My Younger Days: The Bishop and me

In Grade Two, the nuns began preparations for our first communion. Rehearsals in church, walking at a dignified pace in time to the solemn organ. We were walked to boredom. I hate boring. My mind began strategies for the games of marbles in the melting snow…

A strong hand stopped me in my tracks, ending my pleasant daydream and the nun with the tight mouth said,:  “Get your hands out of your pockets –  walk properly!  You’re falling behind”.  She yanked my arms and said, “Now fold your hands and pray.”

I did not want to pray at all; I wanted to play. I looked around for the sweet-faced nun who taught my class; seeing her would be my reward, but the sour-faced nun said, “Keep your eyes down!”

The special Sunday came and all the little girls were there in white dresses, white shoes, little tiaras to hold their veils over their curls. A few even wore jewellery and white rabbit fur stoles, like movie stars.

Not me.  The Bishop had issued a dress code.  White dress, white veils: yes. White shoes, fancy veils, tiaras, lipstick – No. Brown or black shoes, regular brown stockings, veils held down with plain pins,  Yes. Maman had obeyed the Bishop’s orders. There I was, plain as mud.

Girls were preening, and looking over others’ dresses . . . and then the class Top-Nasty saw me, saying:  “Look at her! She’s wearing black shoes, she’s going to hell!”

I would have belted her one, but church is no place to start a slugfest, and she had a smelly brother.  I looked at my shoes, wondering how shoes could get me in God’s bad books. ‘Makes no sense’, I thought.  ‘Stupid as her brother’.

I walked the walk; my dress had no pockets so I had to keep my hands prayerfully clasped, eyes down, looking at my new black shoes. I liked their shine, reflecting the light at each step.

Staring at the shoes must have given me an especially devout appearance, because my mother said that I had ‘walked very well’.  I did some things right sometime – even walking.

Bustling around the doors, people were pulling out cameras and cheery stupid girls fluffed out their veils, shrieking:  ‘Look at me I am a saint mama, papa”! Yuk.

My grumblings were cut short. A nun suddenly yanked my arm, pulled me through the crowd, my mother and grandfather in tow, and I heard: “Here she is yer meminance!”

‘What now,’ I grumbled to myself. Adults were always yanking me around and yelling – excitable people.

My sweet nun stood next to the Bishop, along with my relatives, smiling and waving me to her side. The Bishop said to those around him:  “Humility and simple dress is what pleases Jesus and this child’s mother obeyed my request. Stand next to me, Maria Helena Christine, with your teacher and mother.” Cameras clicked and Grandpa ordered two prints of the Bishop and me. Blessed Daydreamer.

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Christine Godin

Christine Godin was born in Montreal in May of 1946, into a bilingual, French-Canadian family. She was educated in Catholic schools in both languages. She received art lessons from her multi-talented mother and learned cooking with all the old women in the kitchens of the neighbourhood. Gossip and storytelling may have also been learned in those kitchens, or it may come as a natural talent but lots of story books and fairy tales helped. Later, after a sketchy go through high school, she worked my way through University (Concordia in Montreal) working 3 or 4 jobs. Illness put a stop to my hopes for a few years. In the meantime, love replaced ambitions, and softened the culture shock of moving into the country from a big city. Painting is my current passion and writing is a renewed interest. She says, "My other name: Christine Lenoir-Godin is how I sign all my paintings, to remember my Mother who taught me a lot about art."

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