Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Would you have admitted her?

Today I arrived home to a brown paper package sitting on the counter for me. It was a used book I'd ordered from half.com for a few dollars: Maria, by Maria von Trapp. Her first book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, was published in 1949 and was the book on which The Sound of Music was based. Maria is a sort of sequel, published in 1972 and expanding on the story, offering lots more autobiographical information. We learn that she was an orphan, that she had a most unhappy childhood being raised by a distant relative who often beat her (he later died in an insane asylum), that she dumped her childhood faith but picked it up again at the end of her college years after a rather remarkable encounter with a Jesuit, and that one day when she was hiking on a glacier she saw a glorious sunset, asked God how she could repay Him for such a wonderful creation, and determined that the greatest thing she could do would be to join a convent. She left the hiking trip at once and grabbed the nearest train to Salzburg. That's the setup; here's the excerpt:

I still remember that as I arrived at the railroad station I saw a policeman standing there. I marched up to him and said, "Sir, could you please tell me which is the strictest convent in this town?"

He grinned at me and said, "I sure don't know. Ask this one, " pointing to a Capuchin monk.

So I strolled over to the monk and again said, "Sir, can you tell me which is the strictest convent in this town?"

He looked at me slightly amused and said, "Yes, you go down to the Salzach River and follow it upstream to the fourth bridge. Cross that bridge and you will see a red onion tower halfway up the hill. That is the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg, and they are the strictest around here."

I said "Thank you" and found my way.

In less than an hour I rang the bell and asked to see the boss. I have to laugh now when I think back on those days, because I certainly didn't know the proper way in which to address the people. I didn't know that you said "Father" to a priest and "Reverend Mother" to a nun, and not "sir" and "boss".

I was ushered into a room and, to my great amazment, it was partitioned in half by a big grill. Rather amused, I marched up and down in front of it. Hanging on the other side were oil paintings of abbesses long gone.

I had to wait quite some time before the door opened and in came a small frail nun with a cross on her chest, a big ring on her slender finger, and the kindest eyes that have ever looked at me.

After searching for a moment, a very dear voice said, "What can I do for you, my child?"

Now here I was straight from the glaciers, brown as milk chocolate. Over my left shoulder I still had the coil of ropes. On my back I had a very heavy knapsack. In my right hand I had an ice pick with which I stood like Napoleon, pronouncing, "I have come to stay!"

The meek and mild voice inquired, "Has somebody sent you, my child?"

I reared up to my five feet seven and a half inches and said, "Ha, if anybody had sent me, I wouldn't be here. I haven't obeyed anybody yet."

After these momentous words I was really and truly received into the Benedictine Abbey. The Reverend Mother must have had some other reason than the ones I gave her for taking me in. She never told me why I was admitted. As I look back on it now I cannot understand it because everything was set against it.

There at the abbey started two momentous years of my life.

6 comments:

Rachel Ann said...

ooooooo...you make me want to read it.

Mary Rose said...

I want to read this book, too! What a spunky thing she was! I love spunky women. :-)

JimAroo said...

Mother Superior, who was quite a good singer herself, probably recognized the qualities in Maria's voice and knew she would be an asset to the choir... if the choir did well it would mean more do re mi for the monastery. Mother Superior was a Benedictine and everyone knows they are NOT a mendicant order. So she said to herself "the do re mi is one of my favorite things so I will admit her. This girl does have challenges but we will climb that mountain when we come to it". And that's the way it happened.

Rachel Gray said...

Yes, Mother Abbess had confidence in Maria, figured she could get something good out of her, and planned to say so long, farewell if it didn't pan out.

Lee Gilbert said...

In 1973 shortly before I arrived at True House, the charismatic community at Notre Dame, Maria von Trapp had paid a visit. The young lady who drove her around South Bend told me that she was very true to character, and directed the progress of the car by saying, "I wonder if this little blue car would take me" here...or there. Several times she wondered if the little blue car would stop by the side of the road so that she could pick wild flowers.

This young woman spoke of sitting in wonder watching Maria van Trapp amid the flowers as if in a kind of sequel to the Sound of Music.

I remember a poignant scene from the book, when she was leaving the abbey and the hinges on the great door that admitted her back into the world groaned tremendously as if in lament that she was leaving.

I can well believe it.

Rachel Gray said...

I love that little blue car story!

She seems like she would have been fun to know. Especially when she was trying to learn English: "As it says, the ghost is willing but the meat is soft."