Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Little Nun

non-fiction
by Greg Larson

     This story begins over fifty years ago, when Gretta and her sister attended Notre Dame de Sion, a private Catholic school operated by an order of French nuns in Kansas City, Missouri.  Tucked on a wooded hillside near Gillham Parkway, the school was a fascinating and unusual place for two young girls from the suburbs in Kansas.  The ornate staircases, secret passageways, wood paneled rooms and a large chapel seemed bigger than life.  In addition to the unique building, the nuns, with their religious discipline, created a surreal school environment.  To this day, Gretta has strange dreams about her grade school days.

     Fast-forward to the ‘70’s, and to Europe.  Gretta was a college student, studying abroad in Germany. During Spring break, she spent time in Paris with one of her French schoolmates.  On their frequent visits to the patisserie, Gretta found a favorite pastry that she ordered many times by pointing to it behind the glass case.  It was a double-decker cream puff, shaped like a little snow man with chocolate drizzled on top.

     I digress to share…Gretta does have a weakness for chocolate-covered items.  For a woman with willpower and self-discipline that towers above most mortals, Gretta has some chinks in her armor.  The weaknesses include potato chips, cashews, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and anything chocolate.

     On a slow day in the patisserie, Gretta asked the young sales girl for the name of the pastry as she pointed to the double-decker cream puff behind the glass.  The sales girl giggled and said, “religieuse,” or French for “nun.”  Gretta wasn’t sure if she was joking or not.

     The next time she craved the chocolate-drizzled pastry, she went to a different patisserie and asked for a “religieuse,” not knowing what type of reaction to expect from the sales clerk.  Very efficiently, the person behind the case retrieved the rolly-polly pastry and put it on the counter for Gretta.  There it was…a little nun!

     Fast-forward to the summer of 2007 and to Paris.  While Gretta and I were out exploring the streets one afternoon, she led me to a patisserie near the Sorbonne.  I have a weakness for gooey pastry, and I've learned that France has a much better supply of gooey stuff than Italy.  In the middle of the afternoon, we sat on a curb in a small, triangular park and enjoyed our treats, while shooing away the pigeons that were awaiting the spoils.  Gretta ate her “little nun,” while I enjoyed a maple-covered pastry and licked my fingers.

     We then traveled to southern France to meet with a bike tour group and to have our first dinner with them.  Gretta and another participant, Roseanne, learned that they had both attended Catholic school, and they began to swap school stories.  Along with the after-dinner wine, the stories continued to flow.  What several of us witnessed that evening was Gretta and Roseanne releasing long repressed feelings they had, both good and bad, for the nuns.  Gretta related that she didn’t eat her beets for lunch at school one day, so she quietly disposed of them beneath the table.  The nun in the lunchroom caught her in the act, and forced her to eat another portion of beets.  Roseanne told us about a time that she and some of her classmates were disciplined for dancing.  All of the stories came out, and Gretta and Roseanne felt much better.

     During the bike tour, there was a rainy day when many of the riders opted for a shuttle bus to the next overnight stop.  The vanload, including Gretta, stopped at small town for cappuccino and pastry.  Gretta ordered a “religieuse” at the patisserie.  She showed Roseanne the pastry, and then she wasted no time eating it all.  That evening, Roseanne made a point to tell everyone that Gretta had thoroughly enjoyed the “little nun” and that it was devoured in quick order (no pun intended)!

     Another tour participant, Tiz, listened and then she put her finger to her lips and said, “Hmmm, there is something going on here…something deeper.”

     She gave Gretta a stern look while shaking her finger.  “It seems you are eating these ‘little nun’ pastries very quickly and aggressively!”  Then she began to laugh.

     I turned to Tiz and said, “Whoa!  How perceptive!  Have you ever thought of a career in psycho-analysis?”


The Little Nun
(internet photo)