In Standard Two, which is like Second Grade, I had Sister Adrienne. I was 7 years old.
People said Sister Adrienne was soft, too soft. She didn’t have a leather strap like Mrs. Corkery or plastic-coated electrical wire like Mother Gabriel. She was a happy woman who loved teaching children and was always kind to them.
In Sister Adrienne’s class, learning was fun. We made miniature models of an Indian village. We made TV sets from old shoe-boxes, your story on a scroll wound around two wooden skewers. Scene by scene you gave your report. Mine was about South Africa. I still remember the names of the cities, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
In Sister Adrienne’s class we learned beautiful songs like Faith of our Fathers and memorized a poem about a flower seller.
The flower seller sits with her hands in her lap
When she’s not selling roses, she’s taking a nap
Her bonnet is queer and she calls you “My dear”
And sells you the loveliest things of the year…
One day, Christopher O’Sullivan kissed a girl. The girl was upset and told Sister. Christopher was called to Sister’s desk.
“Did you kiss a girl?”
“Yes,” he said.
What would Sister do? How would she punish him? She had no strap or instrument for hitting children, but she looked rather stern.
“Right,” said Sister, “then I’m going to kiss you!” And she did, right on the cheek. Christopher, red-faced, shuffled back to his seat. It was the worst punishment imaginable.
Sister put us all in groups. Each group was made of three or more desks pushed together to make a large table. I so wished to be in the group with all the pretty girls, the ones with ribbons and ringlets, whose mothers took them to ballet class and elocution, who had fuzzy pink slippers and fancy pencil cases. My hair was short and plain, my slippers brown vinyl, like boys’ ones. I wanted so badly to do ballet but my mother said No.
Sister put me in a special group with two boys. She called us the Genius group. Sometimes she said “Genie-Asses” but I knew she was joking. We were the students who passed tests easily and got extra work to do. One day Sister told the Genie-Asses to write stories. I wrote and wrote the longest story of my life, about some people who lived on a mountain. We turned in our work and I still remember what Sister wrote in her red ballpoint pen: Wonderful work, Maree! You should be writing a book!