The next morning I woke up and was sitting up in my bed when Sister Elizabeth came into the dorm. She gave me a hug and asked if I had slept OK. She told me to wash up and get dressed. After breakfast she would show me around, and after lunch the other girls would start arriving. To this day I don’t know why I had to arrive the night before everyone else, but I assume my father had business to attend to and had made those arrangements.
On my tour of the buildings and grounds I discovered that the school was on a huge estate in Lakewood, Washington. There were at least 30 acres of land, all fenced. There was a huge cow pasture where cows roamed. Also, there was a creek that fed a large pond (or swamp) where I would later go for boat rides.
There were four buildings. They were all brick and were all attached to one another by covered walkways. The main building housed the rooms where everyone slept, including the nuns. There was a chapel upstairs where every morning a Priest would come and say Mass. We were all required to attend Mass every morning before breakfast. Also in the main building were offices, a Library, the Parlor and the classrooms for the high school students.
There was a separate building that housed the kitchen and the dining room. Another building had the classrooms for the grade school students. And finally, there was a building with two recreation rooms, one for the high school and one for the grade school. Throughout the wooded property was a myriad of religious statues and shrines where the nuns and the students would go to read or pray.
Several hundred feet away from the main cluster of buildings, there was a house nestled in the woods where the caretaker/grounds’ keeper and his family lived. Next to their house was a barn. They raised the cows, pigs and chickens, which he slaughtered, and we were eventually fed. He had a wife and two daughters who attended the school. The school was called “Visitation Villa” after the order of Visitation Nuns that ran the convent and school. Years later they would sell the property to a developer who would turn it into a large Shopping Center called “Villa Plaza”. Now it is called “Lakewood Mall”.
On my first full day the parents started to bring their daughters to the school starting just after lunch until around 4:00 PM. Some of the girls were as scared as I was and others were seasoned experts on life in boarding school. Almost all of the girls stayed at the school during the week but went home every weekend to their homes nearby. I was an exception and rarely went anywhere on weekends unless I stayed with another student at her home. Sometimes I would get to stay with my aunt who lived nearby. She had four boys who were all younger than me, so she already had her hands full and I didn’t stay there often. She was my mother’s older sister.
There were about 36 boarders, total, 16 in the grade school and 20 from 7th to 12th grades – a very small school by today’s standards. I was the youngest and the only one in first grade. The girl closest to my age was in 4th grade. This was lucky for me because I became the “pet” of all the nuns. Every one of them had a soft spot in their heart for me.
My sister, Beverly, was in the 8th grade and also attended Visitation Villa. We both spent the next 5 years there. She didn’t arrive until a couple of weeks after I did. I don’t remember why or where she had been but her arrival was a godsend to me! I was no longer “alone”. However, the grade school boarders and the high school boarders had completely different living quarters and schedules, so the only times I would see her were at mealtimes. We all ate together in the dining room. I would also see her on week-ends because many times we were the only two boarders at the school over the week-end. Almost all of the other girls went home every week-end.