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As a single, working parent in rural Maine, Helen Hampton’s mother made the courageous decision to put Helen in a boarding school so that Helen could catch up on her studies after a year-long illness. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
In 1934, when I was ten years old, I had my tonsils taken out. After I came home from the hospital I had a hemorrhage and almost died. It caused a heart murmur, as I lost so much blood. I was so sick that I missed a full year of school.
My mother thought I would need a good school to get caught up with my studies. She decided that I should go to a private school, so I began attending a convent boarding school called Mount Merici in Waterville, Maine. It was taught by the Ursuline nuns. I would board there Monday through Friday, and return home each weekend.
My mother was a nurse, and after my father died, she had made our large home into a nursing home and cared for elderly patients. When she had just a few patients who could be left alone for a short time, my mother was the neighborhood “doctor.”
She would answer various calls, such as attending to a person with a gallbladder attack. Or she would care for someone’s sick child. I was happy that I would still be able to see my dear mother each weekend.
Life in a convent was quite an experience for a child of eleven. The sleeping quarters consisted of a long line of beds, head to head, in the middle of a large dorm room. The room had sleeping “alcoves” along the walls, with drapes that could be drawn for privacy. I had one of these private rooms with the bedspread and curtains of my choice. It was quite nice.
We ate our meals at long tables in a large dining hall. The nuns would walk up and down to see that everyone ate all of their food.
We wore black stockings, black dresses with white hard collars and cuffs that needed to be scrubbed every week with Bon ami. A big black bow tie completed the costume.
If anyone in the dorm came down with a cold, every child was given a dose of castor oil. There was only one bathroom at the end of the dorm. Needless to say, it was a very disturbing situation when we had to stand in a long line waiting our turn to use the bathroom. Everyone was hopping up and down in great distress. But I guess we must have managed to live through it.
We had great fun on our time off from our studies. There were many activities to fill our spare time. We roller-skated in the fall and spring, and we ice-skated in the winter. We put on plays, and I had many singing parts in our musicals.
I boarded in Mount Merici for three years. By then I was caught up with my studies, so I was able to go to public school for my remaining school years. Mount Merici was a good experience.
Published: Aug. 21, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 19