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Thursday, 03 December 2009

One Queer Turn

By wisewebwoman of The Other Side of Sixty

Well, my dear, sometimes you live long enough to see life working out fair. And life is fair, you know, very fair. You see me now, I’m ninety-three, I can talk with some authority about such things.

I was only twelve when I went to the convent and spoke to Mother Perpetua; she was the head of all the Presentation Sisters in Milltown then. I knew I had the vocation. I just wanted to make sure they knew about it too and would reserve a space for me. I was fierce innocent then. A space, imagine!

She kept me standing in her big office with the statue of Our Lady in the corner smiling down at me and the bleeding Sacred Heart with his hurt-looking face behind her on the wall as I asked about the space.

“Oh no, you unfortunate girl,” Mother Perpetua said, her hands folded in front of her on her shiny desk, “Sure, we could never take you!”

I should fill you in a bit now on my background. Did I tell you about my big sister, Lily? Well, my dear, three years before that, Lily had run off with the young Protestant minister of the town. Eloped up to Belfast with him she did. All the way on the train from Milltown in County Cork to Belfast in the County Armagh. Imagine! And of course they married outside the faith.

So let me get back to Mother Perpetua, sitting there, her big, glarey frown withering me up.

“Your sister,” she said to me, “will be confined to the fires of hell for all eternity for what she did. And you come from the family that raised her to do this despicable and sinful act. You are tainted, Frances Murphy, tainted with her sin, and we can’t ever accept you into our holy order of the Presentation Sisters.”

Well, my dear, I thought my head would burst open with all the water locked inside it. I had dreamed of becoming a nun since I was four. I didn’t know what to do with my broken hope so I turned around and ran out the door and down the corridor and into the toilet and between the throwing up and the overflowing tears I was a terrible mess.

And I never told a soul. It was too humiliating and Mammy and Daddy would have been mortified. For this would be on top of the pain of Lily who Mammy had a wake for after she ran away and declared her dead to the family for ever. Daddy never did smile again after that.

But I got over it. I got myself a job as nanny to the local gentry. And they treated me so decent, like one of the family. I even went all over the continent with them. I saw all there was to see with them and their three lovely children. They gave me a small pension too when I was done and later on there was a little remembrance in Sir Bentley’s will.

And that’s when life took one queer turn. I was sixty and retired when Mother Sebastian knocked on my door. Mother Perpetua was long dead by then and Mother Sebastian was her successor.

“Miss Murphy,” she says to me sipping on her tea here in this parlour, “I hear you are reliable and good with the figures and sums.”

“I am,” says I, blushing at the compliment.

“Well,” says she, “We have no one in the convent like that anymore since Sister Caspian passed on. And we are in a bit of a fix. We need someone to take care of the bookkeeping and the office work and arrange the banking. Someone confidential. Someone we can trust.”

I stayed quiet. This was no time to get on my high horse by thinking of myself in that toilet way back then, coughing up bile all over my clean uniform.

“We’d pay you, of course,” she went on. “The going rate. To take care of us all.”

Me! - taking care of them! And a bit of extra money too! I’d have enough to visit Lily a few times a year. I’d never been to the North of Ireland. And now thanks to the nuns I would be able to.

And so I did - for many, many years.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Great writing, great story..I can hear the broques (sp) of the speakers..how many people's hopes and dreams were made by teachers and dashed by teachers..for one, either I was as dense as I was told & so plowed right into anything I wanted to do & basked in the success or moved on when I saw it wasn't for me..for friends I mourn that they had no one at home or in the world who saw their talents and gave them the little push & tug to take a chance..Nuns for l2 years, mostly great teachers, tough task-masters, couple of sadists..lucky was I to have a Mum who I could tell & she would stay, ah, Mary dear, what can she know, poor girl, had to run off to the convent because she had no other choices..I will be thinking in the language of my grands & great grands all day because of your tale...thanks...Mary Kathleen

I loved your story! Adults should never forget that they can dash the spirit of a child with a single word!

One Queer Turn is great! I was right there with hearing you speak the words. You may be good with numbers but you are great with words.

Country is different but story is pretty close.

What a wonderful story. So well written - so alive. Thank you so much.

I could hear the voices, the rattling beads and smelt the smell of the convent as I read!

Oh! Boy! Did that wake up some old wounds. For me it was about 50/50, the sadist to human being ratio that is. Being a boy, words didn't hurt nor did the beatings. In fact, it was fun to passively and sometimes agressively fight the sadists. We sent one, 6th grade, we called her Sister Weary, to the nut house. However, on balance, I got a good education, and now laugh at the "confined to the fires of hell for all eternity." ...like they know. My son calls me "A hard core agnostic." Thank you Sisters of Saint Dominic. I am still the world champion sentence diagramer or is it diagrammer? :-)

Another comment: There is a flyer in the US Air Force who was shot down in Viet Nam. The Viet military could never break him. He actually escaped twice! They killed his partner, but he never cracked. You can look it up. You don't get any tougher than that. He was a product of the same school and Dominican Sisters as I was. :-)

Wisewebwoman, you are a great seanchaí!

Your story spans the centuries and captures so well how the sins of the Father continually try to usurp the bounty of the Mother...but the goddess eventually prevails since all life must flow forth from her.


...happily ever after.
Thank you, I needed that!

What writing! You have her voice to perfection.

I love your stories and that is indeed a good one! Sounds like you touched a nerve here...

Yet another good reason to age: to live long enough to harvest and craft a wonderful and wise story to share. Thank you.

Your story and your comment on my post the next day led me to your blogs, and I am captivated reading them. Will hope for more posts on here, too. Great writing.

What a wonderful story. It sounds like Mother Perpetua inadvertently did you a favor. I would much rather travel the continent than be stuck in a convent with a bunch of women.

Wonderful story. Thank you. :)

I love this story! I'm going to send all of my ex-Catholic friends to read it. This is a perfect little gem, dear friend.

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