I had an adversarial relationship with the sisters of St. Joseph at Holy Name School. They wanted to instill knowledge in my mind. I wished to remain as I was. Thanks to their persistence and support from my parents, I learned reading, writing and enough arithmetic to send me down the line I was to follow. These nuns were formidable presences in their flowing veils, their black serge tunics, and their stiff white aprons and clanking rosary chains. Even the class bullies and toughs backed down. You messed with a nun and you were replaced quickly and permanently by the next kid on the waiting list.
When I told my parents about the rigors of life with Sister Conese or Sister John the Baptist, my father would say you're lucky you never had Sister Eubestrabius. This woman had been a mule skinner out west before entering the convent and our dad said that after eight years under her thumb, WWII had been a piece of cake. A piece of cake that sometime blew up in your face, but still preferable to camping with Sister U.
One day in fifth grade, sister was talking about goldenrods. They were in a poem I think, and sister lowered her book and said, "What do goldenrods make you think of, girls and boys?" No one ventured a guess. Even Joseph R. and Mary C. the honor roll kids were struck dumb. "This is easy." sister said. "What do they remind you of?" Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Finally she had to tell us that they should remind us that the school year was about to start. Mary nodded in assent and Joseph simpered yes, yes.
Now sister had grown up during the depression when goldenrod took over the idle fields and shuttered factory yards, while we students lived in a manicured suburb where the goldenrod was relegated to railroad cuttings and the yards of the mentally ill; places we were forbidden to go. We associated goldenrod not with sweet sorrow but with danger. And beyond that, none of us could imagine sister as a child dreading the approach of another nine month stretch in school. To me, she was the face of this punitive system that was wasting my youth.
I don't know if sister was chagrined that none of us shared her nostalgia, but after that day she stuck to trains travelling east at 60 mph and the glorious exploits of the Crusaders retaking the Holy Land for a century or so before losing it to the Saracens once again.