Being an only child, my mother tended to be rather protective of me.
I grew up in an era when people did not wear seatbelts because most vehicles did not even have them. My mother’s rule to keep me safe in a vehicle was that I must always sit in the backseat, even if there was only the driver and myself in the vehicle. I respected the rule. Even if I was going two blocks down the dusty main street with my Grandpa in his Volkswagen Beetle to the Co-op grocery store in our small prairie town, I still had to sit in the backseat as though I had my own personal taxi driver or chauffeur.
So, it came as no surprise to me that the night before, and again on the morning of my departure on an out of town car trip with my piano teacher, my Mom reminded me: “Don’t forget to sit in the backseat.” I assured her I would, as my Dad pulled our car up to the side door of the convent to drop me off at 8:30 a.m.
I was going to the music festival in Lac la Biche, with my piano teacher, a Catholic nun, as well as another nun from the convent and three other girls. We were all from the same school, all in within a grade of each other, and we all took piano lessons once a week from Sister Komery, or Sister Canary as I called her behind her back.
I think as long as I assured my Mom I would sit in the back seat, she had no other worries, being that we were travelling in a bulky, four-door dark blue Buick sedan with a nun at the wheel. How much safer could one possibly be?
All four of us girls, the two German Michelles – Meirer and Schmitt, and the French farm girl Agnes Flaubert, and I were wearing summer dresses, and white knee socks for our debut playing piano solos on the music festival stage. Neither of the nuns wore habits anymore. They were dressed in conservative wool skirts, blazers, polyester blouses with plain, but prominent crosses on chains around their necks. Both Sisters wore wigs on their heads, necessary my mom had told me, after wearing habits for so many years and not having good hair anymore.
Being experts in efficiency, the sisters quickly had us getting in to the car. Immediately I said I was willing to sit in the middle of the backseat, no one disagreed, so in I climbed to my spot. Being a large backseat of a sedan, with just three eleven year old girls in it there was plenty of room for each of us.
The back seat fabric was irritating; scratchy on the back of my legs and knees. I had a sudden longing for the soft fuzzy grey seat covers in my Dad’s car. I guess the nuns felt no need for seat protection since they rarely had children in their vehicle. They did not need to worry about some kid dropping popcorn or pop on it at the drive-in as my Dad seemed to be obsessed with.
The smallest girl, my best friend Michelle M. had been directed to sit in the front between the Sisters. She was short enough that I still had a view out the windshield over the top of her blonde head.
I could also see a small metal statue of Saint Christopher stuck on to the dashboard of the car. Saint Christopher is the saint to keep travellers safe on their journey. Dangling from the rear-view mirror was a blue-grey rosary.
Sister Komery started the motor of the car, but she did not put it in gear.
Before I could even begin to wonder what was possibly wrong, she said: “I will say a prayer for a safe trip.” Quickly but quietly, she mumbled out about a three sentence prayer in ten seconds, the only words I really caught being “Jesus. Please. Safe. Trip. Amen.”
No sooner was the “Amen” out of her mouth, Sister Komery slapped the car into gear, jammed her foot on the gas, the tires spun briefly on the gravel, then as they grabbed hold sent us flying forward in our seats and down the convent driveway towards the highway.
With the car set so quickly into motion, then the thump of it off the driveway curb onto the highway below, the rosary on the rear-view mirror was set swinging. There went the crucified Christ back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Sister Komery was a very fast aggressive driver, with no apparent reason for being so. We were in no danger of being late, leaving in plenty of time for the hour and half drive on the highway, which started out on pavement then turned to gravel for over half of the trip.
Once we hit the gravel road she steered back and forth attempting to dodge deep pot holes, keeping the same speed up as on the paved road.
Even though all the windows were up in the car, the vents must have been open as the dry smell of dust penetrated the interior of the car, overpowering the scent of the lavender talcum powder I had smelled on the nuns as we got in the car. I could taste dirt on my tongue, my throat was parched.
The lack of fresh air along with the constant rattle and pelt of large stones hitting the undercarriage of the car beneath me were slightly sedating.
When we would hit a pot hole directly I was jolted back to the moment. The crucified Christ dangling in front of me jumped up and down, and then He went back to swinging back and forth until the next unavoidable pot hole.
I sneaked a quick look through the rear window behind me. All I could see was dust. No road, no sky, no scenery whatsoever, just thick brown dust.
This was not how I expected a nun to drive.
In what was probably record time, we arrived at our destination. The ride back home began exactly as we began that morning, and again I watched Jesus bounce and swing all the way.
I never knew a nun could drive like a bat out of Hell. I realized I now knew where my uncle got the expression “Jumpin’ Jesus”. He must have taken piano lessons at the convent too. Amen.