Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rambling in the Cemetery

During the next two or three weeks, I hope to post stories about my life in the convent. If you are new to this blog and find this topic interesting, you may want to go to the archives and read one or more of the following postings:

The Postulancy—background on the first six months of convent life:

Amusing Convent Stories:

Entering and Leaving the Convent:

Nearly forty-five years ago—in 1966—I left the convent. I have many good memories of my eight-and-a-half years there. I also have not-so-good memories. Thus it is with all of life. For today—let’s seek out the humor of my life as a postulant.
            As I remember, our families could visit us only once during the summer. They came to the main convent building and someone fetched us from the novitiate. We then spent two or three hours visiting while sitting on benches amidst the pine trees.

Dad, Mom, and myself, as a postulant, in a summer visit of 1958.

The professed nuns also had visitors each Sunday. None of us—postulants, novices, scholastics, or professed—ate with our families, but I found sustenance in the conversation about life at home and what was happening in the world beyond the convent. 
            Often the nuns would meander to the cemetery with their visitors to view the large sculpture there and to pass beneath the arching branches of the deciduous trees lining the driveway. As they walked, these visitors casually smoked.
            After supper each Sunday, four of us from the novitiate would surreptitiously amble down that driveway. Our mission? Salvaging the butts.
            Three of us—two novices and one postulant—had smoked before entering. They sorely missed their “ciggies.” So every Sunday at dusk, we’d retrace the steps of those cemetery visitors, plucking from the driveway every smoke-worthy butt we could find. Afterward, we’d huddle behind the trees. The three of them would pull their veils around their faces. They’d turn their backs on the convent. Light up. Inhale. And whisper, “Ah!”
            I—the nonsmoking asthmatic—stood alert. The lookout.
            You’re wondering where we got the matches for lighting up? From the convent kitchen. All of us had the occasional obedience of working in the kitchen and serving meals to the nuns, which meant getting bowls of food from—you named it—the kitchen! Pilfering matches became an art form.
            Each summer Sunday we rescued thirty or so butts. Afterward, I’d dole them out equally to my three friends. The following Sunday, we’d fill our pockets again. And so the summer passed. The three of them hoarded what they could of their bounty for the lean months that followed.           
            The Benedictine convent I entered celebrated it’s centennial in 1963. I have no idea if, during those one-hundred years, other nuns reclaimed cigarette butts and smoked them. But for me, one of my favorite memories is seeing those three fellow novitiate sojourners blow smoke rings.


  1. :)

    My great aunt is a nun. She is telling alot of her "old" stories lately. She's in her 80's so we're hanging on every word.

    It's so neat to hear that it's not all prayer and silence.

  2. When I was a young girl of eighteen, I decided I wanted to join a convent. I read a book, however, "I Leap Over the Wall" around that time and realized that the life I envisioned was nothing like my romantic notions! The stories you tell are so interesting to me! Thank you for all these links. As I make my way through them, I (who is new to your blog) thank you for the effort it took to write them!

  3. What a sweet story, Dee and a lovely picture of you with your mum and dad.

  4. This was such a great story! What a picture it paints!

  5. You've definitely trod a different path from the herd. I rather like picturing young nuns sneaking puffs. I understand that you feel differently~now~about the theological aspects, but do you still hold any of the social/cultural values of the religion?

    I recently visited a cemetery called The Forever Cemetery. Yikes, I'd imagined they ALL were. ~Mary

  6. Cigarettes-do you mean some nuns aren't perfect? I now know why there are no Jewish nuns. We couldn't possibly enjoy--let alone, eat--a meal without laughing or even talking. Have you ever tried to get a Jewish woman to stop talking? Not Sarah, not Rebecca, not Ruth--& most certainly NOT ME! As far as putting aside your will--NO WAY!

    I went back & read all 9 of the posts you hyperlinked. It's hard for me to believe I became a follower only a month & a half ago. What a short time to become such good friends!

    While reading your posts I couldn't help but keep thinking of the movie THE NUN'S STORY with Audrey Hepburn. She reminded me so much of you--it was her need to assert her will that made her finally leave. Did you ever see that movie?

  7. Oh my, how this made me giggle! I read all the links and the stooping on the toilet to read gave me the giggles, too. I wouldn't do well with all the rules and would have been kicked out in no time at all for talking...and probably sleeping through the bells, too! But I can understand why you felt compelled to join after your experience of Oneness (which was awesome, BTW!). This is very interesting to hear the details of life as a nun...well, all the details of your life. Thanks for sharing your unique story. *big hugs*

  8. OH my GOSH! I can't even begin to tell you how much I love this story.

    I wish I could meet you in person--you are so awesome! :0)

  9. Dee, I have just begun to read your stories, skipping around to get some of the "highlights." I am impressed with how much work you've done to examine your life and get to a happier place, and how forthright you are in writing about it. When I was about 14, the Benedictines tried to recruit me. I attended a retreat in Duluth and found it very frightening...I really did not think I wanted to be a nun, but they were telling me I had a calling and was obligated to respond. I'll be back to read everything. Thanks so much for this, and for your kind comments on my blog.

  10. What an imagine that conjures: huddling behind headstones, desperately trying to get some puffs out of a dead ciggie, giggling at the guilty pleasure...great stuff.

  11. This is a perfect illustration of humanity, Dee.
    Sorry I've been absent so long. I saw you had new posts and have to give myself ample time to read and digest them, so I wanted to wait until I could give them their due.

    I appreciate your comments on "Curriculum Night" and wish I had some answers. I know there are other amazing schools out there like this one, but I don't know how to get past the federal and state regulations to incorporate ideas like this in to the public schools. Sadly, this is why we "gave up" and sent our girls to alternative schools. I wanted to be part of the solution, but wasn't willing to sacrifice my own children for what was shaping up to be a decades-long fight to make miniscule changes.

  12. I've never heard this story, Dee, and now it's one of my all-time favorites! What a picture you paint. I can see the nuns curling their hands around the matches to light their bent butts, the wind lifting their veils, obscuring and revealing their faces in turn.


  13. Wow a wonderful story, you really told it perfectly, pilfering matches..haha..love it.

  14. You have me giggling with this story! Nothing like a good old illicit smoke!