'Our gratitude is sincere'

Not that I'm into home remodeling or projects like that, but growing up with a dad who had transformed our basement into his woodworking shop (leaving a little room for the laundry items) has given me a love for being able to help yourself around the house.

My five younger siblings and I could run a drill press and a jig saw before we were in first grade, as we loved being in the basement around Dad as he worked on various wood projects, including making lap dulcimers and hammered dulcimers. He would give us a piece of scrap wood to use in the jig saw or drill press, and we were each thrilled at making "stuff."

No, we never sliced through a finger or had a bloody emergency. We learned safety and proper procedures, too.

So that was in the back of my mind when I ventured to a home-remodeling convention-type show on a Saturday morning. I had received a coupon in the mail for free admission, so what could be better than that?

The show had hundreds of vendors selling gutter protection, bathtub rejuvenation, kitchen cabinet makeovers, attic insulation, roof shingles replacement, home insurance, floor tiles and more.

I came face-to-face with a fellow selling home insurance who held out a special microfiber glasses-cleaning cloth bearing the logo of his company and said, "Hey, sister, how about some clean glasses?"

I said, "Did you just call me 'sister'? Do you know me?"

I thought he knew I was a sister-nun; he was just using the term as sister-lady. But that started a great conversation about nuns and those proverbial "good old days" when nuns ruled Catholic schools, and we're all better people today because of that.

Roy said, "I'll never forget Sister Agatha. I had her in the seventh grade, and you couldn't get away with anything because her eagle eyes saw it all. I went to school in St. Louis. Did you know her?"

Sadly, I said that I didn't know her, but I would have liked to know her.

Roy went on: "I never did tell Sister Agatha what a difference she made in my life. I was probably in my 40s before I really realized that. Of course, then it was way too late because Sister Agatha has passed away and I never talked with her again. Did you teach school?"

I replied, "Yes, I did. I taught eighth grade mostly. I enjoyed that age level."

"You know," Roy said, "there are millions of people just like me who owe their life success to nuns they had in grade school. We've never said thank you. But our gratitude is sincere and I thank God every day that I had Sister Agatha. You nuns will never know whom you touched for the better."

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of health services administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]