Saturday, June 5, 2010

Chapter 1, Part 3 - LIFE AS A BOARDER

The Visitation Nuns were an unusual order because many of them had been married and raised families of their own. After their children were grown and their husband had died, they joined the convent. All other orders of nuns are made up of girls who join at a young age and remain virgins their entire lives. The Visitation Nuns were older and had softer, more motherly natures. This would not be the case in the next boarding school I would attend.

The grade school girls slept in the dorm, but the middle and high school girls slept two to a room. The oldest girls were each “assigned” one of the littlest girls to take under their wing. Betty Jo Benson was to be my mentor. I immediately became attached to her. To me she was the prettiest and smartest lady in the whole world. Amazingly, when I was in my mid-thirties and living in Olympia, I discovered that she was living about a mile from me. I had met her son through a neighbor and somehow he had mentioned that his mom had gone to boarding school. Since that is quite unusual, I pressed him for more information and it turned out that his mom was Betty Jo! I still had her picture in my photo album!

Our days were rigidly routine. On any day at any time we would be doing the same exact thing we had done the day before and would do the same the following day. We got up, washed, dressed, attended Mass, and ate breakfast. Then we would go back to the dorm to give it a thorough cleaning, which would be inspected like barracks in the military. Then we would attend class. Also attending the school were “day students”. Not all of the girls were boarders; some lived at home and just attended classes during the day.

After school, the day students would go home and the boarders would have an hour of playtime. Next, we had an hour of study hall in one of the classrooms before dinner. After dinner, another playtime and study time and then we got ready for bed. Three evenings a week we would attend Benediction, a prayer ceremony in the Catholic religion. This is what I did every day for 5 years.

All of us wore uniforms every day. They consisted of a navy blue pleated skirt, a white blouse and a navy blue cardigan sweater. We wore knee-hi navy blue stockings and highly polished brown Oxford shoes tied with shoestrings.

A special time was set aside once a week to learn “etiquette”. We would all sit around a table set with plates, glasses and silverware to learn the proper way to eat, sit, and even how to wipe your mouth. Also included were where and how to place your napkin before, during and after you were finished eating. Very important was which plates, glasses and silverware to use for each course.

We learned how to set a table for a meal so we would know exactly where to place each item. There actually is a particular place for each plate, glass and utensil. There is also a proper way to use and pass around each serving dish with the food. We needed to know where to place each piece of silverware on each plate while you are eating and even what to do with your chair. Proper manners at the table and everywhere else was closely monitored and stressed.


One of my fondest memories there was the winter of 1950/51. It was a record-breaking snowfall that year. That record still remains at the time of this writing. There was enough snow to build igloos, snow fences, snow forts plus the usual snowmen and lots of snowballs.

One day the nuns called me outside all excited. They yelled “Sharon, Sharon come outside and see!! I went outside and they showed me reindeer prints and sled tracks where Santa Claus had landed and then took off again. I was in awe! I just stood there with my mouth open for the longest time. Looking back, I think it was so sweet of them to go to the trouble it must have taken to do that for me.

The town of Lakewood is now a big city but back then it was mostly woods. There was a tiny “mall” called the “Lakewood Center” that had a few clothing stores, a movie theater, a soda shop and a dentist office. It was about a mile from the school. It was a big treat for me whenever I got to walk there to go to the dentist. He always gave me a ticket for a free ice cream cone in the soda shop, for being a good patient. The nuns would never leave the convent, so one of the older girls, or Betty Jo, would take me.

The boarders were never allowed to stay at the school on Holidays or during the summer. My brother, Bill, was 5 five years older than me and he was attending Mary Mount Military Academy in Parkland, nearby. On Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, my father would pick the three of us up and we would stay in a Hotel somewhere.

My father’s job kept him on the road all the time and he didn’t have a permanent residence. When we wrote him letters, we mailed them to his main office in Chicago and his boss would make sure he got them. I always knew when my father had arrived to pick us up because I could smell his cigar smoke wafting in the hallways.

We would have a ball staying in the Hotels. We ate in the restaurants and went to movies. This was a time when television was just starting to come into being and few people had television sets. If you were lucky enough to come upon a TV, there were only two channels and they weren’t “on” all of the time. Sometimes for hours during the daytime, there would just be a test pattern on the screen. So, movies were a very special treat. Back then we were particularly fond of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies.

I want to interject something I remember clearly about my father. He was bald, heavyset, very loud and outspoken. He was 45 when I was born and 17 years older than my mother. He continually embarrassed all of us wherever we went. I could go into lots of detail about that but I will save it for a later chapter. The nuns always welcomed him with big smiles and were very nice to him. His interpretation of their kindness and friendliness was that they were starved for male attention and were also very attracted to him.

He would always sit in one of the chairs in the Parlor so he was sitting at the front edge of the chair. With his legs spread, his balls would hang down over the edge of the chair. He thought he was giving the nuns a thrill, but I was always extremely embarrassed. My sister and I constantly pleaded with him to stop doing that but he did it every time.