Webmaster of Jack
All the Christmas music tinkling around these days reminds me
of my days in grammar school (St. Aloysius) glee club. I remember
the year the club started. I was in the inaugural group, and we
gave a Christmas concert.
The glee club was founded and run by the coolest nun in the school,
Sister Michael Charles. She split the many kids who wanted to sing
for her into two groups: one for the older kids in the seventh and
eighth grades, and the other for the younger ones. Within each group,
our tiny little voices were sorted into sopranos and altos, and
each subgroup learned its own part separately from the other until
very near the end of the process.
Sister Michael Charles was a dynamo, the likes of which hadn't
been seen at that school in ages, or maybe ever. I had the privilege
of being in her class in fifth grade, where we learned more than
we did in several other years combined. I knew biological phyla.
I could name all the members of the then-current presidential cabinet
(JFK), as well as those in the original cabinet (Washington) --
a feat I couldn't replicate today. She had a great sense of humor,
and there was a real person under the blue Sisters
of Charity habit that she wore. We loved her.
Which brings me back to the glee club. I was one of the boy sopranos
in the group, and I was among the shorter members. This gave me
a strategic spot in the front row center of the stage, right in
front of Sister Michael Charles, who would lead us in song. Piano
accompaniment wasn't available -- the poor nun probably couldn't
recruit anybody good to do it -- and so all of our numbers were
performed a capella. Sister Michael would arrange most of the music
herself. She'd blow the opening note on her pitch pipe, remind us
with a whisper of the first word of the song we were about to sing,
and off we'd go.
We spent a lot of after-school hours in rehearsal, and over the
course of repeating "My Favorite Things" (then a hip,
current song) over and over, a boy's mind could wander. There was
always a lot of mystery about the nuns and what they did after they
went back to the convent. Did they really shave their heads bald
under those habit hats? Did they really sleep on wooden boards?
No one knew for sure.
Well, as puberty approached, other aspects of the sisters' lives
also became a curiosity for us boys. Particularly with Sister Michael
Charles, who was so young and beautiful -- a fellow couldn't help
Then one day, about halfway through rehearsal, the good sister's
nun-shoe -- a boot-like black thing that covered her up over the
ankle -- came untied. She motioned for us to keep singing and she
bent over to tie it, but before she did, she actually hitched up
her habit above her knee. Both I and the boy next to me -- I think
it was Tommy Jackamas -- watched intently. As in, very intently.
As in, way too intently. There was the dark nun hosiery over this
beautiful woman's calf, and her knee! And it couldn't have been
more than two feet away. Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads.
And when the good sister stood up, she noticed. She blushed. I'm
sure we blushed too, so badly that we would have glowed in the dark
at that point.
And then, beautiful, smart, funny Sister Michael Charles playfully
flipped up her skirt, flashing both legs up to the knee for a split
second. We all laughed, but man, what a moment. Neither of us boys
knew what we were feeling.
Very soon after I graduated from grammar school, one of my classmates,
whose aunt was a nun and the head of that convent, informed me that
Sister Michael Charles had left the religious order. She had gotten
married and moved to Florida. I never heard another word about her.
By now she would be collecting Social Security. If you're out
there, Sister Michael Charles, whatever your name is now, I want
you to know, you were it. And I have no doubt that you still are.