Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Days of Spring, Changing Habits

At 7:00 p.m. today, my colleague JL said, spring arrived, and he with his green tie was ready to greet it. "Today's the day that Sister Mel Eesa would change her habit," I said in reply. "That sounds like a great first line for a short story," he said. It does to me, in part, because that nun was a force to be reckoned with in the first real teaching job that I had, a good force.

Sister Mel Eesa Ryczek, who taught American Literature and other courses at St. Mary of the Plains College (and before that at the high school it had been before), retired, and I was her replacement. 1985. She continued there as alumni director and knew virtually every student who attended SMPC and remembered them long after. She never missed a day of school and never complained, yet her sharp tongue and rigorous lessons, oral and written, could sting and linger, for students and young colleagues alike. She passed her books and her lessons on to me, and I would invite her in for particular aspects of courses I taught. She kept her hand in. She watched us young people and cared about the school. One day she checked herself into the hospital and never came out again, a long life brought to an end by cancer.

Sister Mel Eesa marked the changes of the season with a change of habit, going from the black cloth of winter one day to white the next, to keep it until fall came on. If you'd missed the date of spring on your calendar, you knew when short and stocky Sister Mel Eesa came floating down the Hennessey hallway with her white gown rising and falling. So, twice a year, when the seasons change, that black habit and that white habit change places, but the face is the same one.

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