Architects of a New Dawn

We’d like to show the side of the world you don’t normally see on television.

Grandma Hattie----
I do have early memories of her, one in which she was fanning my backside.
She didn't do nonsense well, and I probably gave her a fair share of mischievous.
I have this one recollection of her fixing my hair one day, and getting me dressed up for the arrival home of my dad.
I always had the cutest dresses, hand sewn by my grandmother or her sisters, who were Nuns.

Then, for whatever reason that day, I wandered away and found a little pool in the yard next door.
Yep---you guessed it---I climbed into the pool, with my starched dress and perfect hair.
My grandmother found me---and thus the memory of being spanked by her.
I don't think she wanted to spank me, because it really wasn't a hurtful spank and there was this little smile on her face when she was tapping my behind.

She was of Dutch and German stock and had that stoic thing, stiff spine, and stern disposition perfected.
Grandma always had her hair permed; there was always a line of muted red lipstick across her thin lips; and she always had her nails polished.

She came from a large family and they all had lived in Flatbush Brooklyn.
My great grandmother died very young, pushing my grandmother into the matriarchal role, at a young age.
Hattie was the oldest, and thus helped to raise her two younger sisters.

They all had such weird names: Henrietta thus the nickname Hattie, Gertrude, and Toots, which I think was short for Theresa, but I'm not sure.
Her sisters, Toots and Gert, were St Joseph nuns and they did missionary work, mostly in Puerto Rico.

When they would come to visit, I was always given The Advance Scolding.

My mother, first, would sit me down and go over the rules of behavior.
She would say to me: "AkashicWreckage, when you sit down to talk with them, cross your legs at the ankle, do not let your underwear show!"
Mom would go on to instruct me: "And make sure that you don't interrupt them, they are Sisters, married to Christ, and are very close to God."
I had NO idea what that meant!

Then Grandma Hattie would take over, leaving my mom free to do other things.

Hattie would say to me: "Don't you talk fresh to them, or they'll crack you across the face!"
I would be like, "Hunh? What's a crack across the face?"
Hattie would reply, "It's what nuns do really well...you don't want to tempt them."
That always left me quite puzzled---close to God, cracks across the face and not tempt them?

Grandma would then caution me, "And don't say 'Oh Gawd," nuns don't like when people say Gawd's name.
Grandma had a thick Brooklyn accent, thus for God, she said Gawd.
Whenever she spoke of linoleum, she called it "Earl cloth," which was her version of oil cloth---for years I wondered about who Earl was and why there was a cloth named after him.....

So, it was with both fear and awe that I would await their arrival.

Their arrival was always a scene.
Dressed from head to toe in black, with little splashes of white. There was this white triangle on their headgear, a white collar and front, tucked into the habit.
Habit----how did whomever it was that started to call the nun garb a habit, come up with that word?

The scene----my dad would usually volunteer to go pick them up. Sometimes it was in some nun headquarters in Brooklyn and other times it was at the Nun Resort in Brentwood, not too far from where we lived on Long Island.
The nuns would arrive, and I'd try to see them without being seen by them---I couldn't understand how they got their bodies with those voluminous skirts out of the car.
Sometimes other kids in the neighborhood would be playing outside and would all stop and look at the nuns as they walked up the sidewalk to the front stoop.

They would walk in the door and I'd try not to stare at them, but it was hard not to.
They would waddle over to the chairs of honor, two of the best wing chairs in the living room and they would plop down, as if they'd walked a long distance and were tired.

I would have to sit down and endure this nonsense and I didn't have much patience for formalities.
I asked to see their shoes, which for some very odd reason were in style this past winter!
These shoes were lace up, square toed, slight heeled monstrosity type oxfords!
They looked mean, like my aunts....

And, of course my mom and grandma made me get dressed in a dress that day, which I hated.

In their efforts to make me look like a perfectly angelic little girl, they had broken one of the Cardinal Rules of Nuns.
No joke----they had made me put on my only pair of dress shoes (bought for me by Grandma Hattie)---black patent leather Mary Janes.
As I was sitting there, trying not to fidget in my chair, and all the while I was ultra conscious not to let my knees fall open and thus show my underwear---

Gert called me over to her.

I walked over to her and she put a hand on my shoulder and pointed down at my shoes.
Gert looked at her sister Toots, and I saw a look pass between them, and both of their mouths "tsked" in unison.
Both of them looked down at my shoes, then at each other and then at me.
Toots took over at that point and I was passed from Gert to Toots, who put a heavy hand on my shoulder.

I'll never forget this, she said what I later found out was Nun Protocol:
"The Blessed Virgin Mary does not like little girls who wear patent leather shoes."
I froze and I could feel my face getting red.
I could see my mom stop what she was doing and I could see Grandma Hattie turn her head towards them.

Then Gert pursed her lips and we could all hear a loud "Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!"
At this point, I did what any idiot would do and I asked "Why doesn't she like patent leather shoes?"
I found myself being pushed towards Gert, who took me by my shoulders and made me look at her while she said:
"You must be chaste and modest like the Blessed Virgin Mary!
Boys can see your underwear when you wear black patent leather shoes!"

I immediately bent down to see if I could see my underwear!
Nope, I couldn't see it!
I ran over to my mother and asked her if it was only boys who could see my underwear.
My mom looked down at my shoes and then looked at me, then my grandmother came over and she looked at my shoes and even bent down to see if she could see my underwear.

The room went quiet, my brothers who had been sitting quietly upon the stairs, were telling each other in whispers what was going on.
My grandmother stood up, my mother had a look on her face that said "Okay, now what?"
My father, the head of the family, was standing in the kitchen, and he began to whistle softly.
Hattie looked at my dad, and he pretended not to see her looking at him.

Hattie walked over to where her sisters were sitting and said "Don't go filling her head with that crap!"
Grandma Hattie said crap!

Both of her sisters got red in the face and looked like they were about to say something, but changed their minds.
My brothers were laughing on the stairs.
My mother was trying not to laugh.

I went back over to sit down, still sneaking peaks at my patent leather shoes, and I could still hear my dad whistling in the kitchen.
He loved to whistle and could whistle a number of interesting tunes.
My aunts were sitting there, their faces all scrunched up and I could see where their headpieces were pressing against their cheeks.
I tried to smile at them, but they wouldn't look at me.
The whistling continued and without really thinking about it, I began to purse my lips and began to whistle to myself.

With that, pandemonium broke out!
Toots and Gert stood up suddenly and began to walk over to me, both saying at the same time:
"Don't whistle! It makes the Blessed Virgin Mary cry!"

With that, I began to cry.
My dad was laughing and walking over to me, my mom was hiding in the kitchen, my grandmother told my brothers to go outside and play.
I was swept up in my father's arms, and as I looked over his shoulder I could see Hattie waving her pointer finger at her sisters and saying:

"You nuns are all crazy! You have nothing better to do but gossip amongst yourselves and come up with a litany of what makes the Virgin Mary upset!"

Her sisters---The Sisters---Toots and Gert, cowered in their habits, their faces all red and their eyes were bulging.
The rest of the visit was relatively uneventful, but it stayed with me throughout my life.

Later on, when I was in my late teens, her eye sight going from cataracts, I would take her for rides in my junk heap of a car.
She loved taking rides and although I was working full time and attending college full time, I would try to take her out several times a week.
And, in a wild twist of fate, the college I attended was part of the St Joseph's convent area in Brentwood, where my aunts had lived out the ending years of their lives.
It was during the days of the gas rationing, but I knew it was something she loved, so I would take her for hours, driving up and down the country roads, near my aunt's house.
I didn't want to go too far away, just in case my car broke down. And, I figured that with her eyesight so bad, she wouldn't notice that it was the same roads, over and over again, each time I took her out.

One day, as I helped her out of the car after our ride, she slipped me a $5 bill and said:
"Thank you for the ride, I want to pay you for gas. I love you, but next time could we drive somewhere else, I would like to see different scenery."
Stunned, I responded, " Grandma, I didn't know you could see that! I'm sorry."
Grandma Hattie's next request shocked me, she asked if we could take a drive next time on the grounds of the convent in Brentwood, where her sisters had spent so much of their lives.

A few days later, I honored her request. It was an amazingly beautiful day and there were orchards of crab apple trees all over the grounds.
As I drove, I pointed out some of the old buildings to her, and showed her where some of my classes were held.
I also showed her the Old Nun Retirement Building, as well.

As we were leaving, she asked why I had chosen that college---was it because I was contemplating becoming a nun?
It wasn't at all for that reason, but I decided to have fun with old Hattie anyway.
I told her that I was thinking about it---such a lie----and then she revealed to me that it was the hope of her sisters, The Nuns, that I would follow in their footsteps!
And, she went on to confess to me, so many years later, that she had deliberately chosen black patent leather Mary Janes for me that time long, long ago!

She did it to piss her sisters off, and to insure that they'd leave me to be, who it was I was to be!
And with that, Grandma Hattie began to whistle---I'd never heard her whistle and I laughed and laughed all the way back.

Grandma Hattie, thank you for being My Guide, and seeing that I'd just never cut it as a nun!

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