Sister V

SISTER VERONICA was my seventh-grade teacher. She was tall and young, with a pretty face and wonderful, plump breasts neatly tucked away under her black habit. Her brown eyes were filled with life and set under brows so thick they almost touched each other. Every few weeks she’d tweeze them, leaving a light-gray pattern around each. To me her brows were endearing, and I thought she was cute as hell for thinking she needed to pluck them.

Once, at the end of a history lesson, she asked if anyone had any questions. My hand was the first in the air. “Did you tweeze your eyebrows last night?”

My question caught her off guard. I hadn’t meant to put her on the spot; it was just my dumb way of letting her know I liked her and thought she was special.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I did,” she replied. “And thank you for pointing that out to the class, Mr. Caruso.”

“I thought so.” I beamed. “My sister, Connie, plucks her eyebrows, and they look just like yours.”

The thing I loved about Sister V. was that she wasn’t jaded like some of the older nuns at Precious Mother, most of whom were Irish-American and vocal about having given their life to Christ. I didn’t know why she had decided to become a nun, but I got the feeling she wasn’t entirely on board with the Catholic program.

I could also tell that some of the older nuns were jealous of her because all the kids liked her. She always tried to make lessons fun and would sometimes have us sing Broadway show tunes. Her favorite was “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. She would have the boys and girls sing different verses while she stood up front, waving her arms, ruler in hand, looking like a real conductor.

Precious Mother had a firm stance on physical exercise and schoolyard games: it allowed no recreation period, no dodgeball, no relay races—none of the fun stuff that my buddies who went to public school regularly talked about. Listening to them made me feel as if I were doing hard time at Dannemora.

One afternoon Sister V. took our class down to the schoolyard and had us do toe touches and jumping jacks for thirty minutes. It wasn’t the same as schoolyard games, but just getting some sunshine and fresh air in our lungs was a huge relief.

Not surprisingly, when Sister Gilhouly, the school’s principal, got wind of this incident, she had a shit fit. Gilhouly was serious business, a stern nun whose watery eyes peered at you over wire-rimmed glasses pushed far down on her nose. Everyone joked that Gilhouly was one of the children of the damned, a fictional group of English schoolchildren who could set a house on fire just by staring at it. If Gilhouly singled you out for something, she would lower her head and shoot you one of her death-ray stares over the top of her spectacles—a look that made you want to hide under a desk. My buddy, Freddy Bufano, a wiry kid with ginormous buckteeth, did a killer imitation of Gilhouly. His death stare was so perfect, you didn’t know if you should shudder or piss yourself laughing.

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John Califano