Even though it's only been three weeks since I arrived here, each day gets better and better. The sisters are so happy to have us interns eat with them at lunchtime and to learn about what's growing in the gardens. They almost are giddy just talking about it. It doesn't hurt that they have a plump slice of tomato on their plate that they're getting ready to sink their teeth into and they know it came from the gardens here.
The sisters are so funny and I learn so much when I sit and talk with them. They are so giving and open to any questions we have. Today I sat with some sisters I had never met before. Three of them are from a parish in Chicago and two of the three are actual blood sisters. As they said: "Sister sisters". We got to talking about the weather in the next few days which is supposed to go back into the 90's through the middle of the week. They were talking about how glad they are to not be wearing habits anymore and the following story came to light.
The oldest sister at the table, we'll call her Sister N (she's 91 and still works everyday and looks amazing !) said that their habits were made out of surge (not sure of the spelling but it's a material like wool). The material wasn't available during the war because it came from France. They wore full length skirts and the headpiece sometimes would cut into their chins and they'd develop sores on their skin. There was no air conditioning in the parishes or convents and she said they must have smelled pretty bad back then as much as they'd perspire and for as long as they wore their clothes. During the time of WWII Sister N was taking a train from Indianapolis to Chicago with a group of sisters and they all were in full habits. They had to move from the second floor of the train station to the first floor and then a short while later needed to go back to the second level. The skirts on the habits had evenly spaced pleats in the front and gathers in the back of the skirt. Her skirt was getting pretty worn and the pleats were wearing thin so she had turned her skirt around so the pleats were in the back. All of the sisters gathered their belongings and were headed up the stairs to the second level. Sister N had a suitcase in one hand and held her skirt up with the other hand. Part way up the stairs, the sister behind her fell forward and in trying to catch herself grabbed Sister N's skirt in her hand and it tore off. With the skirt in hand, the sister tumbled end over end down the stairs in the train station. Sister N stood there with just a black slip on and with all the commotion, all the soldiers hanging out in the train station came running. They rushed to the aid of the sister who was fine but laying at the bottom of the stairs, still clutching Sister N's skirt in her hand. The soldiers helped up the fallen sister and she proceeded up the stairs and handed the skirt back to Sister N, who did not have a spare skirt with her. Back then she said they all carried pin cushions with them so all the sisters circled around Sister N and they pooled all their pins so she could reattach her skirt. Only problem was that once they boarded the train, she couldn't sit down. She had to stand because the pins would poke into her if she went to sit down. Finally one of the sisters in the group offered the spare skirt that she had with her but since Sister N was so much shorter than this sister, it took a lot of "rolling down the waistband" several turns to get it so it didn't drag on the ground.
As Sister N was telling this story, our table was cracking up in the dining hall. Oh my, just when you think these ladies are straight laced and puritanical they come out with these stories that just kill me. Another sister at the table told about a sister, who was from the northeast and was shopping for a "cart" for the convent but with her accent the "T" was not pronounced....you know how those Bostonians talk. She called someone at the convent and asked who she should call about a "car" (I can hear my friend Larry saying it now). They gave her a phone number for a local dealer who she promptly called. Here's how the conversation went:
Dealer: Hello, may I help you?
Sister: Hi, I'm looking for a car(t).
Dealer: Yes, we have those.
Sister: Does it have 4 wheels?
Dealer: Yes, they all come with 4 wheels.
Sister: Does it come in white?
Dealer: Yes, we have them in white.
Sister: Does it come assembled ?
Dealer: Yes they are all ready to go.
Sister: Can I set a microwave on it ?
Dealer: I suppose you could set a microwave on it.
By this time the dealer knew that something was amiss and they got the whole thing straightened out and figured out that she wanted a "cart" and not a "car".
Too funny...once again our table was in tears and by this time all of the tables in the dining room had finished lunch and left. We were still sitting there hearing stories about smelly sisters in habits and whether cars come in white. These ladies are truly a blessing to me and so much fun to be around. Here's a sign I walk by on the way to Sunday lunch and it cracks me up every time I see it. Who says that nuns don't have a sense of humor.