Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 01

SISTER JOAN, Reverend Mother of the Stella Maris Convent, sat at the kitchen table with her nuns seated around, awaiting their breakfast of porridge made by Sister Clare, who had been the mainstay of their culinary operations for many years. They sat patiently with heads bowed and hands clasped, ready for Joan to say grace. Looking around, Joan silently thanked the Lord for each and every one of them.

Sister Madeline, who had once had a career in nursing, and now with her strength and knowledge cared for them all as well as offering her help in the community.

Sisters Amy and Louise, who cared for the garden and provided vegetables for the kitchen and anyone else who could collect their surplus from the little stall at the top of the lane. Shy Emma, their youngest nun, who played the old harmonium in the chapel, cleverly improvising for the wheezing of the old instrument and the odd missing notes.

Sister Imelda, portly and capable, for whom – with the help of her “fixings box” – hardly anything was impossible to repair, including the workings of their ageing people carrier, affectionately named their Fancy Van.

And last but not least, Flora, their oldest nun. This dear friend had been so much help to Joan when she had taken up her post as Reverend Mother to the community of nuns whose vocation was to care for the wanderers and homeless of their world.

There hadn’t been many wanderers of late, and so now the nuns gave peace and refuge to others whose poverty was of the spirit, foundering in the rat-race of modern life. It afforded the nuns a modest living and a continuation of their vocations, as well as a glimpse into the lives of some remarkable guests.

Each and every one of her sisters was a gift beyond price. Joan sighed and made the sign of the cross, and they all followed suit.

“Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts . . .”

It was breakfast time on just an ordinary day. Their latest guest had left the afternoon before, so there was a relaxed atmosphere about the kitchen.

“The lettuces are doing very well,” Sister Louise remarked. “And the radishes are nearly ready to eat.”

“The tomato plants can be put in the veggie patch today.” Sister Amy was very protective of her tomatoes.

Old Sister Flora, sitting beside Joan, stirred her tea.

“My guardian angel says he likes the apple tree the best.”

A silence fell around the table. Imelda raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Joan patted Flora’s hand.

“I expect he does, dear. With all its lovely blossom it’s very beautiful at the moment. But he couldn’t have actually told you, could he?” she said gently.

“Yes, he did!” Flora was adamant. “Out in the garden yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the old oak barrel under the apple tree, and he turned round and said to me, ‘Nice here, isn’t it?’ And I said yes. Then he said, ‘I like the blossom best.’ And I said I did, too.” Flora picked up her cup and took a sip of tea.

Joan’s heart missed a beat.

“So you actually speak to him?”

Flora grinned, her missing front tooth making her smile very endearing.

“Course I do, don’t we all? That prayer we all say before bed and in the morning – ‘Oh, angel of God, my guardian dear’?”

“Yes,” Imelda replied. “But they don’t jolly answer back!”

“Maybe,” Flora said quietly, “you just don’t listen!”

She made it plain that the conversation was ended.

Joan smiled and quietly rejoiced in Flora’s faith and vivid imagination. Madeline caught Joan’s eye and shook her head ever so slightly. Elderly ladies, Joan thought, are entitled to their fancies, and maybe Flora’s right – we don’t listen enough.

Alison Cook