Sister Evangeline’s Dirty Forehead

There is a low-point in everyone’s High School career and mine was Algebra 2 with Sister Evangeline.   I went to an all-girls High School at a Catholic convent despite being a life-long Mormon. About half of our teachers were nuns (who, I was disappointed to find out, did not wear habits–only skirts and very frumpy shoes.) Sister Evangeline was one of those people who had a perfectly mathematical mind and simply couldn’t understand that not everybody else had the same.  She would explain a new mathematical concept the same way over and over again.  If you didn’t get it, she would just give you the exact same explanation but in a meaner tone of voice.

Every day a few unlucky girls were chosen to put their homework problems up on the board.  Not being the kind of person who believes in homework, I never did mine.  Ever.  Instead I would copy the homework of Carla who sat behind me.  She was too sweet and softspoken to ever refuse, even though I could tell she hated to do it.  But I figured that if Carla didn’t have the gumption to say no, then I would continue to copy.  It never struck me that this was cheating (it’s only cheating if it’s a test, you know.  And I never cheated on tests. I failed miserably every time and couldn’t have cared less); copying Carla’s work was merely a more expeditious way of getting things done.

Algebra was my first period class and one particular morning Sister Vange came in with a giant blob of dirt on her forehead.  Nobody took any notice.  Nobody said a word.  I looked around the room; the other girls looked bored as ever. No one was snickering or pointing.  What in the world was going on?  How did Sister Vange get a huge smudge on her forehead at 8:00 in the morning and how could she not have noticed?  Well, if nobody was paying it any attention, then I supposed I wouldn’t either.

On the way to my next class I noticed a classmate with a smudge of dirt on her forehead.  Only it wasn’t just a blob, it was in the shape of a plus sign. Hmmmm.  The plot continued to thicken. I finally pulled one of my Catholic friends aside.  “What is going on?” I demanded.  She gave me a bored look, “it’s Ash Wedensday, Dummy.”

Aha!  That holiday I’d seen every year in my little square Hallmark datebook! That wasn’t mud on their foreheads, it was ashes!  And it wasn’t a plus sign, it was a cross! I’m sure we had a special liturgy at school for Ash Wednesday, but like most everything about Catholicism, I never quite figured out the idea behind it.

We Mormons don’t observe the little religious holidays. Things like Epiphany and Palm Sunday just pass us right by. I guess they’re too “Catholic” or something. Or maybe the idea is that it shouldn’t take a special day to make us think of the Lord. I don’t know. But I had never come across someone observing Ash Wednesday before that day at school.

Every year on Ash Wednesday I think about Sister Evangeline, my inability to do math, and how much I enjoyed going to school at a convent despite the fact that I have never been, and have no desire to ever be, a Catholic.

So Happy Ash Wednesday, everyone, even though I still don’t know what it’s about!

| Filed under Church, Holidays, I'm Not So Great

9 thoughts on “Sister Evangeline’s Dirty Forehead

  1. Austin came home talking all about what he was going to give up. It took my a little figure out that at chapel at school they must have talked about Lent. I tried talking him into giving up throwing fits. He was having none of it! It has to be a toy or something according to the school. When I said we didn't do that, he said that if his school does it, he does! So of course he's looking at toys he hasn't played with in ages!! We need to plan a lunch day!

  2. I think Lent totally makes sense. It's nice and symbolic of the 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness. I guess since we do fast Sunday, though, that kind of takes the place of Lent.

  3. You are such an entertaining writer. You could talk about anything and make it sound funny and interesting.

    In case you REALLY don't know WHY Ash Wednesday (which I doubt, because you know everything) it symbolizes repentance, as in "tear your clothing and pour ashes on your head because you are so sorry." It's the beginning of the "fast" of Lent, during which you are supposed to give up a sin.

    And of course, if you are going to give up sin for 46 days, you had better have a party first, during which you will commit all possible sins with delighted abandon. Thus: MARDI GRAS !!!

  4. L. was so thorough in her comment, my remark of
    I suppose you do, however, enjoy a rowdy Fat Tuesday?
    isn't so snarky anymore.

  5. I actually really appreciated this little post because we were having a little celebration for Gwen at Chuck E. Cheese and there was a family that had the blackened ash marks on their foreheads and I thought to myself, I wonder if I should say something. I am so lame.

    And cheating only applying to tests, well now I happen to like that one.

  6. I actually think it's a real pity that we dont' celebrate more of the Easter-related holidays like Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and such. The few holidays we do celebrate related to Christ's life often get pushed aside by commercialism and our kids hardly take notice of them. It would be good, I think, to commemorate the specific events of His life leading up to his death without having to give presents and candy.

  7. My family and I were all at Cici's pizza(you have those in TX, right?) last week, and I saw a whole table of people with black smudges on their foreheads in the vague shape of crosses. One of the men looked like his was actually tattoed. I'm LDS too, so I had no clue what this was about. I thought they were a little whacky. So I pulled my husband aside and in a not so whispered voice asked what the heck was up with those people…and he told me it had to do with Ash Wednesday. To which I replied…"but it's Tuesday…so why do they have that crap on their foreheads?"

  8. best laugh I’ve had in a while. My parents made me go to Catholic church, and when I was small, we were to go to confession once a week. I couldn’t think of any sin I did so I made one up …often. : ) so I repented of things I didn’t do. Sort of.

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