Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sister Stella

I don't remember where I had the library book or if I had just forgotten to return it. Either way, Sister Stella was angry and out to make me an example.

I was nine.

So Sister Stella was the new principal that year. A modern kind of nun but now fiercely determined to head off any problems with her new charges by making an impression early.

She did "shock and awe" the way George Bush could only hope, and now she was out for blood.
So this, along with bad timing on my part, led her to set her sight on me that fateful day. Halting my 4th grade class that one afternoon, she called me up to the front of the classroom to basically rip me a new one in front of teacher and classmates about the aforementioned stolen book.

On she went at length, heaping God's wrath upon me for the grand insubordination of keeping school library books. I stood there horrified turning an awesome shade of beet red. After the typical eternity passed, feeling like she had embarrassed me enough she sent me back to my desk. Yes, I was already having the worst day a fourth grader could have in my then already short life, when the thought crossed my mind, why me?
Not even Steven Kafko had it this bad when he hung Lori Dulchek in the coat closet.

Now I was marked as the bad seed. Sister Stella had me pegged as a troublemaker. I wasn't given the opportunity to defend myself. No, I had been tried, convicted and punished with no chance to refute her accusations, even if I didn't know what that word meant back then. All I knew was that I was being steam-rolled by Sister Stella and it wasn't pretty.

I couldn't speak. I felt sick.
I wondered would this get me kicked off safety patrol?
What had I done?

Later at home after school, I recounted my tale of woe in detail to my mother who, as I told her my classroom horror story, immediately grabbed the phone and called my school demanding to speak to the new principal. On the phone with Sister Stella, my sweet, saintly mother somehow turned into a cross between Joan of Arc and Judge Judy. Mom yelled, she cried, she sacrificed her pride defending her son...you would have thought they accused me of burning the school down. It was both fascinating and thrilling to watch.
She said I would be scarred for life.
Even I hadn't thought of that.
Mom was good. Sister Stella never stood a chance.

All I can say is that everyone should have at least one opportunity as a kid to see their parent go on an all-out, hell-bent, how-dare-you, take-no-prisoner defense of their child. My mother, who said her rosary daily and revered the Catholic church, was taking this nun to the wall. I don't think Sister Stella understood what she was up against that day, and frankly, neither did I.

The next day Sister Stella came back into my classroom and again called me up in front of the class. This time she apologized to me in front of all and said she had made a mistake. She said she was sorry, was wrong and that I had been falsely accused. She then gave me a hug and sent me back to my seat. My reputation restored and my library card back in good standing.

Actually, I think Sister Stella was far more scarred by the whole experience then me. Afterward, she turned into the nicest ally you could have in school. For years later, she would send me graduation cards and letters of encouragement. When I was in high school and college I could look forward to her congratulatory notes on awards and achievements. Possibly, I think she was just traumatized by thoughts of what she might have inflicted on the psyche of a young child or, for that matter, his hysterical mother.

But actually, I believe Sister Stella experienced the lesson that day that everyone in the world would be quite familiar.

That is, that a parent can make you feel guilty...sometimes, for a very long time.

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