Monthly Archives: December 2016

Remembering BLC and Sister Margaret

It was September 1979 and I  was fresh out of college with no employment other than my job at an all-night “pancake house” as a waitress. Someone who knew someone who knew I was looking for a teaching position told someone at Bartlett Learning Center (now Clare Woods Academy) about me. They called, I interviewed and was hired as a long-term substitute teacher at the school for learning disabled and developmentally disabled youth. The school was housed on the main floor of a Catholic convent run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis.

At that point in my life I did not have a car so I took a bus to the train station, rode the train the few stops from Elgin to Bartlett, then walked to the school. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for me.

December of that year I moved to my own apartment. Around that same time, Sister Jane, the teacher for whom I was substituting returned to the school. I was kept on because she needed assistance after surgery. She lived in Elgin and my apartment was on the way to the school so she picked me up each morning and dropped me off each afternoon. Later, for some reason, two other sisters, Barbara and Margaret, joined the carpool (although they lived on the east side of Elgin and my apartment was not on the way to Bartlett) and for several months the four of us rode to and from school together each day. Suddenly my closest friends were nuns! I worked with them, commuted with them and even socialized with them.

After my parents bought a new car and gave me their old Buick LeSabre and I no longer needed to commute with the sisters we remained friends. In fact one of the other teachers at the school told me she didn’t trust me because I was friends with the sisters (one of whom was the head sister at the time).

Sisters Barbara and Margaret shared an apartment on the east side of Elgin. Sister Jane lived alone. Sister Jane was from a state farther west — Nebraska? One of the Dakotas? I don’t remember where Sister Barbara was from — maybe near Elgin? Sister Margaret was from Elgin, though. I knew that because one day I saw Sister Margaret’s photo among the photos of my mother’s classmates in her high school yearbook. I never told anyone but Sister Margaret that I saw the photo because because she was very secretive about her age.

Sister Margaret taught the younger students when I was at Bartlett Learning Center. She was so patient with them and they loved her. She was funny and kind and caring. I can actually still hear her voice in my head. She had brown short curly hair, twinkly eyes and a ready smile. In fact, the only time I saw her even slightly upset was when I told her that I saw her photograph in my mother’s yearbook.

When I read on Facebook that Sister Margaret died yesterday it brought back a flood of memories about my first two years as a teacher. About how I learned  so much about teaching from all the sisters. Sister Jane taught me classroom management skills, Sister Barbara taught me organizational skills and Sister Margaret probably taught me the most important lessons. She taught, by example how to be kind and patient and caring even when I wanted to scream at the students.

After I moved on from Bartlett Learning Center I kept in touch with the sisters for many years. After a while I lost touch with them but a mutual friend occasionally lets me know some information about these wonderful women.

These past 12 months have been a year of loss for me in so many ways. While I’d not talked to Sister Margaret for years, the world is that much worse because she is no longer in it. But she’s sitting at that table in the cafe in my mind’s picture of Heaven.

The Ghosts of Christmas Traditions Past, Present and Future

While enjoying a tasty pizza dinner together a few weeks ago, my son surprised Dean and me by telling us he was not going to be spending Christmas Day with us this year, but, instead, was traveling to Atlanta to spend Christmas with his friend, Alex and her family. I acted brave, but cried when I got home, and texted him that I was not ready for my kids to not be with me for Christmas.

I’ve spent the time in between thinking about him not being home on Christmas Day and realized it was okay — he would be there the day after and we could squeeze in a family Christmas on December 26 before Clare left on December 27. We often moved our personal Christmas celebration around when the kids were small because we usually traveled back to Elgin for the actual day.

Andrew and I had lunch earlier this week and he confided that he was a little nervous because he’d never not spent Christmas with us and we had our own traditions. He was going somewhere where they had their own traditions, ones he was not familiar with.

I thought about this and remembered that my first Christmas away from my family was in 1978. I was a year younger than Andrew is now and I was gone from early December through March. That year I did student teaching in London and left Elgin early to spend time with my English friend, Jeremy, and his family. I also recalled that I, too, was nervous — although I’d spent months with this family over the previous four years — because I was not familiar with their traditions. It was wonderful though. I was introduced to wine with Christmas dinner, Christmas cake, chocolate oranges and Christmas crackers.

While I never did attempt to make a Christmas cake, I did insist we have wine with Christmas dinner the year after I returned from England. I also always made sure to include a chocolate orange (and a real orange) in everyone’s Christmas stocking. Once Christmas crackers became readily available (and affordable) in the US I always buy a box Christmas crackers which we pop before the Christmas meal, wear the silly hats that come in the crackers, read the lame jokes and play with the included toys.

I sent Andrew a text telling him about that Christmas and that many of the unfamiliar traditions I experienced that year were such fun that I incorporated them into our family celebrations.

His reply made me cry a little again. He thanked me for telling him about my first Christmas away and then said he was bringing chocolate oranges and Christmas crackers for her family.