I’ve wondered often how I, who was in the convent for a year, could have become the authority-free woman I am today. Of us nine kids, I probably took Church rules the most seriously. I remember urging my teen brother in the 1950’s to ”be careful” on his dates. I hadn’t understood what sex was about until I was myself a teen, so I took it on myself to encourage siblings to follow the rules.
I remember tattling on classmates in grade school, feeling totally justified, since rules were made to be kept. One of the nuns in my 12 years of Catholic schooling said that if we thought we had a vocation and didn’t follow it, we’d never be happy. That put the fear of God in me. Knowing myself to be “a good girl,” I suspected God might want me as a nun.
So my second year of college found me in a convent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It felt a little bit like pioneer life. We sewed names on all our clothing, including washable cloth sanitary napkins. Twenty of us postulants slept in a big dorm, with sheets as dividers in our approximately 4’ x 8’ sleeping area. We had one black outfit for Sundays, and one for weekdays. We went to Confession on Saturdays, and I associate the smell of baking bread down the hall with those weekend Confessions.
We’d pray the Rosary on daily afternoon walks, and listen to Madame Butterfly often in evening recreation, because the Postulant Mistress liked it. (I do too). Even at age 19, I couldn’t understand why the other girls talked during afternoon chores. The rule said No
I’d probably still be a nun if it weren’t for a wise Mother General. She interviewed each of us at the end of our year as a postulant, before we became a novice. I was going to be Sister Nathan as a novice, though I would not take the vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience for a few years. When the Mother General asked, “Are you happy?” I answered, “I’m not happy, but I’m satisfied.” And she said, “That is not enough for a bride of the Lord.” I’d most likely still be Sister Nathan otherwise, if I’d not been so gracefully dismissed. In 1961, I was still authority-ridden. I had no other life experience than as an obedient Catholic.
Two years later, considering marriage to an Iowa suitor, I was still innocent/ naive enough to confess that I’d sat on my boy friend’s lap. Told that was an occasion of sin, I never did it again. That romance ended in a few months. Five years later, I had taught one year of sophomore English and one year of junior high English, followed by four years of second grade. I was engaged to Don, whom I’d met through a correspondence club. I even had my second graders write him a letter.
I was, at 26, a virgin on my wedding night. Interestingly, no one had told me I wasn’t supposed to enjoy sex after marriage. To my surprise, after the first couple days and nights of the honeymoon, as we walked toward our Hawaiian lodging, I’d be chirping, “We’re almost there!” And to this day, when anyone says, “We’re almost there,” I have happy flashbacks to February, 1968.