Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sister Carla Jean

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.


Anita said...

I love this post!!! My husband attended the same Catholic school my kids did/are.........make sense. Anyway, we have one nun, Sister Kathleen that just celbrated her Jubilee, 50 years as a nun! She's been at our school for 47 years. She came from Ireland to our small town with others to begin the school.She's retiring at the end of this year and she's made a positive difference to so many children, and adults too. I love how Sister Clarine inspired you!!! Great picture by the way. I have one of Caitie because one year she was a Saint on All Saint's Day and her saint has been a nun...........as matter of fact she was in Sr. Kathleen's class that year and Sr had her come up and lead morning prayers.....too funny!

Barb said...

What a great story..and I for one am glad you didn't stop writing. It's good to hear your stories from Catholic school... mine were much different and not so nice.

sageweb said...

What a great post! You were so lucky to have nice nuns in your life. We had the Nuns from hell, they all hated kids and they loved to beat the crap out of me..although I probably deserved it.

rosemary said...

Well, you know my nun story...and my favorite was Sister Mary Elizabeth Louise....She was a Dominican but I wanted to be a Sister of Charity and wear that coronet. They taught at Maryvale, an orphanage in a near by town. I did the correspondence with the home base convent in the mid west someplace but that eventually petered out.....well....because of peters.

Random Thinker said...

You can never discount the "Brian" factor. It carries quite a bit of weight. From the clothes we choose to, apparently in your case, the path we choose to walk down.

The one thing most successful, happy people have in common is that somebody, or a few somebodies, praised them and encouraged them to be the best they could be. God Bless her.

Lisa said...

This was so incredibly heartwarming. I love it that you had a teacher/nun who provided you with inspiration and encouragement.

And that writing wall in the basement is a great idea! We had something like that at the AARP office in Chicago. It was a temporary wall of unfinished drywall separating the office and the area that was being built out. The graffiti drawing started one day with a tiny Kilroy drawn by a pregnant legislative assistant who bored and sure she wouldn't get caught. ;-D

Buck said...

Wow - - I never knew this about you! And I LOVE the photo.

Who knows? With the dwindling numbers of nuns, they might start allowing nuns te be married and you can still become Sr. Carla.

You just never know . . .

MaryRuth said...

What a great story! It is great you had a teacher to encourage you in something you loved.
Nice costume...right down to the nun shoes!

Sling said...

This is a great story kid!
It's wonderful how people are put in our paths,that have such a positive influence on our lives.
For me it was Mrs. Wolfort,who would make special trips to the public library just to get books for me that weren't in the school's library.
I'll always be grateful for her.

Mathman6293 said...

I wonder if S. Miss Healthy Pants would blog? We have an influential nun in our family, too. She has retired and lives in Fond Du Lac. We are very open minded Jews. Seriously.

Maria said...

I think that all of us who attended Catholic school have at least one story of a wonderful nun...and one of a terrible one. Mine were Sister Antonella and Sister Juliette. One was the most patient woman on the planet whose lessons in french grammar still stay with me and the other will always go down in memory as the one who made my 7th grade year horrible because she found a note that I wrote to a friend saying how much I loved a certain boy and she posted it on the bulletin board!

Anonymous said...

Please tro to contatc Sister Calrine to tell her how much she meant to you. People from our childhood might not have been as old as we thought they wre back then. She might still be around. And if she's not, an inquiry about her and your story will tell the remaining nuns in her Order how loved she was, and in doing that to her name among her peers you will be doing her memory a gerat service. If youcannot rememe the Order to which she belonged, just post the name of your old school and the town it was in and I'll find out what Order of Sisters was there and get you the address of the motherhouse. By the way, yours is a very typical story of how very loving the nuns were to us Catholic school kids years ago.