Third Grade at Santa Barbara Elementary School on the little island of Guam brings back certain memories that are etched into my psyche and will forever be played like favorite re-runs on the TV Land Channel.
This catholic school was run by the Sisters of Mercy, which in some ways was an oxymoron, because I don’t remember some of them being that merciful. This was an era where the ruler whacked more knuckles and reddened more butts then ever was used to measure out any geometry math problems. During third grade, it was like a weekly ritual punishment tool.
Yes, we were a noisy bunch. We did try our teacher’s patience, Sister Gertrude. I am sure she would have preferred to be praying the rosary to the Virgin Mary than handling a bunch of stinky, noisy kids.
I mean she had to deal with part of the year meeting in temporary makeshift classrooms because a typhoon had blown the roof of our classroom. She screamed so much that I was surprised she never lost her voice.
She was determined as ever to never to let us get the best of her.
When she was mad, she made that face. It was the kind of face that would challenge the scariest villain in movie history. It made us cower. I believe that even the devil would have cowered at a angered Sister Gertrude face.
There was one day when she really crossed the line.
One day when the class was particularly noisy, she decided to keep us in after the last bell rang to end the school day. We were kept in long enough that the buses left. Most of us lived close by. I actually went to my grandparents home a block away until my parents were through with work.
However, several of the kids lived in a town about 7 miles north and took the bus. Instead of calling their parents, she told them to walk home. So a bunch of third graders started walking home along the busiest road on Guam where there were not even sidewalks.
I am not sure what she was thinking of, she must have been that mad.
Anyways, my best friend’s mother saw that her son had not gotten of the bus and was worried so she got in her car and took off towards the school. She finally saw the young students walking on the road.
She took her son. I think she helped out the other kids out too. She ended back at the school. This mom was livid.
She confronted Sister Gertrude. She told the nun to take off her habit and to put her dukes up. The mother said how irresponsible to put in danger the lives of these children all because of some disciplinary issue in school. They never came to blows. However, it did put not only Sister Gertrude in check but the whole system in check.
It also showed me that nuns were not all powerful. Authority could be challenged if it is exercised unreasonably or unethically.
By the way, I am glad Sister Gertrude never took off her habit. I had to go to the convent once to deliver something to her for my mother. There was sister Gertrude with curlers in her hair and a house dress. I am still scarred by that image. Thank the Lord for habits and nun clothes!
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