When I was a little kid—about seven or eight years old—I was convinced that I was going to become a nun someday. And I was serious about it.
I was going to become Sister Carla Jean. I was so serious about it that I even corresponded several times with a missionary nun who worked somewhere in Africa, and I told her that I wanted to be just like her.
But the truth was, I didn’t want to become a missionary nun. I wanted to be a teacher nun in the small town I grew up in, just like my favorite teachers at the Catholic elementary school I attended. I still remember my favorite teacher nun, Sister Clarine.
Sister Clarine was a gray-haired lady when she taught my third grade class—so I’m sure that she’s long ago passed away by now. But I will never forget the impact she made on my life.
Sister Clarine was spunky but kind. She was quick to laugh, and very sweet—but she was also tough enough that the kids in my class didn’t take advantage of her kindness. I loved her. And I remember every day, asking her if I could help her carry her black leather bag full of “teacher’s stuff” to the convent after school. Looking back, even though the bag was light enough for an eight-year-old with scrawny arms to carry, and the convent was only about 200 feet away (so she obviously didn’t need my help), she always let me carry her bag for her. It was our chance to chat a little bit, and I loved it.
Sometimes on those chats, I would tell Sister Clarine about my ideas for the stories I was writing. At the age of eight, I used to write tons and tons of “stories.” I loved to write even at that young age, and it seems like I was constantly bursting with new ideas. But I never really shared them with anyone except maybe my Mom and Dad—until Sister Clarine became my teacher.
And one day, I decided to give her a copy of one of the stories I had written.
The next day, she greeted me at the door of our classroom with a big smile. “This is wonderful!” she said. “How would you like to read it in front of the class today?”
I flushed with pride. “Do you really like it?”
“Yes!” she affirmed. “It’s just beautiful. I’d like you to read it in front of the class, if it’s okay with you.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Um, okay,” I finally said. Even though I was a pretty shy child, she made me feel confident about my writing.
And later that day, when she told the class about what I would be reading to them, she was full of even more praise for me. I beamed and read the story to the class, and at the end, they all clapped for me.
I remember being so happy. I was flying high for the rest of the school day.
Then, after school, when I was carrying Sister Clarine’s bag home for her, I will never forget what she said to me.
She said, “Carla, don’t ever stop writing. I mean it—always keep writing. You have a talent for it.”
Now do you see why she was my favorite teacher?
So I think it was only natural that my love and admiration for Sister Clarine led to my wanting to be a nun, just like her.
And my parents, who are devoted Catholics, were tickled pink that their little daughter was so interested in the idea of being a nun—at least, until I wrote/carved “Sister Carla Jean” in blue ink on the closet door of my Mom’s sewing room. My parents were NOT pleased with that.
But that didn’t stop me from writing “Sister Carla Jean” all over the wall of our basement—but I didn’t get in trouble for that, because there was one wall in the basement that we were allowed to write and draw all over. (Don’t you just love it?)
I even dressed up as a nun one Halloween. See?
So what finally made me decide not to become a nun?
Well, his name was Brian, and he was my very first crush. Yes, I had discovered boys—and in the following years, I continued to discover them.
But even though I never became a nun, I will never forget Sister Clarine. I just hope she knew how much she—and her wonderful kindness—meant to me.