Connections Upstairs

SISTER JO JO WAS MY AUNT. Her real name was Sister Marie André, OP. (OP meant Outstandingly Pious.) Her actual real name was Joan, which is why we called her Sister Jo Jo. She was my favorite. She was a nun, but not like the nuns at school. She was just like us. We roller-skated and went fishing together. She brought presents when she visited — scapulars, medals, statues of Mary or St Joseph, holy water fonts for our bedrooms. (I couldn’t imagine Mother Mary Paul giving me any of these things without me having earned them.) Sister Jo Jo really wasn’t like most nuns. Ma even said that Sister Jo Jo nearly burnt down the motherhouse when the cigarette she was smoking in the basement caught the sisters’ laundry on fire.

When she visited in the summer, Sister Jo Jo raced us to the field for a baseball game. She had an arm on her and could slam the ball right into the river (an automatic home run), and when bat met ball, she blasted off of home plate, a flurry of black and white. We fought over whose team she’d play on because she had Connections Upstairs that guaranteed a win. She was even better at baseball than Lenny Walczak, and he was the best. She taught me how to hit and to pitch and to break in my new mitt.

When Sister Jo Jo visited, Dad lit the grill and Ma loaded the metal tub with ice and filled it with pop and beer, then put it out on the grass. We pulled the folding chairs from of the garage and situated them in the front lawn. The Walczaks and the Dornwalds came over with badminton, hula-hoops and Jarts. We got out our stilts and the big tire. We played and ate hot dogs and turned our lips purple with grape Nehi. After we ate, the lightening bugs came out and so did the peach tin. We played kick-the-can until it was time for bed.

Sister Jo Jo always tucked me in. She knelt with me at the foot of the bed to say our Angel-of-God together. It always ended with, “and God bless Ma and Dad and Sister Jo Jo.” But before closing with an Amen, I’d fling myself into Sister Jo Jo’s arms, wrapping mine around her waist, adding, “I love you T-T-T-H-H-H-I-I-I-I-S-S-S much,” squeezing with all my might.

I sunk my head into her habit. After a day of running and jumping and skipping and hopping and slamming and blasting and laughing and talking, her crisp, cool linen smelt like a summer night and her strong, patient hands felt like sunshine on my back. We stayed this way for a moment, quiet for the first time that day.

I climbed into bed and she tucked the covers up around my neck, kissing me on the forehead.

“Good night,” she said.

“Sleep tight,” I answered.

“And don’t you let those bedbugs bite,” she ordered, turning off the light.

I didn’t want the day to end and she was about to close the door. So as fast as I could, I blurted out, “andiftheydojusttakeyourshoeandhiththemtillthey’reblackandblue!”

“Good night!”

She quietly closed the door and I lay in the dark, listening to the crickets chirping over the laughter of the grown-ups as she silently walked down the hall.

I fell asleep wondering what sorts of games we’d play when I woke.