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.
2 thoughts on “Confessions…”
This reminds me of when I was about six and had to walk every day, from school through the churchyard to my grandmother’s house for my tea. On the way I passed a grave covered with small porcelain cherubs and posies of roses, exquisitely moulded. It was the beginning of my love of art, and I longed to own one of these tiny sculptures which were covered with protective wire netting. One day, I saw the netting had been torn apart and that someone had broken off some of the flowers. The temptation was too great: I reached for an angel and put her in my pocket and later hid her, wrapped in lavatory paper, at the back of my toy cupboard. Burdened by my secret, my delight soon turned to guilt.
Many years later, having been brought up in a non religious household, and in the first flush of my Anglo Catholic phase, I was sent to confession. I racked my brains to think of things to say, no doubt unable to see my own misdemeanors for the plank in my eye. I remembered my mother’s anger when I called her a witch; and then it resurfaced, the memory of my theft and the desecration of a grave, and my face felt hot, as if it had happened yesterday. Fortunately, the priest was a lot more benign than Marion’s headmistress. He was gentle, reassuring and I think rather amused, so my six year old self, hidden inside a grown woman, was absolved and set free!
Gill, I replied yesterday, but it has disappeared into the ether. You got off much more lightly, and tactfully, than I did. Your priest ‘absolved’ you, whereas I felt I was considered past redemption; it’s a long time ago but I don’t remember any attempt to understand let alone absolve.
On a slightly more light-hearted theme, I have a similar graveyard confession! When we lived in Lusaka in the late 1940s, my sister and I were very friendly with a family who lived opposite a cemetery. It always looked so colourful with lots of flowers and bright ribbons, and one afternoon we thought we might play there, and without any thought of guilt took some apparently abandoned hair ribbons. We all wore plaits in those days and liked the thought of more colourful bows than usual.
Alas, our joy was short lived. Our friends’ mother came over to collect us, in horror at what we had been doing. Alarm bells had rung in her mind when a friend had called in to see her, reporting emotionally that she had just seen such a touching sight: a young family obviously tending their mother’s grave…
Knowing we had no understanding of what we had been doing she explained, and reprimanded, but could hardly hide her amusement. And of course we had to return our hair ribbons.