Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chapter 1, Part 1 - VISITATION VILLA

My father’s car was a big Buick. Back in the late 40’s all cars were big but Buick’s were the biggest. It seemed even bigger to me because I was almost six, and very small. I wasn’t quite sure where we were going. He told me that he was taking me to “boarding school”. I didn’t know what that was, but somehow I was scared. He said: “you will be going to one of the finest schools, where you will learn to be a lady”.

It was after dark when we arrived. We went through two massive rod iron gates and drove down a long, winding driveway lined with trees until we saw the lights coming from the convent. We pulled into the huge circular driveway in front of the main building that had columns like a Southern Mansion. As soon as we pulled up, two nuns in black habits came out to greet us. Now I was really scared because to me they looked like ghosts. They wore long black robes and had black veils covering their heads. I looked at my father with a look that said “please don’t leave me here”. My father was jovial and opened the door and said: “come on darlin’, come and meet the good sisters”.

We were led into a room they called “the parlor”. It had exquisite rugs on polished wood floors and was full of luxurious Elizabethan furniture. The two nuns invited us to sit down. There were ashtrays in the parlor and my father proceeded to light up one of his expensive cigars. The two nuns commented on how they loved the smell of a fine cigar.

What happened after that, I don’t remember, because my mind reeled with the thought that I was going to be left there with - them. They seemed happy and cheerful, so maybe there was a small chance that they wouldn’t torture me and throw me into the dungeon. After twenty minutes or so of talking, my father got up to leave.

There is no way I can tell anyone the feelings I experienced at that moment. If I could have attached myself to his leg – permanently - I would have, never to let go. I could not imagine what was in store for me there. He had previously had a tour of the school so he just said his good-byes to the Sisters and to me and took off in his big Buick into the night.

The two nuns were Sister Elizabeth and Sister Charlotte. They tried to assure me that everything would be just wonderful. They led me down a very long hallway with high ceilings. There were closed doors lining the hallway and I was left to imagine what was behind those doors. The two nuns took me to my room – a dormitory with 16 beds – 8 on one side and 8 on the other, in two neat rows. There was a chest of drawers in between each bed. I was the first boarder to arrive, so I would be staying in this enormous room tonight - all by myself.

They said I was lucky to be the first to arrive because I could choose any bed I wanted! I picked the one closest to the door. They showed me where the bathroom was. It was completely lined, floor and walls, with small white octagon-shaped tiles. There were three sinks, two toilets, and one bathtub. A white curtain hung from metal pipes above the tub and surrounded the bathtub.

I was told to unpack my bag and put my things into the chest of drawers next to my bed. We didn’t need to bring many clothes because we wore uniforms. We were allowed to bring only one “toy” and I quickly bonded to (and hugged) my Raggity Ann doll. After brushing my teeth and washing at the sink, they put me to bed. For this ceremony I was blessed with at least 10 nuns that came to meet me and welcome me and to say good night. Even though they were all trying to be nice to me, there was something frightening about the habits they wore. As they walked down the hall you could hear the rattle of the wooden rosary beads they all had attached to their waists. (This proved to be beneficial in the future because they could never sneak up on you without rattling).

After they all left, I felt more alone than I had ever felt. I didn’t know why everyone had abandoned me this night or what tomorrow would bring. I lay in bed acutely aware of every sound. Much later I was aware of the silence. I wanted to find someone who would talk to me and comfort me.

I got up, opened the door of the dormitory and ventured out into the hall. Across from the dormitory was a steep stairway that led up to what I found out later were the private rooms for the girls in 7th through 12th grades. The dormitory on the ground floor was for 1st through 6th grades. I slowly walked down the cavernous hallway. The ceiling seemed to be a mile high and I felt like I was shrinking like Alice in Wonderland. My cries did not bring anyone to me, so I decided it would be better to get back into my bed and hide under the covers. I must have fallen asleep because I don’t remember anything after that.