It was 1960 when Sister Lucette stood before our combined third-fourth grade class and presented our English assignment for the week. She said that we were to create a greeting card that featured a poem and picture. Everyone seemed to be excited at the thought of drawing a picture to go with his or her poem.
Then, Sister said, “Your assignment is to create a Mother’s Day
greeting card.” Immediately, everyone became quiet. I looked around the classroom at my classmates. They were clearly caught off guard by the request. In any other classroom in the country, this wouldn’t have caused such confusion. After all, May is the month in which America celebrates her matriarchs. And for most American school children, creating a Mother’s Day card for their moms was an annual cultural event. But our school wasn’t like other schools. Our class wasn’t like other classes. Our classroom was inside St. Vincent’s Catholic Orphanage, and most of my classmates had never met their mother.
The poetry that flowed from the pencils of these abandoned children was full of childhood fantasies of a caring mother
, a beautiful woman. The pictures they drew of their mothers were angelic. Pictures of women they had never met. If their mothers could have seen those precious postcards, they would have regretted every day of separation from their children. It wasn’t until we were all much older that those images were dashed by the cold reality of desertion.
But I drew a picture of Sister Lucette. Her name means gracious light. She was a towering woman, like a lighthouse beaming with joy. Don’t get me wrong; she was stern when she had to be, but she was always fair. And she had to be. She was housemother to 144 boys. Oddly enough, with all that testosterone, there were rarely discipline problems.
One day, Sister Lucette put me on her lap. She seemed happy and sad at the same time. She told me my parents were coming to take me home in three days. I was afraid. I hadn’t seen them in years. I had heard they were unable to take care of me. I didn’t know what to expect. And besides all that, St. Vincent’s was my home. I had bonded with the institution. And Sister Lucette was the only person that was ever there for me. When my parents came to pick me up, I didn’t want to leave. It was very uncomfortable. The adjustment to my new life with my parents was traumatizing. In a few short years, our family disintegrated through multiple divorces. I often thought to myself, they should have just left me at St. Vincent’s.
Years later, I went back to St. Vincent’s when I was in my early twenties to see Sister Lucette. But she wasn’t there anymore. She had been transferred to another location. Through the years when my mother was alive, I’d call her up on the phone to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. I always sent her flowers. But every Mother’s Day, I would always think of Sister Lucette. Today, I’m thinking of Sister again as fondly as I did when I was nine.