On What He Said, “Guts,” and Sister John of the Dungeon Back in St. Joe’s Elementary…

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

This is one of those times I feel compelled to respond in a post to a comment written in response to a previous post.

In my last entry, I referenced a certain childhood memory re: a “lay teacher” who dealt with me back in St. Joseph Elementary School, Escanaba, Michigan, ca 1960. One of my brothers responded, which prompted another memory from those “good old days,” this one involving a nun, a playground skirmish and a feat of extraordinary bravery and smarts, at least in my little kid mind.

UPDATE: see also below, below, for another brother story…

Enjoy.

From My Brother Greg

Phyllis –

Loved the trip down a portion of your memory lane at St Joseph’s School – too bad it has been flattened into a parking lot! In my 6th, 7th and 8th grade years I ran the film projector in the school library and in the Bonifas Auditorium across the street from the Church, and spent much time in the basement section of the Carnegie Library across the street on the other corner. Checked out ALL the books on electronics and ham radio multiple times. Also learned some church Latin couplets as an altar boy: Sursum Corda/Habemus a Dominum (“Lift up your hearts/we lift them up to the Lord”). Long-term memory still working OK (for others to say) and have successfully (so far) avoided electrocution as an engineer.

Moving to Oregon was a completely different experience. Everything changed at once, followed by four years of high school with classmates completely unknown to me from all grade-school years, followed by a year on the road with an R&B band, then Vietnam. Overall take-away (so far) is that being stretched a little (and sometimes a lot ) is essential to personal growth. Glad to be on this end of it.

In a June 2012 interview of Joe Walsh in The Last Word section of Mens Journal Magazine , he said in part: “A philosopher said as we live life, it looks like random anarchy, one event smashing into another. But when you look back, life looks like a finely crafted novel”

Amen

Back To Him and Another Memory from Back Then

Hey, big brother,

Very nice to hear from you…and the memories…

As I put my mind to scraping the rust off my own recollections of those years in the late nineteen-fifties back in the U.P. here is something I recall. It was the first time I actually began to realize you had some brains–and guts, too. Serious guts.

For some reason, we sixth-graders were crammed into the back of your eighth-grade classroom (likely our own teacher, Sister Vendetta Marie, or whatever her name was, had another nervous breakdown attempting to manage the forty or so of us little Baby Boomers…must have been like trying to herd cats…).

We had all just scrambled in from recess on the asphalt behind St. Joe’s, where the event of high import that day was your kerfuffle with another eighth-grader. Minutes later, your teacher pounded into the room, giant Rosary beads encircling her waist swinging menacingly.

“Mr. Beveridge and Mr. (other kid), stand up!,” she boomed, her voice rising in a mad-nun crescendo. Her face was so red I thought it was going to pop. The stiff, white “wimple” of her habit flapped firmly about her neck to the beat of each syllable,

Oh oh.

A sudden hush engulfed the room as all heads shifted immediately to center stage where Sister loomed. A dust mote dropped. Two girls huddling in the back-most row started to whimper quietly

Sister John of the Dungeon (or whatever her name was) lasered her glare first on you.

“What can YOU tell me about the goings-on at recess?” she barked.

All heads shifted to you.

(I remember the next part exactly as played. In slow motion, almost.)

“I refuse to answer,” you began, not a quiver in your voice, your head high, “on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.” (Was that something like the kid next to me who suddenly wet this pants? I would sort it out later.)

WUT?

Kids looked at each other.

Then at you.

Then at the nun.

Of course, none of the rest of us had a clue as to what that particular expression meant, but anything you said out-of-order to a nun was not a good thing to say to a nun.

Ever.

Although that specific recollection and those exact words are seared in an important part of my long-term memory reserved for incidents in my life and times I hold in a kind of reverence, curiously, I have no recall of what exactly happened next.

I think, although I cannot be sure about this, that was the moment you went down in the annals of the kid heroes of St. Joe’s. Later on, of course, those of us who paid attention in ninth grade Civics realized you were “pleading the Fifth Amendment.” But just then, jaws dropped, we could only snap heads back to center stage…

At any rate, whatever followed, you survived. The other kid survived, and I’m pretty certain Sister John re-gained her own composure (although something in her may have gone slack as well)

(Can I say that about a nun? Fearfully looking for a lightning bolt just now…)

Cheers,

Your little sister

LATER THIS SAME DAY, UPDATE:

From Another Brother, Andy

Chiming in from this side of the generation gap…

By the time my next-older (they all are, from my POV) brother and I reached parochial paradise there were very few sanctified ones left in actual instructor positions, having been replaced by the above mentioned ‘lay’ teachers, and relegated to the role of substitute pedagogue.

It was sheer luck then, that brother had the unfortunate luck of having a bon-a-fide wimpled warrior for a substitute teacher one day.

Long story short; he did something that offended her sensibilities, she reprimanded him in front of god and everybody…he punched her, also in front of god and everybody.

I blame liberal bias and violent movies.

I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall when our dyed-in-the-wool, Roman Catholic Mother had to plead for his commutation…

Thanks, Andy (the same who provides photos for headers).

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5 Responses to On What He Said, “Guts,” and Sister John of the Dungeon Back in St. Joe’s Elementary…

  1. Cathy says:

    GREAT STORY!
    You wonder why these Nuns were so stereotypical? Maybe, there was some “Badass NunneryTraining?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • pmcb says:

      Hi, Cathy,
      Lol. Actually, speaking as a teacher (and I did [teacher] time in the very grades we were in, in the anecdote, grades 6 and 8, what we now call middle school), I can wholly understand–and empathize with–those nuns back then, particularly given the fact that Baby Boomer classrooms were often comprised of 40 and 50 high-energy kids–and there were no teaching assistants. In light of this, if the heroic Sisters ran things like drill sergeants back then, I would call it “the pedagogy of survival”!

      Cheers.

      Like

      • Cathy says:

        Yep,
        How did they deal with us?
        One time my whole Class skipped out of Math Class, because of a Sub Teacher! Well guess what?
        We all had to go to the Principals Office for a Scolding and Detention!
        Big Shot 13 year olds!

        Like

  2. Andyb says:

    Chiming in from this side of the generation gap…

    By the time my next-older (they all are, from my POV) brother and I reached parochial paradise there were very few sanctified ones left in actual instructor positions, having been replaced by the above mentioned ‘lay’ teachers, and relegated to the role of substitute pedagogue.

    It was sheer luck then, that brother had the unfortunate luck of having a bon-a-fide whimpled warrior for a substitute teacher one day.

    Long story short; he did something that offended her sensibilities, she reprimanded him in front of god and everybody…he punched her, also in front of god and everybody.

    I blame liberal bias and violent movies.

    I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall when our dyed-in-the-wool, Roman Catholic Mother had to plead for his commutation.

    (Apologies for the big words.
    I’m not awake yet, and lean heavily on Wictionary when my synapses aren’t firing at full capacity)

    Like

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