…got on a bus.
In the last few months, I have told this story when I ran into a college classmate in Goodwill, met with my financial advisor, and made a donation of fabric to someone who happens to have a blog (her blog here). Try not be jealous of this glamorous life I lead, most days are actually quite boring.
The story is about how I came to Maryland.
Way back in the fall of 1980, I was a senior in high school. Basketball practice was underway for the season.
My small Catholic high school was located in Roxbury’s Mission Hill. The school did not have its own full gymnasium. Our gym was a room which once housed the coal used to fuel the old boiler. When a new boiler was purchased the room was converted to a half gym. Our basketball teams, both boys, and girls, usually made it to tournament play after the regular season. We did have access to the Tobin Gym (we heard the Celtics used to practice at this gym back in the day) just a couple of blocks from our school, but we couldn’t use it immediately after school, on most days our practices and home games began around 5 pm.
One evening after practice, my teammates and I took our usual walk up Tremont Street from the gym toward Huntington Ave. This intersection was normally quite busy even during the evening hours because there were multiple hospitals in the location, in addition to Harvard Medical School, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Boston State College. Most of my teammates worked in the dietary departments of the hospitals. I was a dietary worker as well, but I worked in Jamaica Plain at the Faulkner Hospital. I had also held jobs as the evening secretary in our church’s rectory and counter-girl at Dunkin’ Donuts. I think all of my teammates had a part-time job year round and I believe like myself, many were paying their own tuition at our school.
Some of my teammates lived only a short distance from the intersection, but a few of us had to take public transportation when family members couldn’t give us a ride. Typically, there was a group of 10-12 waiting at the T stop. Most nights, we weren’t sure if the trolleys were running (never-ending construction) or if a bus would come in its place. While waiting we would chat and shiver, none of us wearing a hat because we were too cool. Boston in December was cold, so I can add not only were we cool (reality: freezing), we were foolish. I think many of my former classmates would also never describe me as cool, but since I am writing this creative non-fiction, I am identifying my high school self as “cool”.
No trolley ever came that night, instead, it was the bus. Those of us who were beginning our commute home stepped onto the bus. Most nights, when we flashed our MTA student IDs we didn’t have to argue with the driver about our 10 cents fare, but on occasion and because we had long shed the school uniforms we did. This night found us showing our book bags and pointing to our letter jackets. Of course, the other riders “loved” it when this would delay the movement of the bus toward their destinations. It didn’t take much, but the driver finally relented and our dimes went into the till.
We were fortunate that night because there were seats. So down we flopped on the last remaining seats and the slouching began. At the next stop, only a few blocks away entered the next passengers. The driver began another verbal altercation only this time it was with three nuns from our high school. I can’t say I remember the exact fare for adults in 1980, but 25 cents sounds correct. Sister M.F. (her actual initials and the Assistant Principal of my school) asked the bus driver if she could ask a passenger for change as it was just the three of them and she didn’t want to use the whole $1.oo bill in the till.
“I don’t make change,” grumbled the driver.
“No, I know, I was going to check with a passenger if they could make the change.”
In order to clarify his position of “lack of coins for bills,” he barked, “J.C.”. He didn’t use the initials for the Man upstairs, he flat-out used His first and last name. I’m sure he didn’t realize he was in the company of representatives for the Man, thus the name calling in vain.
Nuns of my younger grade school years
Just then one of my teammates offered the change. Having only 75 cents, she told Sister M.F. she could pay her back in school tomorrow.
Thank goodness they didn’t ask for a transfer from the driver, he was in no mood.
The three nuns were grateful and offered their hellos or good evenings to us or whatever was the typical polite greeting on a bus to students.
I did a Pinterest search for Nuns on a Bus and look at some of the images…
Most of you may know that nuns typically reside in convents. However, during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, the nuns who rode the bus on my commute home that night moved into an apartment in Jamaica Plain, my childhood home section of Boston. Only one T stop separated me from the nuns. One of them, I think Sister J.C.(not to be confused with the Man and her actual initials…my high school Principal) owned or had use of a car. I don’t know where the car was that night and I didn’t ask.
We offered our seats to the standing Sisters. Naturally, they took our coveted seats. As the ride continued conversation spilled into college applications. I told them I had applied to Boston State and a few others, nothing remarkable. I had always dreamed of going away to school, but I knew with my family’s income (not a factor as the name of my blog states = very little money) I would probably go to Boston State and that would be just fine.
“No, you need to broaden your scope,” Sister J.C. urged.
“How about our college in Baltimore?” Sister M.F. suggested.
Sister K. or C. (her Irish name began with one of those two letters) who I didn’t know well, was new to our school that year. I didn’t have her for any classes, but she nearly jumped out of the seat we had given her to exclaim, “Yes, I have a friend who is a professor there, I will contact her!”
“Uh, no thanks…Boston State will be just fine. I am the youngest of seven, my father is a milkman, my mother a homemaker who recently survived cancer, they both practically qualify for Social Security, I pay my own tuition now, and I am NOT going to be a NUN!“
I never actually verbalized, the NUN part, but I thought it extremely loud in my head.
Those three nuns were positively giddy.
By the time we reached the end of the line, they had it all figured out. They were going to talk to the guidance counselor, Sister K. or C. was going to contact her friend, and Sister J.C. & Sister M.F. was going to contact the Motherhouse. I was disgruntled and quick to distance myself from this bus whose final stop seemed not to be my home, but rather the nunnery.
Within days of that fateful bus ride, I received a call at my home from the basketball coach at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. When I met with the guidance counselor, she handed me the Notre Dame catalog.
After seeing a photo of the basketball coach, who had young Paul Newman good looks…
…and begging my father to let me see his tax forms so I could complete the financial aid forms, the rest was history.
To be honest, I am
a wee bit not that shallow …I did have to beg my Milkman father for his tax forms because he honestly thought I would not qualify for financial aid. My mother was a harder sell because she never wanted me to turn 18, … her words, “I will go into mourning when you turn 18.”
She lived to 91 and most days didn’t appear to be in mourning.
Obviously, I am still here in Maryland today and given the husband and sons, the convent was definitely not the future I had before me back then, but I am eternally grateful and truly believe I am here today because…
Three Nuns Got on a Bus.*
See you soon…
*Should divine intervention cause this post to become viral, I suppose my donation to the yearly college fund will have to be more than the current lackluster amount.