USA for granted.

Finally, though they were members in good standing of an often hidebound institution, they, the ones that taught me at least (from '59 to '67), had no fear of discussing the "real" world and how it worked -- I believe they called it Social Studies. They also were strong supporters of the civil rights struggle and made it clear that I better be as well.

But for the record, by the time I reached ninth grade and switched to the public school system because my parents couldn't afford to send me to a Catholic high school, I no longer believed there was a place called Limbo.

Friday Morning -- Billary

This is the last installment of this transitional post, the transition from publishing on Wednesdays to publishing on Sundays. I can write publishing with a straight face because the button that you click on to post your post via Blogger is labeled Publish.

And no, I didn't stay home from work and life yesterday to watch Billary testifying, nor did I stay up all night to watch a recording of it of some sort. I checked in yesterday from time to time.

I began my day today in the usual fashion -- with a large cup of coffee and the perusal of multiple websites, a carefully crafted collection of key (Aw geez, there he goes again) websites designed to provide me with a snapshot of what's going on. I do this every morning, seven days a week, and it takes about an hour and a half.

Some folks might find this appalling, perhaps even mildly disturbing. I could easily justify the practice by claiming that I do it because I'm a columnist and it's part of the job considering the nature of my writing, and that would be partially true.

However, I would be doing this even if I were incapable of generating a single intelligible sentence. In my defense, the process includes comic strips. Also, an hour and a half is the absolute limit because my brain starts melting at that point so it's time to push away from the desk and return the coffee I've been renting back to mother nature. But that's not what I want to talk about.

Billary's Benghazi bonkercockie is what I want to talk about, but barely briefly. Turns out that Billary sent an email to Chelsea (estimated net worth, $15,000,000. I wonder how she's managed that?) -- 45 minutes after issuing a statement blaming mobs that went nuts over the famous YouTube video for the murder of some of her fellow Americans -- clearly stating that an "Al Qaeda-like group" was responsible for the murders. There are other emails and records that name the specific group, Ansar al-Sharia, and state that the attack was a carefully planned terrorist operation.

Billary and the Obama administration, the folks that assured us they had taken care of this Al Qaeda thing, spent the next couple of weeks sticking to the video story, and then when they couldn't anymore, blamed, and continue to blame, the attempted coverup mistake on the chaos and confusion surrounding the incident.

Mr. O. was re-elected a few months later. Billary, confronted with the facts stated above, stuck with the chaos and confusion defense. The New York Times website's story about the hearing this morning was headlined Four People Died, Clinton lied Benghazi Engages Clinton in Tense Session.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman..."
"Yup, yup, yup, it was a vast right-wing conspiracy!"

Have an OK day.

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©2015 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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