Yesterday was the Feast Day of St. Louise de Marillac. Frankly, I don’t know the first thing about St. Louise, but I was well-acquainted with one of her namesakes.
Sister Louise de Marillac Lovejoy (just Sister Louise to us) was my American History teacher when I was a junior at Knoxville Catholic High School. She was a Sister of Charity who’d been allowed to live in Knoxville so she could take care of her aging aunt. At that time this meant she was the only Sister we’d ever seen who didn’t wear a habit (although she did wear a veil). And she was a character.
Feisty, scrappy, opinionated, dictatorial, passionate–these are all good words to describe Sister Louise, who dominated her classroom and argued every point vociferously, accuracy be damned. She often regaled us with tales of the terrible atheist, “Maureen O’Hara.” Correcting her was pointless. She did not even care if she got the names of her students wrong–she just re-christened them. James, whom she called Charles all the time because that was his older brother’s name, eventually became “Charles James.” Mariette was “Marietta.” She couldn’t pronounce “Kneier,” so she called that girl “Miss Kim.” Mr. Dodd became “Mr. Todd.” And you better believe they all answered to whatever Sister decided their names were!
Sister’s greatest joy was catching out-of-uniform students as they walked past her classroom. As she lectured, she always had one eye out for them. She would break off mid-word and run out of the room, then she’d come back in, carrying the out-of-uniform jacket, cackling with glee. The offending garment was held hostage in her closet until its owner paid a ransom, which Sister gave to the Missions.
Honestly, we did not get very far in our American History Book. The last thing I remember was trustbusting and Teddy Roosevelt. Part of that was because of Sister’s enjoyment of going off on tangents, like the atheist thing. People loved to argue with her and could really get her going. I remember one whole class devoted to a diatribe on why wearing an ankle bracelet signaled you were a prostitute. “This is true, class,” Sister would assure us. Along with “There’s always that 5%,” that was Sister’s favorite saying.
The other reason we never reached 1910 was that Sister spent a long time on the areas of history she thought were important– mostly the colonial period. Sister had an interesting way of teaching. She would reiterate the point she wanted to make over several classes until we had it memorized, then have us chant it back to her, like parrots. It worked, by God. I bet if I could get my old classmates in a room and ask them what the Magna Carta was, they would immediately burst out with, “The first step along the road to self-government.” The Mayflower Compact was, “The first step along the road to self-government in the New World.” And what three important things came to Jamestown in 1619? “Slaves, women, and the Virginia House of Burgesses.”
In addition to American History, Sister taught a Current Events class that Seniors could take as an elective. It was interesting because kids who tended to be cut-ups and classroom trouble-makers often took the class, because they enjoyed sparring with Sister.
Sometimes we would be sitting in the classroom and some former student, visiting the school for the day, would arrive and come in to give Sister a hug. How delighted she always looked to see them. She looked grouchy a lot of the time but her smile really transformed her. I know we wondered at the time why old students flocked back to visit. Today the school itself remembers her with a Social Studies Award given out in her name each year.
The last time I saw Sister I was at St. Mary’s Outpatient Clinic for a three-hour glucose tolerance test when I was pregnant with–I think–Emily. I was happy to see her but sorry that she wasn’t herself. I had heard that she was terminally ill at that time, and her spunk seemed gone as she told me that she wasn’t feeling very well.
We have so many teachers in a lifetime–too many to count or remember. But “there’s always that 5%” who make a lasting impression, and Sister Louise was one of a kind.
Humor me–listen to the song first.
I’ve spent the last couple of hours indulging in a rare occupation for me–listening to music. I don’t own an iPod (well, I have an iPhone now but I don’t use it for that). I usually don’t turn on the car radio. My CDs, cassettes, and records are all gone. If I want music, I usually sing. And not surprisingly I suppose, what I really like to hear is SILENCE.
But I was feeling tired of my usual computer occupations, and it was too cold to go out, and our resident babysitters have their own social lives nowadays so going out on a date was out of the question anyway, so I decided to play with Spotify, which I was totally thrilled with when I first got it but forgot all about after a day or two because I just never think of listening to music. I discovered Pandora before anyone else I knew and I don’t ever listen to it either. But I digress.
I created a playlist with songs from my college days. Now, I have a kick ass memory, at least when it comes to things that happened 20 years or more ago. My high school friends know to call me if there is anything they want to know about the good old days. Seriously, I can literally recall my entire high school class schedule, period by period, teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom. So I don’t NEED music to remember.
But there’s nothing like a special song for taking you back to a particular moment in time. I hear “St. Elmo’s Fire” and I’m a lonely homesick Freshman listening obsessively to the soundtrack of the last movie my friends and I saw together right before I left for Georgetown. “How Will I Know?” comes on and I’m singing with my roommate and we are wondering how, with our complete lack of boyfriend experience, we WILL know? Then it’s “Get into the Groove” and we’re dancing in our friend Tom’s room after saying the prayer to St. Jude, our pre-exam ritual certain to get us all passing grades. The Georgia Satellites break out with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and I’m deep in the throes of first (and only) love, struggling to live up to previously untested ideals. Love and anger, fear and joy, laughter and tears, hellos and good-byes–I feel them all again when I hear the songs.
I haven’t forgotten what HAPPENED when I was 18, 19, 20 . . . but sometimes I forget how it FELT. But, as Trisha sings, the song remembers.
Sitting outside this evening, I smelled the honeysuckle and looked over at our garden statue of the Blessed Mother and suddenly found myself launching into “‘Tis the Month of Our Mother.” (I frequently burst into song at the least provocation and have an extensive all-occasion repertoire, which drives my children crazy.)
I cherish the memory of the May Crownings at the St. Joseph School of my childhood. EVERYONE brought flowers, in vases, in coffee cans, in coke bottles. We didn’t have anything blooming in our yard in May, so we always left a little early that morning to make a stop at my grandmother’s yard, leaving with handfuls of multi-colored iris wrapped in wet paper towels and aluminum foil.
The year I was in the 8th grade, our class had the privilege of arranging the flowers around the statue. There was a veritable sea of every kind of spring flower you could think of arrayed around her in a semi-circle for several feet. It was beautiful.
Things have changed a bit–don’t they always? Nowadays, many of the kids bring bouquets from Kroger instead of handfuls of homegrown blooms. And adults with an eye for design arrange a few tasteful bouquets around Mary. You can see in the picture above how pretty it looks, but to me it doesn’t compare to the mismatched bounty of the past.
The songs haven’t changed, though. I remember Sister Janice and Sister Georgeanna coaching us on all the hymns to the Blessed Mother in preparation for the May Procession. “Salve, Salve, SALVE REGINA!” we would crescendo. And they still begin with my all-time favorite, which I was also singing in the backyard this evening: “Bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest .”
I think some time this month we are going to pick some buttercups and honeysuckle and whatever else I can find blooming in our yard at this time of year. We will fill some pretty bottles we have with water and use them for vases we can place around our statue. We will make a crown of flowers (I’m not at all crafty, so that will be the hard part!) and Lorelei can place them on the Blessed Virgin’s head while we sing.