1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

Nun Cake

I liked the taste of communion wafers pressed against the roof of my mouth. But nun cake was a big disappointment.

Once a week, Catholic kids were bussed to church school to attend first communion classes. Our teacher was a genuine nun, complete with a full habit and head piece. I was in awe. She had two names (like most of my cousins and me), except one of hers was a boy’s name–Sister Agnes Michael.


Nun’s habit that I could have worn with style, and better shoes.

The first day of class she let us know what kind of miscreants she assumed we were.

“Keep your hands on top of your desks, so you aren’t tempted to reach inside and steal anything,” she ordered.

I never stole anything in my life (except for Snappy and a few carrots) and blushed red with humiliation at being treated like a criminal. I’m one of those people who, if someone thinks I’m guilty, immediately feels guilty. This is followed by looking guilty, which is how I appeared as Sister Agnes Michael eyeballed me while warning us about stealing.

During our first lesson, she stated that God had no beginning and has no end. What the heck? I could sort of see how something might not have an end, but no beginning? I waved my hand, questioned her statement, questioned her answer because it didn’t explain anything, and found myself sitting on a chair in the corner.

Memo to self: God’s holy servants do not appreciate being questioned.

The following week, I found out about original sin and black hearts.

“Every time you commit a sin, a black spot appears on your heart,” revealed Sister.

I pictured the spots as filling in around the outside first, then working their way to the center, as opposed to popping up willy-nilly. My chest weighed heavy as I imagined its tainted contents; a large version of the chocolate-covered cherries Dad bought, with the diminishing red cherry-part getting squished by my ever-thickening, chocolate coating of sin.

“Do mistakes and little fibs make gray spots?” I asked hopefully.

“There are no gray areas in sinning. There is right, and there is wrong. God can see into your heart and knows your sins.”

Well, that wasn’t good news. And the way Sister made the announcement, while her eyes bore holes through my chest, insinuated God squealed to her about my heart’s black-coating. I hunched over to shield my tell-tale heart.

My worries eased a bit when she revealed confession erases the black if we are truly repentant. Salvation. I could start over with a clean heart. And this time I’d keep it solid red with no black speckles anywhere. I’d never let the devil get me in trouble again. Hmmm, maybe I’d look good in a nun’s habit.

“Except for original sin,” continued Sister. “We all carry the burden of original sin.”

“Even little babies?” I asked.

She fixed her holy eyes on me. “Everyone.”

That didn’t seem fair. Why should I be stuck with a black spot for something Adam and Eve did a million years ago?

During our third session, Sister Agnes Michael offered us a special surprise if we memorized some verses for the next class. I was anxious to redeem myself and ensure a place in heaven, since I was on shaky ground for questioning God’s earthly servant.

Mom listened while I recited the verses, and corrected any mistakes. I looked forward to my next first communion class, wondering what my surprise might be. I hoped for candy or money, but knew it’d probably be something religious. I really liked Sister’s oversized rosary beads with a heavy cross that swung against her stomach when she walked, and hoped for a knock-off set.

My goal: Make 1st communion so I could wear a bride-dress.

My goal: Make 1st communion so I could wear a bride-dress.

Four of us stood at the front of our classroom to receive our reward. Sister served us a big hunk of leftover dried-up cake, cemented into a corner of a rectangular cake pan. I’m not talking about cake with a crusty edge. This nun cake was petrified.

Sister slid a small wastebasket into the coat closet and balanced the cake pan across the top. “It is impolite to eat in front of the other children. They will become envious and you will be prideful. Be sure to eat over the basket and pan, so there are no crumbs on the floor.”

We crammed in against the coats and she shut the door. Faint brown light from a high ceiling bulb illuminated us in yellow shadows. I chipped off a piece of cake and searched for a soft spot. Cake crumbs tumbled into the pan below. One boy shoved a hunk of surprise under sheets of paper in the bottom of the basket. I quickly did the same, and the other cake eaters followed suit. We buried the remnants of our reward and knocked on the door to be let out.

“Thank you, Sister,” we mumbled, and returned to our seats.

She removed the trash can from the closet, checked the floor for crumbs, and pulled a long cord to turn off the light.

“What kind of children are you that you’d waste food?” she demanded.

She found our cake. I sat wondering what possessed her to look under the trash, and then remembered her direct pipeline to God–who knows all and sees all. Sort of like the Wizard of Oz. Our class of secular lowlifes learned about poor starving children in Africa and ungrateful children in America.

I couldn’t wait to tell Mom about my crummy reward.

“Nuns are supposed to be holy and nice,” I complained. “Why is she so mean?”

I shot down Mom’s first explanation; that maybe the Sister thought the nun cake was good.

Mom explained, “No one is completely good or bad. The nicest people in the world aren’t perfect. And the worst people in the world often have something good about them. You have to decide if the good out-weighs the bad. If it does, then decide whether the bad is something you can live with.”

It was a lot to take in, so I concentrated on the first part; no one is completely good or bad. Promising news, since being all good was not in my nature. The chunks of good in me meant I still had a chance at Heaven, or at least Purgatory. I decided Sister Agnes Michael was more good than bad because she shaved her head for God (or so I believed at the time), wore ugly shoes, said a lot of prayers, and couldn’t help it if she was old and crotchety.

Lessons learned: Nobody is perfect, nuns can’t bake cake, and apparently God is a tattle-taler.

Related posts: Amazing Discoveries/Visiting Planet Earth; Pandemonium Trail/Turtle Thief; Innocent Villain/Church School Runaways


Now it’s your turn: Did you ever sit before a nun?


© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Mimmy Jain says:

    I, too, have suffered under nun rule, so I totally empathize. And, gosh, yes, communion wafers taste so good, especially when dipped in wine, as they used to be when I was in school. On an empty stomach, they made you see things!

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      I only had a brief foray into nun-world. One of my best friends went to a Catholic school, and boy, did she tell me some stories! Thanks, Mimmy, I’m glad I’m not the only one with a taste for holy wafers.

  2. leovlad says:

    I spent 12+ years in catholic schools and vividly remember the stares of death and raised eyebrows of nuns that could silence a room in seconds…. *shudder* I need to go look at some pictures of puppies now!

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Oh my, Leo, twelve years? Although not as calming as puppies, I have a photo of a gorilla in Basement Gorilla, and one of a snapping turtle in Turtle Thief that you can look at.

  3. Was trying to leave a comment on the Home Page. I find WordPress at times very pressing…you write so well and I love the Twizzler analogy. I also see how much you love to write. That pleases me. It’s my favorite pastime in the whole world and when people take the time to read an essay of mine, I’m on the floor drowning in humility. I think you might be there alongside me doing the breaststroke 🙂

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thank you Susannah. I love your blog and am grateful you enjoy mine. Of all people, you are certainly one that can identify with the skinny issues.

      • Oh yes…I certainly can. And if one more person makes a remark about my weight loss I will stab them. When you give up sugar, dairy, gluten and wheat and all processed fat, you lose weight. I have never felt better with the exception of my ongoing ear issues…but the weight thing. Would you ever go over to someone and say…wow…have you gotten fat? It’s really the same thing now isn’t it Skinny 🙂

  4. Mary says:

    I spent 8 years in Catholic elementary school. Our family favorite was Sister Alice Francis who we fondly dubbed “Animal Cracker”. She was a pistol. She told us one time that she could look at us and see who had sin on their soul. No one wanted to return her gaze. Turns out her real forte was nursing and if she’d been given that assignment life for many kids would have been different. My father later admitted to my sister that she ruined a lot of kids who crossed her path. I was always confused. How could missing mass on Sunday be a mortal sin like murder? By the time I left and went on to public high school I pretty much just showed up and went through the motions to keep my parents happy. Fortunately a few years later some friends introduced me to Jesus and how it was possible to have a real relationship with God. I was relieved that He is much different from what I learned as a kid. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    ps our school used the Baltimore catechism that had pictures of milk bottle to represent your sour. if you had venial sins the bottle was spotted, for mortal it was black. I can still see those pictures. The power of graphics!

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Wow, Mary, a heart of curdled milk! Sort of like Little Miss Muffet. Maybe Sister Alice Francis was trying out her own version of ‘scared straight’ (program of using convicts and prison guards to scare wayward truants). Thanks for stopping by.

  5. L'Oreal says:

    I enjoyed this post. I attended a Christian elementary school, Seventh-day Adventist middle school, an Episcopalian high school (2007-’11), and am currently at a college that welcomes all religious backgrounds. I’ve had experiences with a number of tough women, and have heard stories, similar to yours, from my mother who attended Catholic School as a child with nuns. Some frightening things, and some humorous. The style in which this post is written is wonderful, very playful. I appreciate it. Thanks for sharing.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks for stopping by, L’Oreal. You sound like a smorgasbord of religion. The nuns were not so dissimilar from regular teachers, some great, some horrible, and most in between. I still think I could have rocked one of those habits. But I’d have a real problem wearing ugly shoes.
      I’m glad you enjoyed my story.

  6. Elle Knowles says:

    Actually, I never had a run in and never went to Catholic school, but my mothers sister was a nun. Really! And she scared me to death. Her name was Sister Ida Marie. There was just something about that habit they were required to wear. When the rules changed and she later started to wear regular clothing but still the head piece ( I know it has to have a name), she wasn’t as scary. I really wish I had gotten to know her better.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Wow, Elle, a real nun in your family! I’m impressed. I always thought that if I wore a habit I’d magically become a really good person, as in one step below a saint. Alas, near-sainthood was not meant to be.

      • Elle Knowles says:

        Yeah, I was the only one in town that could say I had a nun for an aunt – except for my brother and sisters of course. I wonder if it impressed them the way it did me?

  7. Jack Durish says:

    Whenever I hear a tale of Catholic schooling and tyrannical nuns, I wonder if I led a deprived childhood having only suffered at the hands of an abusive father. Fortunately, my mother taught me to laugh at him as you have learned to laugh at them.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Gee, Jack, that’s a pretty overwhelming ‘only’. I’m glad you’ve learned to laugh at adversity. While you might need to take a stand at major things, laughing at the minor changes the event from a total negative to a funny story. Very empowering.

  8. miraprabhu says:

    Mary: love your blog/post! Looks like you saw the humorous side of the nun syndrome — the nuns who ran the posh school I attended in south India were Irish, English, American and Indian, and some were divine. Others — what to say? Anyway, the current novel I am writing deals partly with these nuns — would love to send you a chapter — if you would care to read it — a short one — if you like, send me your email. By the way, please check out my blog: miraprabhu.wordpress.com. You can read the first three chapters of my recently published novel: Whip of the Wild God there. Keep going — you are great!

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      I will definitely check out your site as soon as I get a free moment. Sounds very interesting.
      A couple of hours of nun-rule a week was plenty for me. My husband got to have the five day a week experience. And you’re right, just like every other walk of life, there are all varieties of the good and the not-so-good.

  9. My grandmother lived across the street from the Catholic school, and my only run-ins with the nuns as a child was fleeing in terror from what my older cousins informed me were black-robed “witches”. It was years before I learned that they were not actually witches. I told this story as a teenager to a Catholic friend who assured me that they were likely as mean as any witch ever was. Very amusing story about the cake. One has to wonder how long it had been sitting around drying out, and whatever possessed her to pawn it off as some sort of reward. If she didn’t want to eat it herself, was she actually guilty of deliberately passing on the sin of “wastefulness” so that the spots went onto the hearts of the innocent children instead of her own?

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Diana, I’m sure there were plenty of sweet nuns with good cake, I just wasn’t fortunate enough to meet one. I didn’t worry about any black spots for wastefulness because I knew God would never expect us to crunch down that dried up nun cake.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  10. This was excellent. Very well written and funny. Also very familiar to me. Nuns. Oh my, oh my, oh my. Nuns. Brings back memories. One time, in grade school, another 5th grade boy and I found out we could peek up the girls’ dresses as they walked up the stairs to the school’s second floor if we waited for them to go ahead of us. We could look up at them from under the banister as they climbed the stairs. As we were doing this, Sr. Cabrini, school principle, snuck up behind us and grabbed our ears, pulling us by them all the way to a closet behind her office. She kept us in there over an hour, thinking hard over what we thought she was going to do to us. When she came and got us, all she said was, “Gentlemen. We WILL have NO more of THAT, now, will we!” Of course, we never even thought of doing it again after that. Check out my “Q & A with Satan”. I think you’ll like it.

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