Nuns used to run in my family, back in the days when career paths for women were limited to teachers, nuns, and nurses. Most women picked marriage, of course, to avoid working (ha!), but we were hip-deep in nuns. Did I say nuns or Nuns? For you non-Catholics, there are small n and capital N nuns. In our grammar school, we had both. Nuns, with a small n, wore “modern” habits – which meant alternating basic black with navy blue or the very risqué dark brown.
They played the guitar at mass or accompanied the hippie priest on the tambourine. They were cute, too, with bangs escaping from their veil and a little leg escaping from their knee-length skirts.
Most of these nuns didn’t last long. In class one day, gone the next, and we were left to wonder whether they had left the convent or run away with Father Paul (yes, there were cool priests, too). Nuns didn’t talk about “the business,” so we never did get the lowdown on whether cool Sister Kit was transferred to the African missions (bad news if you were a cool nun) or just switched careers.
Nuns with a capital N never left the convent. They wore flowing black habits, with their pinched faces the only skin showing. They didn’t sing folk songs or play the tambourine. They didn’t play anything – that would’ve been too much fun.
I had a few Nuns in my family. One was my Aunt Tess, who became a Nun at age 18, and lasted 10 years in a cloistered order. Cloistered means you eat, sleep, and pray, period. There’s no physical contact. My mom remembers visiting her and talking to her through a screen, like you do with prisoners at Sing Sing. Tess finally left the convent at age 28 and married a hunchback (he must’ve been walking by the convent when she hit the door) and had a couple of kids. She ended up abandoning the poor guy and taking up with a married guy she met on a cruise, then hooking up with another guy when the cruise date kicked.
The other Nun in the family is still in the business. Takes it very seriously, too. Still wears the veil, still in black, but she’s also pretty cool. She’s been in the convent for 52 years, has a great laugh and the most beautiful unlined skin you’ve ever seen. That says a lot for avoiding sun (no freckles), avoiding cosmetics (no wrinkles), and avoiding men (no frown lines). More than 52 years doing the same job, and it comes with a wardrobe. Imagine knowing what you’re going to wear every day of every year for a half-century? All that angst avoided.
I sometimes wonder if I could’ve cut it as a nun. I certainly wear a lot of black, and I like the tambourine. And knowing what to wear every day would certainly save time.
But what would I be without my frown lines and my freckles? Just another cute nun on the lam? Heaven forbid!