The college adjacent to the convent was for young women. Each week they put in the laundry their towels, washcloths, sheets, and pillowcases—all initialed. The nuns did this also. In addition they laundered some articles of their own clothing—also initialed.
My initials, printed on ribbon tags, were DR3. Mom ordered these before I entered and then sewed them on my clothing. I didn’t help for two reasons. First, I simply couldn’t sew—either as a girl scout or later as a convent scholastic. And second, Mom wanted to do this for me. She was, I think torn by my entering. On one hand she thought I was entering to escape my father’s drinking, and on the other, she felt proud to be a Catholic mother with a nun for a daughter.
Postulants came to the convent with their clothes tagged. But six months later, when they received the habit, they had to sew these tags on their new clothes: forehead bands, coifs, habits, scapulars, veils, undergarments, and hose. The forehead band was a double-thick triangle of white materials with strings attached to the sides for tying the band around one's head.
In the laundry, some of us pressed and folded sheets, some ironed habits, some folded towels, and some ironed these forehead bands. In a basement room in the convent, some nuns worked the coif machines that made the creases in the wimples.
Picture of me as a scholastic wearing a forehead band and a wimple, or coif.
I’d graduated from the adjacent college a month before entering, so I knew all the students, except the incoming freshmen. Thus, I became a “sorter.” That is, I sorted the college laundry into boxes labeled with dorm names. Except for the winter months, another postulant and myself sorted into large boxes set on benches outside the laundry beneath the shade of an ancient oak tree.
As I sorted, I sang old Cole Porter songs, Disney ditties, Broadway tunes. This was, I tell you, a No-No. We were to do this laundry obedience without talking, much less singing. In fact, during most of each day, we practiced silence except when a superior gave us “salutation." That would come at lunchtime in the main dining room.
Why did I sing? Was I just being contrary? Disobedient? Independent? Uncooperative?
I was infatuated with the novice who ironed the forehead bands by the open window behind my sorting boxes. I thought that a postulant who sang would enchant her. I’d never thought that anything else within me would attract someone and so I was grasping at straws. Singing was, in my mind, a likely straw.
I’d known this novice in college. She’d graduated the year before I did. I’d always both idolized and idealized her. I felt no sexual attraction, but I was drawn like a moth to her charisma. I wanted others to know that she thought I was special. If she did, then surely—surely—they would too.
And so I sorted and sang. I'd look up often to see if she was noticing me. Watching me. Sometimes she'd smile and I'd beam back. In those moments, I found life totally satisfying.
I was so immature and so needy.
Six months after I entered, she made first vows and left the novitiate. She was now a scholastic. The next day, the Mother Superior sent her out on mission to teach. Loneliness settled over me and I grieved. It was then that I began to realize what being a nun might mean—growing up.