Still thinking about our schooldays…
‘After all, we’re raising you as future leaders of our country’ our nuns used to tell us, more than somewhat threateningly, when they felt the need to justify some harsh but apparently entirely necessary ruling.
So much for training up the country’s leaders, more frequently
there were raised eyebrows, mutterings and dark hints that there were places for people like us from which they were doing their doubtful best to keep us away.
We were good girls, pretty well, whose worst sins were to smuggle illegal sweets, or to have midnight feasts of sweetened condensed milk and sardines, perhaps even to turn our hat brims up.
But our poor headmistress, I realise now probably deeply concerned about more weighty school matters, and possibly seriously depressed, tended to see the worst. She had a degree in psychology, which she liked to remind us meant she could read people’s minds, and she obviously didn’t like what she saw there.
But even so, she obviously couldn’t see quite clearly enough. There came the day when she decided to instigate Confessions. This came as a shock.
We were issued with a fairly thick booklet listing all the possible sins we might have committed. Most people using the booklet probably confessed once a week. As none of us had ever ‘confessed’ before, we had a lifetime of sins to confess. Anything dishonest, unkind, untruthful… what a task!
I suspect most of my friends were wise enough not to take it too literally and there were some whose memory was conveniently vague. But I have always been a bit too earnest, taking things almost too literally, and after all, we were confessing – it was not the time for glossing over things, however minor and however historic.
And I have a rather good memory. So what a task lay ahead…
The crunch came when I had to answer whether I had ever stolen. I still feel bad, but when I was about six I had taken some small change from my mother’s purse and bought a ‘Dinky Car’, which my sister, brother and I had really enjoyed playing with. I’m not sure if I told them how I had come upon this little joy, but I probably was too ashamed even to admit to them.
The next questions in the sins booklet was ‘What have you stolen?’
One word answer: ‘Money.’
There was no follow up – not how much, not how often, not how long ago. ‘Money… ‘This rang alarm bells. Canon Segal from the St John’s Pro-Cathedral in Bulawayo was summoned, special prayers were said over me in chapel and I was given passages to read from the Bible about the sin of stealing.
Not surprisingly I felt deeply resentful. I had never stolen anything before or since, but I had no chance to explain. For all Sister Ethel Mary’s mind reading the confession was taken at face value: they obviously had to deal with a thief in their midst.
And had I been a confirmed thief, I think this might have set me firmly on my tracks, feeling that I was a lost cause anyway.
Phew! I still feel quite hot and bothered when I think about it. As an adult I might have had the confidence to refuse to confess, perhaps, or at least to insist that I be allowed to explain the context of the sin. As I child then I felt I had no option but to seethe silently.