In 1966, our family moved from Battle Creek, Michigan to Cleveland, Ohio, and my mother decided I was old enough to choose my new high school. There was only one problem: all she knew was that St Joseph’s Academy was half an hour from home, and Magnificat High School was an extra fifteen minutes.
I chose the closest school, and as the bus wound its way down a dark and narrow gravel drive, I had a curious feeling of going back in time. Trees crowded in on each side. Breaking out of the shadows, an ancient building of stone and yellow brick materialised. Girls in blue plaid pinafores were crossing the lawn, climbing wide stone stairs and disappearing behind tall wooden doors.
Mother Superior, in her black skirts and white headdress, was waiting for me inside the door: ‘Welcome to St Joseph’s, dear. Jeannie will be your guide for the first few days until you find your way around.”
‘Hi’ said Jeannie, looking me over. ‘I guess you don’t have a uniform yet.’ I glanced at hers. The pleated pinafore fell far below her knees, ending an inch above sagging white bobby socks and unthinkable black and white saddle shoes. Were these people out of the dark ages? How could I possibly wear those?
Jeannie cheerfully pointed out the books I needed in the book room, and then led me toward our first class. ‘We’ll have to get you a bimbo bag for those books tomorrow,’ she said, gesturing at a bulging cloth sack over her shoulder.
‘A BIMBO BAG?’ I echoed incredulously.
Obediently, I followed Jeannie around all day, and found the right bus to get me home. ‘How was your day, Mary?’ my mom asked. And I burst into tears.