During the mid-1960’s I attended the College of Saint Elizabeth near Morristown, New Jersey. We had a student-run literary magazine, The Sector. Recently, my college friend B. found several issues while clearing out her home in preparation for a major move. Noticing that I had pieces in many of the issues, she sent the copies to me.
What most struck me as I read my own work from that time so long ago, as well as work by classmates, is how constrained we were in talking about what was going on in the world. I wrote a blog post about it, which I repeat here:
“We were at the College of St. Elizabeth in northern New Jersey from 1963-67. Many of us think of “The Sixties” as a wild, drug-soaked era where social conventions were ruthlessly swept aside. But it wasn’t that way at the College. We wore skirts or dresses to class, and most of us used little make-up. There was a smoker in each of the dorms, and a certain sub-set of each class hung out there. But most of us didn’t smoke, or drink much, or use drugs. A lot of girls went to daily Mass, and we all attended all of our classes – no casual skipping was even on our radar. The College was at that time staffed mostly by Sisters of Charity; many girls had close relationships with one or more of the nuns.
The Viet Nam war was in full fury all the while we were in college; there are no articles or fictional pieces in these issues of The Sector about the war. Ditto the civil rights movement, or the riots that broke out in many major cities in 1964. President Kennedy was killed in 1963, and President Johnson took over, creating shock waves in American politics. Silence in The Sector. Vatican II opened in 1962 and closed in 1965; there was nothing written in our literary magazine about this sea-change in the Catholic Church.
Instead we wrote pieces like “The Influence of Paris in the Life of Henry James”, or “Green and Pink Envelopes”, a fiction story about an usher stealing donations at Sunday mass, or “In the Absence of a Priest”, about a mother rushing to tell Father why her little girl would miss Catholic school due to the measles.”
If we were sheltered then, most of us are sheltered no more. Loretta’s Smokes is the piece I would like to have been able to write all those years ago.
Even if you have no concept or interest in Roman Catholic nuns, I encourage you to read the piece. Perhaps you’ll identify with having a settled life and a predictable direction and finding it all thrown up in the air by something which seems at the time to be rather small.
As always, your comments are welcome.