By Carmelene Melane Siani
Sister Brazil was her name. At least that’s what I remember calling her all those 70 years ago.
“Come and sit here child,” she would say, not in English but with her hands. She didn’t actually speak English—she was Hungarian, like all of the other nuns at the orphanage. I could tell she was calling me “child” in a tender way because even with her hands she had a tender way of talking.
When she called me over I would get up and leave my spot on the grass where I was sitting and go over to where she was perched on the bench, watching the other little girls playing in the field. I couldn’t play with the other little girls because I wasn’t well enough or strong enough.
“Don’t let her get excited,” was one of the last things I heard my mother say about me before she left. “Her heart can’t take it.”
That first time Sister Brazil called me over she opened her knees wide as she would do so many times after, and gestured for me to sit between them on the ground in front of her. That first time she had been sitting there crocheting and, when I went over to where she had pointed she pulled me close to her so that my back felt the hard edge of the crude bench she was sitting on.
There were flowers growing in the field the little girls were playing on and they made the field look like it was covered with a tablecloth crocheted by Sister Brazil.
I don’t remember the fragrance of the flowers, but I remember the fragrance of Sister Brazil—garlic and cabbage; that’s what she smelled like.
I twisted around to look at her to see if I was sitting where she wanted and from out of her round, happy face, she gave me a nod and a broad smile. I could have cried. I remember. I could have cried.
There was such kindness in her.
I turned back around to watch the girls playing and sister put her arms around me. Her breasts pressed on my back and her shoulders enclosed me as she put her hands over each one of my own. She transferred the crochet hook from her left hand into mine and with the yarn looped over the first finger of her right hand deftly moved the yarn over and around the crochet hook we were holding.
She carefully and slowly moved my hands as if they were hers and together we crocheted a chain. A long, ongoing chain.
I watched as the chain grew and grew, and hoped that it would never end.
Sitting on the ground in front of Sister Brazil I was swept into in a cave of safety and comfort.
I was no longer a little girl in the orphanage dormitory right on the other side of the field—afraid to sleep, afraid to cry, afraid that if I felt anything, I would get swallowed up by my loneliness.
Instead I was a little girl who mattered.
I was a little girl who was learning how to crochet chains into eternity while being held tenderly and carefully in the cave of a Hungarian nun’s wordless love.
Editor: Dana Gornall