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Chapter 33

Second Escape

I rode over my conscience and yielded to many base desires and committed many sins in order to obey my superiors. I did this hoping to gain favor so the heavy forms of penance would be lifted and the suffering eased.

After I had been there for approximately twenty-eight months, and several of which months had passed without my having any black marks chalked up against me for disobedience or stubbornness, I was given the privilege of accompanying twenty other Nuns to the enclosed yard for a period of recreation. We were permitted to play “bean bag” or to leisurely stroll through the yard. It was such a blessing to touch Mother Earth. Many of us sprawled out on the ground and buried our faces in the soft green grass!

Suddenly I heard a loud noise by the big iron gate! Curiosity made each of us stop what we were doing and take a peek through the bars. Yet we didn’t want the others to know we had been aroused and that we even dared to cast an eye through the gate to the outside world!

A rickety, clattering old coal truck, that sounded like a bucket of bolts, emerged on the scene. After a squealing sound of brakes, it stopped right by the gate! A man, black as the coal itself, hopped out of the cab and took a wheel-barrow from the top and filled it with chunks of coal.

We certainly weren’t supposed to look upon a man (a priest isn’t recognized as a man in the Confessional or Mass, but as the Christ), so it was very difficult to watch this procedure, and at the same time act as though we were completely ignoring it!

This strange man took a key, unlocked the gate, pushed the wheel-barrow of coal through and slammed the gate again so that the big lock would fasten. He quickly rolled his load to the convent door, unlocked it, emptied his burden in the basement, and returned. Never before had we beheld such a phenomenon. Surely this man must be mixed up on his schedule. Never before had anyone dared to invade the privacy of the Nuns!

As I watched this procedure, a bright thought flashed through my brain as he made his second trip. Why couldn’t I dash through to the outside when he returned with his empty wheel-barrow and unlocked the gate? However, I didn’t have the nerve to try.

Then something wonderful happened! The gate didn’t slam as hard as it did the other time, neither did I hear the slide lock jam on his third trip in, I waited breathlessly until he passed by me. I arose and began sauntering around, stooping here and there and plucking spears of grass. I glanced at the gate, and sure enough, it hadn’t locked! In fact, the gate was hardly shut. I made a lunge against it and flung it open.

I made my getaway, even though I slid and fell on the cinders while pushing the gate open. That didn’t stop me. I rose and slammed the gate shut. then ran for my life. I refused to turn around and look back at the other Nuns for fear I would be apprehended.

The veil of my habit kept falling on my face and I ran directly into a man. The head-on collision frightened him almost as much as it did me! He certainly wasn’t expecting a Nun to plow into him in broad daylight! I took advantage of my blunder and excitedly asked him if he would hide me. I tried to explain to him that I escaped from the convent and feared I would be caught and returned because all the other Nuns had seen me run away.

He became almost as nervous as though it were he escaping and running for his life. However, he told me to follow him. He just put sonic hay into his barn and told me that I could hide there. I just reached the top of the ladder leading to the haymow when he told me to come back down for he had a better place for me to hide. He ran towards his house with me at his heels. We ran into the kitchen and he took a broom, hoisted off the lid to the attic, boosted me up through the hole and yelled to me to put the lid back into place.

I don’t know how he explained to his wife about hiding a strange woman up in his attic, who had literally knocked him off his feet, but she allowed me to walk the floor over her for twenty-four hours without suspicion or jealousy!

God was good to me! He directed my steps and allowed this kind, hospitable couple to give me lodging. They sent up blankets, a pillow, and food. I remained in their attic all that evening and the next day. The following evening they helped me down from the attic, packed a nice lunch in a shoe box and gave me some clothes and money. With my Nun’s habit wrapped in a bundle under my arm, and the box of food in my hand I set off with the same determination and vision that Patrick Henry had when he said, “GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH.”

These kind people gave me a road map, pointing out the exact route to Uncle Johns home, five hundred miles away. I started walking. I also hitch-hiked a few rides. During all of this, I turned out to be a first-class “bum.” I was a clean one, however, and I didn’t hop trains or gather around the camp fire with other bums and sing lullabies. Nor did I carve a notch on the tree or porch of a good handout, because this girl wasn’t coming back! What I mean is, I stopped at various homes along the route and begged for food and water. Some were very kind to me, while others slammed the door in my face. Some let me sleep on their porch, even offered me a blanket. Others even gave me small change. Eventually I collected enough to finish the last lap of my journey by train.

RETURN TO UNCLE JOHN’S

Uncle John looked very surprised and somewhat bewildered when I knocked and walked in. He seemed so honest and sincere when he asked me where I had been. I thought to myself, “That was quite a silly question.” I mean, as if he didn’t know! Without another word he walked into another room and returned with a telegram in his hand. With trembling voice he read.

John, don’t worry about Charlotte. She is in safe keeping.

Signed,

William Eckler.

So my Dad had been responsible for my being picked up and carried back to the convent by four Priests! Hatred really welled up in my heart. Dad, who had seen my broken body after I first escaped. He was the one who had paid the hospital bill and spent a tremendous amount with dentists because my mouth had been full of rotten, decayed teeth. Some had been broken and were nothing more than snags. I simply came to the conclusions that he was only my father in the physical sense and didn’t deserve the title of “Father.” I actually loathed and despised him! In my heart I said, “Dad, I never want to see you again!”

Later, my heart softened and there was a reconciliation between Dad and I. Nevertheless, I never fully trusted him again.

When my health and strength were restored I learned to drive an automobile. About this time my mother had gained some strength after a second paralytic stroke, and for a while it looked like she might fully recover.

During the interval, before her third stroke which caused her death, she begged to see her baby boy, Chet, who was in California. He trained for the priesthood, finished his studies and served in a local pastorate under the direction of an older priest, Father Senith. So Dad, Mother and I made the trip from Kansas to Los Angeles via Highway 66, the Southern route.

It was in late spring and nature was dressed in its prettiest. Even the desert was in bloom. As we passed the outskirts of the Painted Desert and journeyed by the Grand Canyon, waves of excitement and joy burst forth from our hearts and lips as we admired the handiwork of God. The real thrill, as well as a chill came when the old Dodge climbed “Needles Mountain” dropping us into sunny California.

Chet and I were strangers. He had been born after I entered the convent in 1911. Now we really felt strange to each other as he stood there erect in his holy habit. I, who had taken off my Nun’s habit and renounced all that pertained to it, sensed the awful barrier of our diversified feelings.

Mother beamed as she looked at her boy. Although he was a grown man, he was still the baby boy to mom. I held back my tears and forced myself to keep from telling him that I wished he had chosen any profession but that of priesthood. I almost told him that men who had worn the collar backwards, as he did, had ravished my soul along with thousands of other Nuns who could not help themselves.

However, I felt it was useless to talk now! After all, he was a priest and would follow a priests course! I reasoned there was no point of spoiling the last bit of vacation and happiness Mom would have with her son.

That fall, the third paralytic stroke struck mom’s feeble body. She never regained consciousness but succumbed quietly to death.