"Thomas, you have a big voice, you need a place for it," Sister Beatrice said as she separated me from a headlock with Kevin Murphy.
"I think you should join the choir, they need you."
Based on Dad's position on things and the other boys, I thought the choir was for sissies, but if Sister Beatrice said it was OK, then it was all right by me. Fall 1961, in second grade, I joined a band of pretty pussycats and two other boys in the choir.
Yesterday, I learned Sister Beatrice Kerezsi, my first grade teacher at St. Stephen's on 82nd Street, passed away last month at St. Leos' Convent in Elmwood Park, N.J. I was shocked to learn she 82, it was the first time I saw her last name. How could she be 26 years older than me?
She played punch ball with us, running from chalk base to chalk base in the street holding her thick black skirt up revealing big clunky black shoes perfect for kicking field goals. I figured she was two years older then my babysitter, tops! She could belt a tune better than the Singing Nun, she was prettier than Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of Saint Mary, and she was smarter than any Mother Superior. I still want to make her proud of me. She knew she was doing this to you, it was her talent. And she smelled great! Everybody wanted to please Sister Beatrice. She did not take cell phone calls when she was talking to you, and she didn't check her Blackberry during class.
Sister Beatrice was smart, tough, right there, always in your face. I knew she was glad to see me. She was my friend and I loved her. First grade was 50 years ago, she's still on mind every day. Sister Beatrice was Mary Poppins.
photo above, 1961, courtesy of Stephanie Varga Grove, my classmate. Sister Beatrice is the first nun on the left.
a link to my story about Sister Beatrice, "Developing A Habit," is on the upper left side of this page