Mother Superior

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(Host) Sunday is Mother’s Day, and it’s a good time to honor all of those who enrich our lives with motherly care and wisdom. Commentator Frank Bryan remembers one such woman.

(Bryan) Her name was Isabel. I called her Mother Superior. She called me Brother Sebastian. A sense of freedom drew me to her farm called Sleepers Meadow. There on many a night during my boyhood days Isabel and her daughters, Selenda and Sara, and I would sit in before the fire and talk. Nothing was off limits.

Mostly we talked religion and politics. Mother Superior was an Irish Protestant. I was an Irish Catholic. And so she would tweak me – probe and gently push me here and there in the world of ideas.

Best of all I could count on Mother Superior for the truth: the truth about anything, the truth about me.

In September, 1959, Selenda and I went off to college. That spring we learned Sara had leukemia. Earlier, we had grown sweet on each other, but since I was much older nothing had come of it. (Mother Superior had seen to that.) During that last summer of 1960, however, we were allowed to go for walks and to sit on the boulders under the white birches on the hill behind the house in the evening. Sara died in March.

Twenty-five years later she told me the truth about myself. I stopped to visit on a heavy fall afternoon in 1993. Our world was aging fast. Isabel was 84. I was 52. My first wife, Donna had recently died of cancer.

Donna and I were married by 20, had four daughters by 26 and divorced by 30.

Isabel was putting her gardens to sleep for the winter. Isabel stood up and straightened her back, looking at me across the fading golden rod. The breeze twisted at her gray hair.

“What did I do wrong? I loved Donna. I loved her more than anyone. You know I did.”

“Yes Brother Sebastian. You did,” said the old lady, her gaze becoming a patient mix of admonition, charity and melancholy. “But you didn’t cherish her.”

Mother Superior is gone now, but every time I stop at Sleepers Meadow I look over by the garden where she had stood in the sadness of that October afternoon, and I remember the word.


Brother Sebastian, the Irish Catholic, had sought redemption from Mother Superior, the Irish Protestant, and it had not been given.

But she gave me the next best thing. She told me what it was I must repent – a necessary forward step for an Irish Catholic.

And as for redemption?

Mother Superior would have answered that question with a twinkle in her eye.

“We shall see, Brother Sebastian, we shall see.”

This is Frank Bryan of Starksboro.

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