Cinco de Mayo

Let’s celebrate! During my convent years, the Sisters sent me to teach 1st grade at St. Aloysius Academy, a private school for boys which included a boarding option. Most of the boys in my classroom were day students, though the majority of boarders, who resided in the historical Drexel Mansion with the Sisters, were 7th and 8th grade students from Mexico, whose parents sent them for one year of immersion in American culture.

I fondly recall picking up the boys at the airport in our trusty school van, and listening to their chatter of excitement in Spanish, of which I knew only a few words. As I helped them unpack, I’d remind them that they needed their camisa blanca and pantalones grises (white shirts and gray pants) for school. In addition to hola and gracias, they were the extent of my Spanish vocabulary and the boys knew few English words, as well. But we made it work, and by the end of the school year, they conversed in English as if it were their first language.

One of the Sisters at St. Aloysius had learned Spanish in high school and we often had her translate for the rest of us, but even she had trouble occasionally. One of the Mexican boys in her dorm cried every night and begged to call his mother, which she permitted for the first week or so, until she feared that his mom would worry about him. As she tried to explain her rationale, she didn’t know the Spanish word for “worry,” so she said his mother would “fear that he was sick.”

Suddenly, the boy’s tears turned to giggles and he readily went to bed. I met her as she exited his room with confusion lining her face. She grabbed her Spanish-English dictionary, then said, “Oh, my gosh. I just told him his mother would ‘shit’ if he called her.” Apparently, she said “mierda,” instead of “miedo,” so I suppose I could say I learned two new words in Spanish.

For those of you who have read my Poustinia series, you should know that I based the setting from memories of my boarding school days when I lived in that historic mansion, which included an original bowling alley in the basement, directly below our Chapel. Although the boys had to set up the pins by hand, they loved challenging each other to a game, and we cringed with the racket they made as we tried to pray.

Leave a Reply