The hippest nun
All the Christmas music tinkling around these days reminds me of my days in grammar school glee club. I remember the year the club started. I was in the inaugural group, and we gave a Christmas concert.
The glee club was founded and run by the coolest nun in the school, Sister Michael Charles. She split the many kids who wanted to sing for her into two groups: one for the older kids in the seventh and eighth grades, and the other for the younger ones. Within each group, our tiny little voices were sorted into sopranos and altos, and each subgroup learned its own part separately from the other until very near the end of the process.
Sister Michael Charles was a dynamo, the likes of which hadn't been seen at that school in ages, or maybe ever. I had the privilege of being in her class in fifth grade, where we learned more than we did in several other years combined. I knew biological phyla. I could name all the members of the then-current presidential cabinet (JFK), as well as those in the original cabinet (Washington) -- a feat I couldn't replicate today. She had a great sense of humor, and there was a real person under the blue Sisters of Charity habit that she wore. We loved her.
Which brings me back to the glee club. I was one of the boy sopranos in the group, and I was among the shorter members. This gave me a strategic spot in the front row center of the stage, right in front of Sister Michael Charles, who would lead us in song. Piano accompaniment wasn't available -- the poor nun probably couldn't recruit anybody good to do it -- and so all of our numbers were performed a capella. Sister Michael would arrange most of the music herself. She'd blow the opening note on her pitch pipe, remind us with a whisper of the first word of the song we were about to sing, and off we'd go.
We spent a lot of after-school hours in rehearsal, and over the course of repeating "My Favorite Things" (then a hip, current song) over and over, a boy's mind could wander. There was always a lot of mystery about the nuns and what they did after they went back to the convent. Did they really shave their heads bald under those habit hats? Did they really sleep on wooden boards? No one knew for sure.
Well, as puberty approached, other aspects of the sisters' lives also became a curiosity for us boys. Particularly with Sister Michael Charles, who was so young and beautiful -- a fellow couldn't help but wonder.
Then one day, about halfway through rehearsal, the good sister's nun-shoe -- a bootlike black thing that covered her up over the ankle -- came untied. She motioned for us to keep singing and she bent over to tie it, but before she did, she actually hitched up her habit above her knee. Both I and the boy next to me -- I think it was Tommy Jackamas -- watched intently. As in, very intently. As in, way too intently. There was the dark nun hosiery over this beautiful woman's calf, and her knee! And it couldn't have been more than two feet away. Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads.
And when the good sister stood up, she noticed. She blushed. I'm sure we blushed too, so badly that we would have glowed in the dark at that point.
And then, beautiful, smart, funny Sister Michael Charles playfully flipped up her skirt, flashing both legs up to the knee for a split second. We all laughed, but man, what a moment. Neither of us boys knew what we were feeling.
Very soon after I graduated from grammar school, one of my classmates, whose aunt was a nun and the head of that convent, informed me that Sister Michael Charles had left the religious order. She had gotten married and moved to Florida. I never heard another word about her.
By now she would be collecting Social Security. If you're out there, Sister Michael Charles, whatever your name is now, I want you to know, you were it. And I have no doubt that you still are.