Every Christmas I get a card from my Grade 1 teacher, Sr Carmel - or Mary, as she prefers now. I had the most magical introduction to schooling under her care. Our classroom was a house on the same block as the other school buildings. We had our desks in the loungeroom and used the toilet in the bathroom. Art activities took place on the front verandah and the sink nearby was handy for washing off brushes. In the afternoon, we would gather on the side verandah and she would read from Gulliver's Travels. Our desks were in the lounge room with a blackboard on one wall. At Easter, she dressed herself in a large rabbit costume and hopped by our desks - or could I have imagined that?! I do know the Easter baskets we'd so carefully constructed were filled with tiny chocolate eggs to take home at the end of that term. On our birthdays we knew we'd find a gift in our desks - a set of rosary beads or a holy card. Back then we still bought stamps for 1 cent 'for the missions' and the stamps had cartoon pictures of the children we thought we were saving.
She was gentle and kind but would not put up with any rubbish from anyone and I remember once being sent up from the playground to fetch the black belt that hung behind one of the doors. I can't remember seeing her use it, perhaps she just threatened punishment. I behaved very well from the start of school as my older brothers had told me too many stories about getting the 'strap' . It was true that boys in Grade 4 could still be sent to get 'the cane' from the Principal and that at the all boys' school, the short, thick, leather strap did come down hard on the hands of boys who 'crossed the line'.
At the end of the year we put on the Nativity play for our parents. I was incredibly jealous of the classmate who was cast as Mary, purely because she had a new baby brother who could play Jesus. I did not even make the main cast, instead an extra 'visitor' to see the baby, dressed in our pyjamas and holding our favourite toy. I brought in a plastic dolly peg baby toy that had a squeaker in it. The plate I held on to for so long was decorated with a picture of Mary holding the baby Jesus and balloons, for his birthday. I was very sad to see the end of the year and to leave the lovely house that had been such a secure and happy place.
Sr Carmel (Mary) came to my wedding and comes to my home in the form of a Christmas card each year. This year it came with a crocheted tea towel that hangs perfectly from my oven door handle. Keep those cards coming for a few years yet, I'm not ready to let them go.