Downhome Magazine

Sister Lucy

    13 likes   |  s 35 views

Back in the year of 1966, I left home for the first time in my life. It's a bit strange when I look back on it now, because 1966 was Come Home Year in NFLD, the government spent a lot of money promoting the event. I went off to eastern Ontario to school. The school was run by a religious organization and was male only. The staff were all members of the religious order that ran the school except for two nuns from the neighbouring town. One of the nuns, Sister Lucy, taught English and Chemistry while the other, Sister Anne, helped us with our music.

Now, the sisters didn't have a car at the time so one of the staff had to pick them up at their convent and then return them in the afternoon when classes were over. Sister Anne, who taught music only came a couple of days a week but Sister Lucy came every day. Lucy was accustomed to teaching your boys and she could hold her own with the best of them. I still remember how she used to light matches on the top of her show in chemistry class. She had grown up in a big family with older brothers and sisters in the province of Quebec.

Sister Lucy was a very good teacher who encouraged us to be creative in our writing of essays and short stories in English class. She had a very nice disposition - for a nun - even smiled now and then - also unusual for a nun. I was glad to be in her class. She would always tell us stories about growing up in Quebec and what life was like in a big family. She had a younger brother who was a sports writer with the Canadiens hockey team on their road trips in what was then original six of the NHL.

The convent decided that Sister Lucy should get her driver's license because the convent was coming into the twentieth century in a big way They had already started using their own names, later they would get rid of their black habits and begin wearing regular women's clothing - but that was to come later. So Sister Lucy was sent a driving school by the convent but they didn't have a car yet and no one to take her out driving except the driving instructor who came by a couple of times a week for an hour.

So in an effort to help Sister Lucy and perhaps more, because once she got her license they would not have to pick her up at the convent every day and then drop her off again in the evening, the priests decided to let Sister Lucy get behind the wheel of the car when they picked her up so she could get some much-needed practice. This went on for a while until that fateful morning when something went terribly wrong.

I don't know exactly what caused the accident and the priests were reluctant to disclose details. But anyway, poor Sister Lucy wrapped the car around a utility pole somewhere along the route between the convent and the school. Maybe she just decided the pole would look much better if it were wrapped in shiny red metal or something like that. Anyway, the car was a write-off, and both Sister Lucy and the priest received non-life-threatening injuries because at that time seatbelts were not mandatory in cars.

Well, as you can imagine, Sister Lucy was mortified by the accident - her pride was hurt more than anything else. Although she had injuries, they weren't visible because of the habit she wore. The priest wasn't so lucky, his head had bounced off the windshield and you could see the cuts and bruises. Sister Lucy was so upset that she had destroyed the priests' new car. The staff tried to reassure her that it was no big deal, the car was fully insured and no one seriously hurt.

Sister Lucy was in such a state that the rector of the school called us all together one night after supper. He told us how badly Sister was feeling over the whole thing and we should not ask her anything about the accident or even inquire as to her well-being as that would only serve to make her feel worse. We all agreed to keep quiet about the accident and not ask questions that might make her feel uncomfortable.

This was alright in a way, but very difficult to carry out. You must remember we were a bunch of teenage boys who wanted to know all about the accident. The tension in class was palpable with everyone wanting to know but afraid to ask. This went on for about a week, it was getting worse every day instead of better. I couldn't stand it any longer cause I really did like Sister Lucy.

So I took it on myself to do something about the situation. I didn't mention to anyone what I had planned, just went ahead with it. So one day, while we were waiting for Sister Lucy to come in for English class, I wrote this little poem, which rhymed beautifully, and put it on her desk. I'll tell you what the poem was later.

Sister Lucy comes in carrying her briefcase as she always did, lays it on the floor beside the desk. She spies the piece of paper on top of the desk. Picks it up. Reads it.
She put her free hand to her face and ran out into the corridor without a word. I figured I'm on the next train heading east.

The poem, if you will:

"Sister Lucy had a car,
And it was painted red.
Everywhere that Lucy went,
The cops picked up the dead."

Now I ask you, if that wouldn't lift up your spirits, what would?

Sister Lucy came back to class shortly after as if nothing happened. She didn't mention the poem or anything but you could see the tension was gone. She was back to her old self again. Just after class the announcement came over the PA system, "Would Cyril Griffin please report to the office." I thought, should I pack my bags now or wait for later, and will my train ticket home include meals as well, cause I didn't have any money.

I went into the office and the student director told me to sit down. Figured this is it for me. Goodbye school, hello mom and dad I can explain the whole thing - only I couldn't. The director said, "I don't know what possessed you to do something like that, but don't ever do it again." He said that Sister Lucy, who had gone to see him with my poem, had made him promise not to say or do anything to me.

In early June of that year while we were waiting in the foyer of the school for a ride to the train station, Sister Lucy came up to me, shook my hand. She held it for a moment, looked me in the eye and said, "Cyril, whatever you do, don't change."

Cyril Griffin
New Perlican, NL

Subscribe to Downhome   Submit Photos