After leaving the convent on Saturday, December 24, 1966, at age 30, I collapsed in my parents’ living room in front of the television. There I sat—all day and through the night, unmoving, my mouth gaping. Staring. I later learned that my mother considered having me admitted to the mental ward at the Sanitarium Hospital in Independence because she was so concerned about my inability to communicate.
On Tuesday, December 27, I got a call from Washington, D.C. Sister Mary Dennis, a convent friend teaching at Catholic University, had recently met the owner of Pflaum Publishing. He’d asked if she knew anyone with a background in teaching and theology who could also write and edit.
She asked if I’d be interested. I had no idea what editing was. The term was new to me. But I was so lost in a sea of malaise that I mumbled, in a voice that hadn’t been used for three days, “I guess.” She then called Bill Pflaum and set up an interview for the following day in Dayton, Ohio.
For the trip, my pregnant sister-in-law loaned me three winter skirts and sweaters. Mom and I visited Jones Store to purchase underwear and a coat, shoes, purse, and hat. Mom bought the last item because at that time all well-dressed women wore hats when they traveled. So, wearing my black, brimmed, felt hat, my green, nubby winter coat, and my high-heeled leather pumps, I flew on a TWA jet to Dayton on Wednesday, December 28.
In 1966, passengers alighted the plane out on the tarmac and then walked across it to the terminal. On that day, the wind gusted so insistently across the barren airfield that the lower half of my coat and my skirt flapped up against my thighs. For eight years, my lower legs had been covered by a black serge habit and simply showing them made me self-conscious.
Now, to have my thighs revealed almost shamed me and so I stumbled across the tarmac trying to hold onto a bulky purse while pressing one hand across my thighs to hold down the coat and skirt and the other hand on my head to keep the wayward hat on. I was bent over like a doddering, arthritic alien. And everything did seem foreign to me—the clothes, the makeup, the plane, the legs that looked liked debarked sticks below my knobby knees.
Joe Kneeland, managing editor at Pflaum Publishing, met me in the terminal. As he approached, I let go of despair, lassitude, passivity and turned on the spotlight within so that I began to act. I knew what normal was. I also knew that I was nowhere near normal at that time. But I could act, and so for the next two days I did.
I acted all through the interviews. I acted as I wrote the children’s stories they wanted. I acted as I met each new editor at the publishing house. I laughed at the appropriate times. The truth was I charmed them—or so they told me later.
The University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, USA.
But then Joe drove me out to the University of Dayton to take the MMPI—the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. According to Wikipedia it is “the most widely used and researched standardized psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology. Psychologists and other mental health professionals use various versions of the MMPI to develop treatment plans [and] assist with differential diagnosis . . . .”
I couldn’t “charm” this inventory or “ace” it. I’m quite sure that the reason Pflaum took three weeks to decide to hire me is because I came across as mentally unhealthy—imbalanced—on the MMPI. And so I sat for over twenty days, gaping at the television. Then, in late January the publisher called and offered me a job as an editor on My Little Messenger for grades one and two. I would earn $6,500 a year.
And so a new era in my life began. Peace.
Photographs from Wikipedia.