Ring the bells

First there were white rolls at
breakfast which had once been stale left overs at the local bakery.  The baker brought them in his car at
the end of each week free and the nuns splashed them with water and then tossed
them into the oven. 
By the time they reached our tables they were crisp on the
outside and fluffy inside.  I ate
mine with melted butter and honey, washed down with sweet milky tea.  Instead of sandwiches for lunch like
the day girls we had a three course hot meal, dishes like steak and kidney pie,
after soup, mostly pumpkin or vegetable and followed by some sweet concoction,
sometimes inedible like sago or tapioca pudding.  Occasionally, the nuns served  my favourite, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce or a
runny custard pudding.  
afternoon tea, the nuns prepared hot buttered fruit buns in the same way as our
breakfast rolls but this time instead of tea we drank hot chocolate, steaming
mugs of hot sweet chocolate milk to take the edge off any hunger till the last
meal of the day, a lighter meal, more bread, in slices and usually left stale
with sardines or baked beans or cold corned beef. 
the year’s end as I sat one day in the chapel.  Up early for Mass, good girl that I was, I found myself the
only boarder in the first three rows. Behind me sat the nuns, like a flock of
black birds, heads bent in prayer. And so it fell to me to ring the bells for
I had never done this
before and I could not find my way into the order in which I should have rung
them.  The Latin Mass offered few
clues.  Before the sanctus, before the communion, three times, a fast jiggle of
the bells, and if I got it wrong, would the priest stop hoisting the white host
into the air and tell that girl in the front to get her bell ringing
Mass my favourite nun came to me. 
suspender belt is cutting into your skin. 
You need a bigger dress.’ 
I smiled and took my leave.  I had not reckoned on my favourite nun’s
taking note of my proportions. 
in the vacant block next to the school I kicked at loose stones. 

16 thoughts on “Ring the bells”

  1. Did you have to attend boarding school ? that must have been grimm too.
    I cannot imagine how your youth was. Though I was a war refugee and we moved about 9 times befor I was 9 I was lucky to have the affection of my parents and extended family. It came with some dry tragic moments but we were never abused.
    I sometimes think back on comments I have left and wonder why you ache so much. I think I am becoming more aware as I read more that although times were tough they were never filled with terror just a bit of fear.

  2. I would think a bigger suspender belt was also necessary.
    Sago pudding is one of my favourite desserts, just last weekend I had an urge to make Lemon Sago pudding which I haven't made in years, I ate it with warm custard.

  3. I have a problem with my tablet. That's where I have my feedreader installed. Every day I scan the new feeds and e-mail myself with links to the ones I want to read more thoroughly. Yours is always one of them. But here's the thing: I never get the link to your post and I cannot for the life of me figure out what is different about your site to others. I say this just to explain why I'm posting my comment today; I completely forgot about you.

    I never went to boarding school and I only know one person who ever did: my first proper girlfriend. She was profoundly deaf and so went to a special school. I also never partook—not even once—of school meals. Back in the sixties and early seventies school dinners were still a thing to be (rightly from all accounts) joked about but I missed out on all that. I went home for lunch every day even though it would have taken me a good fifteen minutes to get there and another fifteen to get back. Even when I went to the academy I got the bus home or at least that's how I remember it; I'm sure in reality I didn't, especially when I got to fifteen and sixteen. Why can't I remember these things?

    Carrie and I went out today for our annual flu jabs (only we were a day early) so we picked up my blood pressure pills from the chemist and had a coffee and a slice of millionaire's shortbread in the café next door—not that either of us needed that amount of sugar—and as we sat there she started telling me some of her when-I-was-a-little-girl stories, of which there seem to be an inexhaustible supply; surely after sixteen years together she must have told me them all but no, there was a new one about how she used to read the same book in the library with this boy because he was the only one who could read as fast as she could and that's how she ended up reading Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans—boys books—when she was about nine. I can barely remember being nine.

    I do have a memory concerning white rolls though and from about that time. On Thursday nights we used to stop by a bakery on the way home where you could go to a side door and buy morning rolls still piping hot. It became a regular thing and few made it home. We would scoff them there and then getting flour all over ourselves and the back seat. No butter—they didn't need it but I don't take butter anyway. It is a happy memory, comforting; although I'm sure that we squabbled and fought over the rolls as kids always do.

  4. I've been absent from the blog world. After reading this entry I realize how I miss your storytelling. I could have been that little girl. Adults have no idea the impact of their words nor the frame in which they place children. Finish your plate but don't gain weight because you will be less in my eyes.

    The nuns sure love to serve bread. I went to a convent school for one year and the favourite lunch day was when the made the fresh bread served with lots of butter. We only had margerine at home.

    So glad to be back listening to your stories. A fan from Canada

  5. I went to boarding school against my wishes, Heidi. It's a long and complicated story but essentially I went because at the time my sister and I had nowhere else to live. My childhood was a difficult one, like so many others. Somehow in writing about it I make more sense of it and maybe as well share some of that ache.

    Thanks, Heidi.

  6. I'm glad someone likes sago, River. the thought if it from my childhood memories makes my blood run cold, but then again the nuns weren't always the best of cooks. Institutional food is not the same as what you get at home, cooked with tender love and care.

    Thanks, River

  7. That's an amazing association, Lisa, the film Mermaids. I haven't seen this film but I've heard of it and now you've got me curious enough to want to watch it. Thanks, Lisa.

  8. It's funny that you have such a poor memory for your distant past, Jim, quite the opposite of most people's experience as they get older. On the other hand it could signify all manner of things I expect, not least being that your childhood was such an awful time you could not commit it to memory.

    You are such a close observer of life as is evident through your reviews so why not be an observer from earliest days? and yet somehow it seems you've decided not necessarily consciously to commit such memories to your accessible memory store. Never mind. There are plenty of us folks like me ad carrie who go on about our memories till the cows come home. We can make up for you.

    As for forgetting me given your faulty feed reader, I'm honoured to be included on your list. i always look for your comment and I think my blogging days will be over when you stop responding. I have slowed down my blogging somewhat. I simply can't attend to all the other things I have in my life and visit all the blogs I'd like to visit as once I tried to do. as well I'm a bit sucked into the speed and touching base quality of face book. I never thought I'd enjoy Face book and I don't find it an effective way of communication not like in the blogosphere but still it allows for quick grabs and these days it seems all I can manage beyond my own blog. I feel very rude for this but it can't be helped. Still there's nothing worse to me than receiving visitors and then not reciprocating with a visit, as if I'm house bound.

    So please tell me whenever there's something special afoot in your place or elsewhere and I'll make a point of venturing out again.

    Thanks, Jim.

  9. It's good to see you here again, Elizabeth from Canada. Bread is certainly a staple in Western
    boarding schools all round as far as I can see. it's relatively cheap and very convenient I suppose.

    Finish your plate but remain invisible indeed. It's a tough world through which children must negotiate with all those mixed messages, as you suggest.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  10. I went to public school. They never watched over you when you ate. You could dump the whole tray into the garbage, and I don't think they'd say anything. Well, on second thought, I suppose they'd want the tray back.

    Interesting, though, the nuns commenting on your appearance. When I was in the 8th grade, I was so skinny my chest protruded forwarded, so that I had a bump. You can imagine the problems I had with my peers, but I really didn't need a TEACHER asking me about it.

  11. Yes, Kirk, it's cringe worthy: the teacher who comments on your appearance. Whether it's about there being too much of you or too little, it aches just the same.

    Thanks, Kirk.

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