Lessons Learned

by Cathy McFarlane

I would dream of the day when I would no longer be trapped in the Village. I would sneak away when no one was looking and go on hikes through the forest and dream of the house I would have when I grew up. So I built a little fort in the forest across the road and would hide my treasures in my little house -- mostly frogs and salamanders, but I never wanted to leave them there for very long for fear they would die. Escaping to my little fort was a regular adventure. And -- I never got caught. It was my secret.

Saturdays were usually filled with chores. We would all wake up early, line up for the bathroom to brush our teeth, head off to church, march to breakfast, and then head out to our assigned areas to work. I had so many different jobs over the years. Cleaning and more cleaning. Now I know why I am an obsessive-compulsive personality style! Washing and buffing floors, washing and shining windows, washing and folding laundry, scrubbing things with stinky brown soap, peeling potatoes and carrots, de-stringing string beans, stacking cans in storage, scrubbing toilets and sinks -- the chores were endless. At least we got to rotate the jobs once in a while. I certainly was not bored.

When all the work was done, we got to play. We'd dance through the grass with our capes on dressed like the women in Ben Hur days. We'd ride sticks for horses. We'd jump in the little pools with the sprinkler in the middle. It was so much fun. I remember the day I thought I was getting too old to play like a little girl. I felt sad that I had to grow up and stop playing in such a silly way. I was becoming a young lady.

I had a dream -- to run away. Of course, I was a chicken and scared to death of getting caught. But it was a great dream. I finally decided to make a plan. I would run away for the day to test it out and have some fun. I figured Sister Marie Jose would probably not kill me, so if I was going to get in trouble, it might as well be for something really fun. It sure turned out to be fun! But, the big surprise was the lesson I learned. It was one of the best experiences in my life.

It was Saturday morning, the day I planned to run away. I went to breakfast, and when no one was looking, I took off, leaving my chores behind. I didn't run away very far -- just across the street to Pegasus Stables for the day. The people who owned the stables didn't seem to mind my occasional visits, since several times I took a short trip across the main road to play with the ponies and horses. There were about 10 ponies in the field that I spent half the day chasing and attempting to ride. I started making friends with the people who rode their horses. I loved to watch them jump. I dreamed about being able to do the same. I met a man and his wife who were jumping their horses. They started to talk with me and told me that they lived just around the corner and that they kept their horse in a small barn in their backyard. They invited me to spend the afternoon in their large back yard and allowed me to ride their horse for several hours. It was a dream-come-true. What a day! They even gave me lunch. I was a happy kid.

Of course there was going to be a price to pay for this day of fun. I was sure Sister Marie Jose was going to be creative with the punishment. And she was. I ran back to the Village just in time for dinner. I sat down in my usual spot in the dinning room and just as I was about to take a bite, Sister Marie Jose found me and sent me to bed with no dinner. It was movie night, so no movie. As I lay there in bed being punished, I thought this day of fun was really worth it. I loved my day with the horses. However, that wasn't the end of the punishment. We used to have opportunities to go home with a foster family for the weekend. The next time one of these weekends came up, Sister Marie Jose told me I would not be allowed to go with a family because of my "day of running away." I had to stay behind with her and do chores. I really liked those weekends away, so this was a big deal too me. I guess I had to make up the chores I missed on my day of fun.

On Saturday, after all the other kids left for the weekend, Sister Marie Jose told me she had some new chores for me. We started to walk outside. That was strange. What was she up too? We started walking toward the main road and then across the street to Pegasus Stables. Hmmm. Now what? She had arranged with the owner of the stables for me to work there shoveling horse poop and grooming the ponies. She told me I didn't need to run away. If there was something I really wanted, I should just ask her. For a long time, my chores after school were to go over to Pegasus Stables to work.

To this day, I don't know if Sister Marie Jose knew how important that act of kindness was too me. While I was an adventurous kid, I was also a very lonely kid. I didn't think anyone but my sisters really loved or cared about me. I felt deep affection from Sister Marie Jose. Her act of kindness and manner of teaching me that lesson, reached inside my heart. She showed me love, and I am forever grateful for that moment.