Sister Mary Aloysius was my sixth grade teacher at Bishop Kelley Memorial School in Lapeer, Michigan. I didn’t like her. She seemed very old, and very cranky.
Sister Aloysius wasn’t as young, cheerful and spry as most of the other Dominican Sisters that taught us. She was a bit jowly, but the nun’s habit and wimple would contribute to that. Heavens, I can’t even wear a turtleneck sweater any more, for what it does to the sagging flesh at my jawline! She wore glasses, and had two strong creases between her eyebrows. At the time, I thought she must be at least eighty years old, and senile. Probably, she was forty-five or fifty years old, and completely fed up with impudent children like me!
This teacher’s looks worked against her, no doubt. When you are teaching children, beauty is a definite advantage. Sister Aloysius was not beautiful. She had a longish face, and hollow cheeks. Her jutting chin had a cleft in it. Her long, narrow nose had a bump on top and a slight hook at the bottom. She had one lazy eye that didn’t move when the other one did. There was a raised mole beside her nose, with two long hairs growing out of it. When she waited at her desk for the class to finish an assignment, one of her eyes would droop, her mouth would open slightly, and the tip of her tongue would poke out at one side.
Kindness is the other advantage when teaching children. In fact, to a child, kindness makes a person appear to be beautiful. Sister Aloysius was not kind. She was known to close children in the coat closet for punishment. For chewing gum, the violators were made to stand in the corner with the wad of gum on their noses. She pinched. She pulled hair. Once, when I was caught whispering during class, she stood me in front of the room. With her hand outstretched, she ordered, “Give me your tongue!”
Though I was, by grade six, finding my nerve and testing boundaries, I was still an extremely shy child. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably ten minutes of Sister’s repeated demands that I give her my tongue, I was messily sobbing and gasping for breath. Finally, she looked at the class, said “She’s not going to do it,” told me curtly, “Go sit down,” and returned to her desk to continue the lesson plan.
I have never forgotten that incident. I have never forgotten that teacher. I have, though, in my adult life, been surrounded by classrooms full of cheeky, impertinent children. I have felt helplessly frustrated. That makes me wonder, if I were to meet Sister Aloysius today, with a lifetime of experience behind me, and lines and wrinkles of my own, if I might form a different opinion of her.