From Convent to Pentecost

Chapter 29


It was my time to work in the kitchen. We had to open the kitchen door and step down about three or four steps to a small landing where the garbage can set, to empty scraps such as potato peelings. (We didn’t throw away the food.)

Stranger than fiction, I lifted my eyes and saw a man who took away the full can of garbage and replaced it with an empty can. Why hadn’t I ever seen him before? I never gave any thought as to how we disposed of the garbage in all the twenty two years of my convent life.

Just then a great idea struck! Perhaps the garbage man might help me escape, I decided to steal some paper from the grocery list tab which hung on the kitchen wall, and write a note to him. I finally did this, and took several days, waiting for my chance to grab the pencil and write a fine when no one looked.

I finished my note, and outlined some of the sufferings in the convent and asked him if he would please help me escape. If so, “Leave a note in the empty garbage can.”

I waited until the garbage can was filled and then took the chance of having placed the note on the top of the can beneath the lid. Like a frightened rabbit, and both thrilled and chilled at the very idea of escape, I waited impatiently for the man to return. At the same time I tried to figure a way to get back to the landing without arousing suspicion.

That evening, while in the kitchen, I broke my crucifix and laid it on the table. Supper was over, the dishes washed, and we all left the kitchen at the same time.

Having figured that he had plenty of time to have come and gone, I approached the Mother Superior and told her I had broken my Crucifix and had left it on the kitchen table, I asked permission to go and get it. When she asked me how I broke it (we all lied in the convent — Mother Superior was a habitual liar) and said it had accidentally broken. She gave me permission to go and get it and told me to return at once.

I really moved quickly, and instead of going to the table for my crucifix I went straight to the garbage can! With trembling hands I lifted the lid and there was a tiny piece of paper. It read, “I am leaving the door open, also the big iron gate. Come on out!” For a moment I couldn’t move, and my feet froze to the that cement landing!

I finally managed to reach the door knob! Sure enough, it wasn’t locked, it opened at my touch, I walked out and then turned and flipped the lock latch so it would be locked in case someone missed me and came searching. I crossed the small lawn to the big iron gate which was hinged to the mammoth concrete wall surrounding the convent. It was so wonderful to be free, and to see sunshine, green trees and mother earth again.

I reached over to open the iron gate, but to my amazement and bewilderment the gate was not unlocked as he had promised! Was it a trick, or had the gate been locked accidentally by the wind after he had opened it? I didn’t know, but I did know that there I was between the convent and the eighteen to twenty-foot high walls. The door behind me was locked and the gate in front of me was locked.

I became frantic! I knew what happened to Nuns that tried to escape. Close to the iron gate was a small sapling tree. I weighed less than one hundred pounds, but having remembered how as a child I used to scale a pole or tree with my brothers. I decided to try and scale that huge gate. The gate had round bars rising upward with a cross piece fitted close to the bottom and another about one and one half feet from the top, forming quite a ledge. I placed one foot against the tree and the other against the gate and started climbing.

The tree was quite young and limber and soon bent over. I had to continue the climb with both hands and feet until I reached the ledge. There, it was wide enough for me to stand and take a good look at the ground below. Mustering up my courage, I gathered up my three long skirts and made a jump for freedom. Unlucky me! My skirts caught on the sharp points of the gate and there I hung.

It looked as though I tried to imitate a bird by having tried to fly. Such fear and frustration overwhelmed me. I remembered how it was when other Nuns tried to escape, when the loud buzzer rang out the news, and we Nuns all ran to our cells and got down on our prayer boards and prayed. Priests came running from every, direction to catch the culprit.

I’ve often wondered if that was the time my hair turned gray! We had no mirrors in the convent and I had no idea that when my hair began to grow it would grow a crop of grayish-white hair! Neither did I know I had wrinkles and had grown old. It was a shock the first time I looked in a mirror!

I reached back somehow, and unsnapped two of my skirts at the belt. After that, the third skirt tore on the point and I fell the eighteen or twenty feet to the ground.

It grew darker, so I rested only a few moments. My fears subsided and I quit shaking, so I crawled out and moved on. I walked all night. When dawn came, I hid behind some boards and timber piled by a fence. When night came I emerged from my hiding place and started walking. Where to? I didn’t know. Only one thought prevailed: To get as far away from the convent as possible!

The hard fall knocked me unconscious. When I rallied myself together, sharp pains came from my right arm and shoulder, as though it tore through my flesh. I noticed that a sliver of bone pierced through the flesh. Evidently I fell on my right arm and shoulder and they were broken.

Regardless of the pain, however, I had won the battle! The convent, with its gray shadows and the huge thick walls topped with chipped glass, were behind me. I was on the other side, the side which spelled liberty and freedom!

I got up and walked in the twilight. I didn’t know which way to go. I didn’t even know the country I was in, for I had only heard the name faintly. I was brought to this convent heavily veiled. I soon realized I was in a rural area and a long distance from town, which made it more difficult to escape.

The outside world looked so strange. I walked a short way when fear made me think someone followed me. Perhaps only the wind blew, or my feet touched the leaves and made them crackle. I lived in a quiet world too long, even nature that ran its free course terrified me!

I saw a small building and crawled into it, not having known whether it was a chicken house or a dog kennel. I didn’t walk on the road, but rather in the field just inside the fence. Fast moving cars whizzed by me. How they frightened me! After all, when I entered the convent in 1911 cars were neither numerous nor popular. I only saw about two, and one of those two belonged to my father. They certainly didn’t travel too fast then, and just a bit faster than the horse and buggy. Now, to me, it seemed as though they were going like lightning.

The third day I hid in a straw stack. The animals were fed there and had burrowed into it, making an alcove that was ideal for a poor, escaping Nun to hide and rest in. By then, I was so faint from lack of food and water! My broken arm and hand swelled terribly and turned feverish. Red streaks went up my arm and my fingers turned bluish green. I feared that gangrene or blood poisoning had set in. I came to the conclusion that I had to seek help and risk the chance of being turned over to convent spies. I also realized I was a pauper. I didn’t even own the clothes I wore, for they belonged to the convent. How and who could I ask for help?

When dusk came, I saw a little farmhouse built up on stilts. It seemed rather common so I walked up to the door and knocked. A man came to the door and I asked him for a drink of water. He took one look at me and called his wife who came over, opened the screen door and told me to come in. What wonderful words! I stepped into their humble, little dwelling and sat down at their kitchen table. Besides the table with the red-checkered table cloth there was a one armed rocking chair, and old fashioned cook stove and cupboard. The kerosene lamp with its flickering light had sent out a beacon to this runaway slave and then it lighted this cozy little kitchen, having dismissed the darkness wherever it was carried.

That little old mother, Mrs. Wright, gave me the drink I asked for and then she poured milk into a pan and set it on the stove. When it was warm she brought it over for me to drink. I gulped it down quickly. It had hardly touched my stomach when it came back up. It was much too rich for me. I hadn’t drank any whole milk for twenty two years! My stomach could not retain it.

Without warning I vomited all over everything, including the table and floor. By natural instinct I got up and started to run as I was accustomed to being beaten for offenses of that nature in the convent. But this dear old mother and dad assured me that a mistake didn’t infuriate them; neither did they scold me for it. She stooped and cleaned up the mess, then washed her hands. She took another pan and put it on the stove. I watched her pour in water and add sugar. After it was heated she came over to my side, pulled up a chair and fed me the sugared water from a teaspoon.

Dad Wright asked me to tell him where I came from. He examined my hand and arm which were so swollen and throbbed with each heartbeat. He saw it was broken and the sliver of bone protruded from the flesh. When he said he had to get a doctor for me I begged and pleaded that he shouldn’t, for I ran away from the convent and would never go back. They recognized my fear and promised me I had nothing to be afraid of. Mr. Wright hitched up his horse and buggy (they had neither car nor telephone) and drove into town to summon the doctor.

When the doctor arrived, and before he finished examining me, he walked around my chair and cursed madly. This terrified me! I couldn’t understand the reason for it. However, he stopped cursing and pacing long enough to tell me he was not angry at me, but he would have liked to get his hands on the fellows who were responsible for my condition.

I must have looked like a scare-crow or a ghost. My cheeks were so sunken in, that an egg could have rested in the hollow. Also, the imprint of my teeth could be seen through the flesh.

Doctor Aitken insisted I needed care badly and that I would have to go to the Hospital to receive it. I cried out that I had no money to pay for Hospital care. He stormed that it wasn’t money that I needed but hospitalization, and he was going to see that I had the medical care I needed.

He placed me in his car and drove me to Drs. Richardson and Mooney Hospital. When I arrived there, they placed me on a machine to measure my weight. I tipped the scales at eighty-nine pounds!

I was placed in a private room, on clean white sheets spread on a bed with mattress and springs. The soft bed (after twenty-two years on a slab of wood) was most appealing and luxurious, but uncomfortable. I had become accustomed to my hard convent bed and could not adjust to the softness of this bed. Therefore, when the nurse left I slipped out of bed and laid myself on the floor so that I could rest and get a little sleep. This displeased the hospital staff. The nurse pleaded with me not to get on the floor again as they tried to build up my strength and health and that I thwarted their purpose.

The first operation I was to undergo at the hospital was to have my arm and shoulder, that were broken by the fall from the gate, set. Because this had been neglected so many days, they started to knit already. The swelling and inflammation had to go down before the doctor could set them. This ordeal took two weeks. Then they had to be re-broken so that he could reset them correctly. I remained in that hospital approximately three and one half months, and the little old farm couple never forsook me. They made regular visits via horse and buggy to the hospital. They often brought bouquets of flowers to dress up my hospital room and at the same time built up my morale.

When it came time for my release. Doctor Aitken came in and told me my recovery had come along splendidly and that I was then strong enough to leave the hospital, but not able to go to work yet. He made arrangements with me to go home with him if I thought I would like to spend some time with him and his wife in their home.

This kind doctor had treated me three and a half months without pay, and was then willing to turn his home into a rest home for this forgotten slave. I hardly knew how to answer him. I was overjoyed! Hardly had he made this kind offer to me when two little old people got out of their buggy, ascended the hospital steps, got permission from the desk clerk and walked into my room. Dear old Mr. and Mrs. Wright had made the trip to town especially to take me home with them that day. After another interview with the doctor, I made my choice. I told the doctor that if it wouldn’t offend him I thought I would prefer to go home with the old couple, since they lived in the country which gave me a feeling of security.


Time came to adjust to normal living. I found myself tip-toeing around the house, afraid to make any noise. It was difficult for me to lift my head and look and face people, or the world. I had moved about with downcast eyes too long.

I would never go to town with the folks, partly through fear and partly because I had forgotten how to act in public. The third reason (which was actually the greatest) was because my hair had hardly grown. It felt like stubble in a corn patch and I was embarrassed. My fear was so great the first few weeks. At the slightest noise I would run and hide under the bed until Mr. and Mrs. Wright returned home.

I doubt that either of these dear old souls had ever taken a course in therapeutics or psychology; however, their loving, kind hearts sensed my need and their wisdom prompted me to do things at the right time and opportune moment.

Although this seems very childish, I will long remember the day they returned home with a bag of colored pieces of candy and putting it in my lap. I ran through the house with joy, clasping the bag of candy! Like a youngster, I gave each of them a piece and took one for myself I asked them to place the bag on the top shelf of the cupboard. Perhaps I was returning to my childhood and started to live my life over, forgetting twenty-two years of convent life.

As my health improved I joined Mrs. Wright in the general household duties such as dusting, making beds, etc. I was also delighted just to gather the eggs in the evening.

One Saturday (the Wrights’ regular day to go to town and shop for groceries) they returned with another bag all nicely wrapped and tied. Dad Wright dropped it into my hands and stood back with a gleam in his eye, Mother Wright, too, became excited and assisted me in untying it.

Dad Wright slipped out to the kitchen and got the piece of mirror (the only one in the house) and waited while I finally got the lid off. It was a transformation! What fun we did have, getting that wig on my head. I took another run for joy. Just to think that I then looked like a normal human being and not like a peeled onion!

The next time they went to town I stepped up in the buggy as big as you please! The joy in my heart kept pace with the trot of the horses!