When I went to grade school at Christ the King School on Peachtree Road many of the classes were taught by Catholic nuns. Most of the nuns ruled by terror and we, the saintly little grade school boys and girls, lived in mortal fear much of the time.
Nuns were intimidating to us just by what they wore: military style shoes, heavy stockings, undergarments that went all the way to the ground and must have been at least three or four layers thick, even in summer.
These were covered by several more layers of clothes, topped by a cape-like garment that draped over their shoulders and down around their waists. Their heads were covered with a habit, made of black cloth.
They looked like one of the aliens on Star Trek.
We wagered it probably took them about two hours to get dressed every morning.
One of our favorite tricks was to ask nuns what time it was. It usually took them about five minutes to find their watches.
Every afternoon we had our favorite activity: show and tell. Kids read articles from the paper or brought in unusual items from home. One time I brought in my new pet hamster. It was a beautiful thing: all white with pink ears and beady little eyes. It loved to crawl all over me and I loved the feeling of its little nails tickling my arms or my neck.
At show and tell, everyone had to play with it. One of the girls suggested that Sister Mary Sean, our teacher, pick it up. With some reluctance, she let me to place it carefully on her hand. She laughed as it tickled her palm.
Then that hamster ran right up Sister’s arm and underneath one of those hundreds of layers of fabric she wore. I froze and looked at Sister. Her eyebrows launched up and her eyes got as big as billiard balls and she froze too. Then, she started grabbing her shoulder, and her chest and her stomach. She started hooting and hollering and running around the front of the classroom like folks did in those charismatic churches.
All the girls acted very concerned and gasped in horror. Several rushed to Sister’s rescue, but they couldn’t find that hamster anywhere. Suddenly, Sister went screaming out the door and down the hallway toward the bathroom, followed by all of the girls in the class.
There was bedlam in the class. All the boys were on the floor laughing and screaming. Then, the parade of girls started back and the boys all jumped back into our seats. As each girl walked in the door, she would look at me with her best Catholic-girl scowl. I felt as if a jury was reentering the courtroom to sentence me to death. One whispered that they had to take every bit of clothing off of Sister before they found the hamster in her bra.
Finally, Sister walked back in and marched over to me and asked me to open the box I had brought the hamster in. She opened up her hands and dropped the hamster back in the box. She told me to never bring an animal to show and tell again.
Then her eyes locked on me just before she went back to the front of the room. I’m not quite sure to this day, but I think I saw a little smile break out across her face and just a bit of a twinkle in her eyes.
That afternoon, all the boys in the school wanted to see my hamster. After all, he had “boldly gone” where no man had gone before.