Out of the convent and into the fire….

When I returned home after a two day journey, I arrived in Auckland on a Friday morning to be met by Mum at the station. Her first comment was that I would have to do something about my haircut – it was a short ragmop style. It needed to be short all over because of the head dress I had been wearing. The next bit of unwelcome news was that she was not coming home with me as she was booked on a weekend bus trip and would not be home until Sunday afternoon. I had to go home and look after Dad until she came home on Sunday. The problem with that was he did not want me there and told me so in no uncertain terms. I made it clear to him that as soon as Mum got home I would go to stay with Mary. His reply was a sarcastic remark “That’s right go and sponge off your sister, you will get nothing here”. It was the type of welcome I expected and had already made plans to go to Mary but had hoped for a bit more time with Mum first. As things worked out I went on to Hastings a couple of days later, I stayed with Mary on and off for the next 7 years between jobs and my own flat.

I had a variety of jobs from seasonal work like fruit picking and working at Watties cannery, to making mattresses at Townsends. I also worked as a third cook at Woodford House Girls College, where one day I was the only cook there and had to manage the meals alone. Luckily I was well used to cooking for large numbers and all went well.

At one stage I was housekeeper to four young girls in Napier, whose parents ran a pub there and did not want the girls living in those environs, so rented a house nearby and I lived in as a Nanny/housekeeper.

As time went on I did quite a lot of orchard work as I loved the outdoor work. This work ended when I had an accident with a 12 foot ladder I was moving round a very tall pear tree laden with fruit. The ladder started to tip into the tree and in trying to save it from damaging the fruit I tore the muscles in my side and was off work for three weeks. I could not go back to orchard work so ended up as a shop assistant in Woolworths.

I stayed with them until I met Frank who at that time lived and worked in Palmerston North and would travel to Hastings at weekends to visit me. After some time I decided to transfer to Palmerston Woolworths. Eventually we were married and settled there for about five years before moving back to Hastings – where this story ends.

Living The life of a Novice nun….

While I was teaching I was also supposed to be studying for my teachers certificate in music and sewing, but I did not know this until shortly before the exams were announced. I was given a few old exam papers to look at to give me an idea of what to expect and was taught a couple of songs I would be asked to sing. Then one Saturday morning I was dressed back in my civvies and sent off down the road by myself to the Dunedin University to sit my first exam which was sewing. I should have passed easily but I was so keyed up and nervous I did not even finish the paper and of course failed. In the afternoon I had to go back for the music exam, which I had no hope of passing as I had to sing in front of the examiner as well as play scales etc. I think the poor guy could see how nervous I was and took pity on me because I passed and as it has never been revoked I am a qualified primary school music teacher. I never ever want to go through such an ordeal again.

Not long after that it was decided I was not well enough educated to be a teacher and was given the choice of going home or transferring to the lay sisters, which was the housekeeping part of the order. So rather than go home to that grotty old house in Birkenhead I switched to the lay sisters and learned to cook for small households as well as for large numbers -sometimes for more than a hundred. We cooked for the boarders as well as the nuns.

I was only just 19 by then and the following year I received the white habit and veil and was sent out to a small convent with three teachers as their housekeeper – first to Lawrence then to Cromwell in south Otago. Each term break we returned to the mother house in Dunedin and took up where we left off, just like one big family gathering.

After about two and a half years as a white novice it was time once again to decide my future. Either take vows for three years or go home. By now I was 21 and felt I could take on the world so opted to go home. It took a while to get things organised as I needed new clothes and travel had to be arranged. So it was about four and a half years I spent in the convent altogether.

Joining the Convent as a novice teacher…

When I was 17 I left the embroidery work shop, and went back to school as a boarder at a girls college outside Oamaru. It was run by the Dominican nuns and I went there to see if I could cope with life in the convent and teaching. I had charge of the little ones out of school hours and helped with some of their lessons and there were a few classes of my own to attend as well. I was there for two terms and it was decided I was a suitable applicant for the Religious life and I went home for the second term to get my required clothes together, then returned to Dunedin to enter the convent as a teacher.

The Dominican order was at that time a very strict order of enclosed contemplatives, which meant complete silence except during recreation hours twice a day or when we were teaching. The novices were not meant to speak to the professed sisters and silence was strictly kept in all buildings at all times. If it was necessary to ask a question or pass on a message it had to be written down and passed on.

The school was part boarders and part day school and was for secondary students only. In those days it was classed as a private school, but back to back with it was a smaller public day school for primary girls and boys. That was where I taught standard one and two. They were a tough little mob and very hard to control.

I also had to take my turn on playground duty. One day a girl of about 11 was showing off by climbing up a basketball goalpost, and when told to get down let go and slid down catching her leg on a piece of metal jutting out from the side of the pole. It cut a small gash in the soft part of her upper leg. I took her in and cleaned and disinfected her cut and put a bandaid on it, then sent her back out to play. I did not think to report it because it was only minor, but next morning her mother came to school and demanded to know why the child had not been taken to hospital to have it stitched, and complaining the child would be scarred for life. The cut was only about one inch long (2.5cm) and probably would not leave a mark at all.

Of course I was hauled over the coals for not reporting it, but was quietly praised for dressing it so well.

One day the teacher of the infants was transferred to another school and I had to take over her classroom of 5 to 7 year olds without warning or preparation. To make matters worse our novice mistress sat in the back of the classroom all day not saying a word, but watching to see how I got on. I did not know any of the kids by name or what class they were in but somehow I managed to keep each group busy all day without a rumpus and when it was over was told I had kept the children occupied all day but had not taught them anything new.