Friday, October 3, 2008

Thank you, Hermana Esperanza

I have more than a few times gotten emails and questions my my being taught heirloom sewing by the Spanish nuns. It is quite a story, so humor me, please, and listen to my tale.

I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and was raised in a devout Catholic family, very typical for the area I grew up in. I attended an all girl school in Lafayette,Louisiana run by Carmelite nuns. It was disciplined, fun, and I loved it. Now a little about my dear departed Dad- he was brilliant. He was the first geek, a real renaissance man. He was an engineer and had a career building and setting up radio and television stations, . With TV being relatively new, he was on the cusp of an industry destined to be huge. In the fifties, this was similar to the dotcom surge we experienced not long ago. Did I say he was brilliant? Many of his associates told me just this over the years.

One day our Dad decided he wanted his brood of 8 children to have some sort of international experience. He could name where he wanted to work so he started sending out resumes and getting responses. He made this a true family project. As the responses arrived he would spread them out on the dining room table and call his brood over. We would sit down, he at the head of the table, a globe at his side. He would show us on the globe where the job offer was from, tell us about the country, and ask for our opinions. It finally came down to an offer in Australia, one in South Africa, and one in Puerto Rico. He decided on Puerto Rico because of the total difference in culture, the opportunity to learn another language, and its proximity to the US. So we moved from Lafayette to our new island paradise.

Now a little political history. This was the time of Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba. His plan at that time was to domino the Caribbean. Or, so we were told. His "Fidelistas" would weekly, on Fridays bomb an American owned business in the greater San Juan area where we lived. There was much violence, talk of revolution, and fear on the island at that time. I was spat on by people as was my mother, only because we were Americans. We learned the language quickly and started to dress and act like the locals to protect ourselves. Our dark features and my quick command of the language helped me pass as a local in no time. It's amazing how fast a child can learn a new language.

This violent anti-American atmosphere changed one's priorities. My parents felt the need to put me in a convent school up in the mountains to keep me safe. Their friends recommended it.  My brothers entered a similar boarding school for just boys. My school was run by the Carmelitas de la Caridad, a cloistered order from Spain. They taught and "forced" me lovingly to learn Castillian Spanish. They were the kindest most loving women imaginable. They were cloistered and that meant they only time they could speak was when they were in the classroom with us. I think it was a very special experience for both  the sisters and the students.

One of the things we did every day was to have our sewing time at the end of the day. First order was to get only the finest linen to work on. Hermana Esperanza would examine it and it it were not quality enough the student was sent home to get better. We learned to pull threads, do hemstitching, fagotting, the teeniest cross stitching and more. I wish I could remember it all. Every day we were allowed only to take a few stitches. They had to be perfect. Then one by one we would take turns and walk up to Hermana Esperanza's desk for the critique. At that point she would discuss your work and send you back to your desk to either rip it out or proceed. I remember so well her kind words and praise. I carried around a linen envelope embroidered with the teeniest cross stitches for years. It was made under her guidance and I treasured it.

This order of nuns is all about kindness. It is at the core of all they do. Over the years I have heard so many harsh stories from adults who attended Catholic schools as children, including my own husband's horror stories. My experience was nothing but wonderful, truly wonderful. The school was my haven of discipline and calm in a family of 6 rambunctious brothers. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

So tonight, as I pass along the story of my sewing with the nuns, I would like to take a moment to thank Hermana Esperanza for her love and kindness and for fostering in me a love and respect for fine handwork. I know she is critiquing me from above and smiling down........Bunny

14 comments:

  1. What a wonderful back story, Bunny! Thanks for sharing it!

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  2. What a lovely story. Alas I was taught by the Mercy Sisters, and they had NO mercy! lol.

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  3. What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing.

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  4. What a wonderful story. And I know she would be so proud of your stitching now.

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  5. Glad you enjoyed hearing about one of my 3 big inspirations. Thanks.

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  6. Oh, this is such a lovely story. I'm glad you are sharing your "memoir" with us.

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  7. How touching and lovely! You were fortunate to learn with such talented women who set the standards so high.

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  8. Yes, I was very fortunate to have had this opportunity.

    Now I've written about my grandmother, about Hermana Esperanza, and so one inspiration remains, my Mom. I will get to that one all in good time. I have to give that one a lot of thought.

    I know all of you have had someone inspire you, a home ec teacher, your Mom, grandmother, or some other sewing saint.I would love to hear about them.

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  9. Que linda historia..., a mi me hubiese encantado estudiar con monjas y aprender de bordado,,, solo tube que conformarme estudiar un colegio militar, y que mi tia me enseñara a bodar....
    Gracias por compartir tu bella historia... ahora se por que hbalas español... saludos y besos. nela

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  10. Gracias, Nela. Espero que te has mejorado de su malisima enfermedad. Cuando uno tiene una infeccion que toca a su respirar, toma mucho tiempo mejorarse. Yo se porque tengo asthma, etc.

    Una escuela militar? Dios mio! Pero hay los que dicen que las hermanitas fueron como generales militares!

    Cuidate, chica, y muchos carinos.

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  11. Thank you for this story--it would make an interesting longer piece!

    Thanks for sharing your memories.

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  12. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story! I'd be curious to know where the school is/was since my family lives in PR (naci en Orocovis).

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  13. Wonderful story Bunny! Thank you for sharing!

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  14. I know the school is still in existence. Or at least it was when I found their website about 5 years ago. When I attended it was first in San Juan. The second year I attended it had moved to Caguas in a new building. I remember the huge iron gates so well. And then there was the calm behind them. I tried to do a search tonight but have come up empty handed. I will keep trying.

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