The Bells of St. Mummy’s

Greetings, Hexlings,

The holiday season is now upon us and in full rockin-around-the-Christmas-tree swing. I am ringing (writing) my little bells to help keep the spirit of Christmas alive inside my soul.

You have your Christmas tree up, and you have already had snow and gone sledding on the golf course behind your house. We haven’t had any notable snow yet here in Buffalo, which is a little puzzling, but I can say that I have been enjoying not having to wait for my car to defrost before leaving for work in the morning. I’m fine with frost on my doors and my bumper, but I like my windows crystal clear. We’re supposed to get some snow soon, but I am hoping that the big stuff waits to come until we’re together in Buffalo, watching the Abominable Snowman and Old Woman Winter, also known as Frosty the Snowoman, battle it out in the yard while we snuggle under a blanket on the couch with our mugs of hot chocolate. We do appreciate watching Old Woman Winter pummel the Abobinable Snowman into shimmering bits of oblivion, because the snow drifts it produces are just brilliant, but only when we, and everyone else, can be safe and warm inside while she snowsprawls and snowdusts him into the puff of white from whence he came. I never think of the Godzilla of Snow as a threat because he’s just out there blowing snow around; but Old Man Icicle wants him to remain in power because OMI’s about 90,000 years old and thinks doing so will give him a few more years– a few more years to keep Old Woman Winter from replacing him as the ice kingdom’s leader. Talk about family drama! Girls, brace yourselves. You’re about to meet Old Man Ice. Also known as Mister White Christmas, Mister Icicle, Mister Ten Below. Friends call him Snow Miser. Whatever he touches turns to snow in his clutch. He’s too much:

Old Man Icicle is a cold and slimy supporter of the Abominable Snowman. Worried that Frosty the Snowoman would try to become a snowman in order to rule the Ice World, Old Man Icicle elicited the help of the Abominable Snowman, hoping that if he could marry off his snowdaughter to a snot-nosed blustery monster, he would never have to worry about finding out he had a snowman for a daughter. Or something like that. It’s been a while since I’ve tried to understand the ways of Old Man Icicle. I think he must be cranky because he wanted a bunch of icicles but ended up with what he considers a bunch of ice deformities. Snow, to his cranky old mind, is just deformed ice. No one dares to mention the sparkly stuff to him. I only speak for myself, but, frankly, I’d far rather have Frosty in charge than the AS. Frosty, whether he’s a man or a woman or both or neither, leads children through the streets of town, right to traffic cops. Fearless and frosty and a friend to kids versus fearsome and feral and ferocious for no good reason: to me, there’s no contest. But for an old stooge like Old Man Icicle, things are very backward.

He may be an old ice pick and he may be backward, but we need Old Man Icicle because (1) he was here before us all and (2) the survival of the species depends on glacial existence. Thank God for Old Man Icicle– we couldn’t enjoy Old Woman Winter without him. But that doesn’t mean we have to like what happens to the trees when Old Man Icicle gets to be too cranky. It’s really terrible what Old Man Icicle can do when he’s grouchy: the ice-warfare loving and tree-phobic old fudrucker, if he’s cranky enough, can damage the trees in such a way that it takes them decades to recover. It’s too bad his parents never put him in an ice sculpting class with dear and delicate icecreature cometh Edward Scissorhands as the teacher; if they had, maybe Grandpa Rob-the-trees-sicle could have put all that cranky and cold energy into the creation of something beautiful. Like a rainbow-lit outdoor ice art museum, or something.

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Hearts and Scissorhands.

Sadly for the trees, it is likely that as long as Old Man Icicle is in charge, snow and ice abominations will continue to wreak havoc. There are some who say that Global Warming will make a puddle of him and that we’ll all drown in that puddle, but, call me an idealist, I hope that we can keep Old Man Icicle frigidly alive and simply reform his cranky, destructive ways by improving our own ways. We don’t want Mister Snow Miser’s brother to rule the world without him, either, or we’d become an inhabitable planet of volcanos. We love our green, and especially our green trees, but we’re not a fan of a tangerine Christmas, which is what will happen if Old Man Icicle doesn’t work with Old Man Lava.

Imagine if these two misers were your REAL grandfathers!!! AHHH!!!

Whereas Old Man Icicle is cranky and cold, Old Man Lava has a fiery temper and can burst into flames at any moment. I know the plight of Old Man Lava because I’m his daughter. Yes, my dears, I must break it to you that your grandfather, your Dimpy is Old Man Lava, Mister Green Christmas, Mister Heat Blister, Mister Hundred and One. Dimpy is Heat Miser. And I am Heat Miser’s daughter. I’m Old Woman Summer. I know you’ve heard of Frosty, but hardly anyone has heard of me. I go by the name of Hottie. That’s the name your grandfather Heat Miser gave me (just like Snow Miser named his daughter Frosty).

My full name is Hottie the Sandwoman. When I was born, I was told that children all over the world would love me and sing songs about me, and that kids everywhere would build sandwomen in their backyard sandboxes and at the beach in my honor. I don’t know why kids don’t celebrate me like they do Frosty; I mean, I’m everywhere. Do you ever go anywhere in the summer where you don’t see a spec of sand? Sand is not just at the beach; it’s everywhere. Oh, and if your Momma Sandy starts to wonder if I stole her name, please tell her that my name is not Sandy; it’s Hottie. I don’t want people calling me by the wrong name. Anyhow, I know I’m not as sparkly as Frosty but put a little water on me and I will be myself. Oh yeah, that reminds me that I’m not shaped like Frosty either. At least I don’t have to be. I can be whatever you kids want. I don’t have to be ballsy but I can. It’s hard to describe but if you study Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, you’re on the right track.

Oh, wow, it’s me except I’m two feet shorter, I have a short sassy bob for hair, and my belly has a lot of “waves” across it. Use shells and seaweed to decorate me, please!

Good luck kids. It’s up to you to tell the world about me. Make sure everyone knows that, unlike Frosty who comes to life when children place a silk hat on her head, I come to life when children place a foam sandal on my feet.

It may sound preposterous (that kids everywhere don’t sing about me) but when your father is Heat Miser, you’ve got to accept that you sometimes get burned. Who knows why some things catch on and others don’t. Such a polar world we live in. The thing about me is I’m a freak of nature… I prefer it in the North Pole and my goal is to live with Frosty. But, uh, this is about your grandfather so back to the Misers. The point is that too much heat is just as bad as too much snow for the green. The green needs the old bros to work together as a team!

There MUST be a balance in power between Mister Snow Miser and Mister Heat Miser if our human family is going to survive. Their battles with crankiness and hot-headedness put our lives in peril, and so we must help them to be the best versions of themselves possible. It would be extra fabulous if they could learn to cooperate and be buddies. This depends on us. Global warming is real, something being studied by some of the brightest and sharpest minds around, but we can slow its process if we work together across the globe to be more in tune with what is happening with Mother Nature and if we take radical steps to care for her. A couple of years ago, Old Man Icicle was cranky, due to our failure to take better care of Mother (Freak of) Nature, I suppose, and in a fit of crankiness, he had his crotchety way with a certain region of the Western New York area, and as a result of his colossal bitterness, broken branches and tree stumps abounded. Was Old Man Icicle aware of the widespread destruction he caused? Not likely. The old fuddy-duddy is getting SO old that he can’t even comprehend the damages caused by his crankiness.

Fortunately, the survival of the plant kingdom is not solely dependent on this old cold cowpoke. He has a wayward daughter and she carried on, so to speak. No one ever expected Old Man Icicle to give birth to so many daughters, let alone to the lilac and lily queen known as Sister Spring, but that’s just what happened. Sister Spring was considered both the black sheep of the family and a freak of nature, but, as the story I am making up goes, her mother, Old Hag Hearth (buddy and fan of Old Man Lava), melted Old Man Icicle’s heart and that’s how he ended up aiding in the fertilization of flowers everywhere. Sometimes I think Old Man Icicle forgot what it was like to melt. I am sure Old Hag Hearth reminds him because she cannot help but be warm and welcoming, but sometimes it’s hard to change: nature is stubborn, and, by nature, Old Man Icicle is cranky. Fortunately it’s “all in the family” where the seasons are concerned, and his daughter Springhilda’s nature is just as stubborn! He’ll always be cranky and she’ll always be, well, her lovely self. I believe that the IceHearth Family will endure, lovely little hearthcicle hexlings, and that the era of Global Warming denial will soon end. Watch the “Old Man Icicle” in the below clip being transformed and having his hearth (globally) warmed by the song of the bells (or, in this case, nuns).

I hope that story imparted some meaning and wisdom. Mostly, I hope reading it was fun. Because the thing I love most about our family’s celebrations of the seasons is that they bring jollity and joy into our lives. Jollity and joy are evolutionarily intelligent features of our species: ones that support our survival.

So, Snowlings, enjoy all the festivities of the season to your hearth’s content (wordplay alert!). The two of you have already dressed up in red for candy cane day and wore green garland and ornaments for tree day. I consider dress-up/down days at school to be “spirit days,” and when I was in school, I had more spirit days than anyone else I knew. That’s because I loved and love to dress up. Whenever we dress up, in our family, we are having a SPIRIT DAY. Because showing team spirit is important, and we are a team.

Some people say you “dress” a turkey when you pack a hand of wet baguette, apples, sage, and rosemary up into its bum before tying its legs up with string, but it is also possible to dress a turkey like you do, Darah, by putting it in a ninja suit and disguising it so it can sneak away from the Thanksgiving turkey police. Speaking of sneaky turkeys, our spirit turkey, Yoda, seems to have vanished, which I hope means he found the ninja suit I left him and managed to escape having to do hard turkey time!

I miss that I am not with you to dress you up for holiday spirit days at school. I am pretty creative when it comes to playing dress up, and I think that’s because I studied with one of the greats: a kindly old Canadian fellow whom as a child I used to watch dress up puppets on a show called Mr. Dressup. Mr. Dressup was such a nice old man. He reminded me of my Papa, your great grandfather, because your Papa loved to build crafts, listen to music, watch musicals, celebrate holiday traditions, and be with family. But Mr. Dressup was also unique from any old men I knew. I mean, what other old men in my life played with puppets while they sang and liked to play dress up?

He was the first man I knew who liked what I liked best: which was to play make-believe in real costumes. He was also a carpenter and a craftsperson, and he would make things on the show. It was his gentle sweetness that won me over. We need more men in the world like Mr. Dressup! In fact, we just need more people in the world who let other people wear what they want to wear and be who they want to be.

Do you know that dressing up can be art and can be political? You can make a political statement with your art. So next time you dress up like a tree, think about it. I think that just by dressing up like a tree, you’re making a statement about trees, as long as you have thought about it first. What do trees mean to you? To me, they are central to everything: particularly to the hearth. There is no hearth on which to warm yourself or bake your bread or mull your wine without a tree to lend it an arm. Trees are the hearth and home to many creatures, including owls and squirrels. And trees are a source of life— they make human life possible, so there’s that.

Our Tree Girls

When we dress up as things, we develop empathy for them. We are putting ourselves in another’s shoes, sometimes literally, when we dress in ways we wouldn’t usually dress. It’s not just a superficial act; it’s an act that affects us internally. We never dress up as something or someone else without thinking about what it’s like to be that someone or something, which is why dressing up and playing make-believe is educational. We gain something, a new part of ourselves usually, that we did not know we possessed.

In high school, on a regular basis I would dress up in costumes that I borrowed from the drama club costume closet. This was not only helping me to express myself, it was helping me to figure out who I was, which is one of the great things about participating in theatre activities. By “trying on” costumes, or other identities, I was better able to figure out who I am, to develop and build who I am, and to empathize with others. I am not sure how, exactly, dressing up like Little Bo Peep for school picture day during my junior year did this, but I know, somehow it did. In addition to helping me explore who I was becoming, it entertained me and others, and brought smiles to a lot of faces. What’s not to like about smiles, on the inside and the outside. I’m not talking about the kind of smiles you fake for a photo you never wanted to take; I’m talking about smiles that happen because you feel jollity and joy inside. Sometimes those are captured on camera, and sometimes they’re not. I think it’s pretty hard for most people to tell the difference between a fake and a real smile, but pay attention and it’s not too difficult. These two smiles below are REAL smiles.

What are your favorite costumes that you ever wore? What did you think about when we painted our faces and wore the rainbow unicorn bedsheets? What about the costume you made, Dar, when you taped pieces of paper all over your naked body to make armor? We had to keep the photographic evidence of that costume secret but it was one of the most creative and hilarious kid costumes I have ever seen. Elan, what about your “fashion dirl (girl)” costumes? All of your jewelry? How do you decide which necklace and which earrings to wear? Dar, your octopus costume, the one that won the Silliest Costume Award at the Halloween Orchestral Concert we went to when you were a tiny one, was another great costume. And, Elan, I loved that you wanted to be Judy Jetson one year. I helped to accumulate and organize all of your costumes and costume accessories in your big costume closet in the basement, and I know you go to the costume closet often, which brings me joy.

Costume-wearing Adult: Beloved by most people throughout the world. Old Man Santa.

When adults wear costumes, unless they are professional clowns or involved in the theatre, they usually don’t call them costumes: they call them uniforms. But I call them costumes. Think about all the adult people who wear costumes: police officers, plumbers, nurses, soldiers, firefighters, mailcarriers, teachers… Yes, teachers. Now I’m not just talking about me because I take “costumes in the classroom” to the extreme, but a few other teachers do it, too. The majority just wear average pantsuits, or sweaters, or dresses. But there are one or two teachers who defy tradition and wear costumes in the classroom. Sure, yes, on Halloween a lot of teachers come creeping clumsily into the classroom covered in crayon suits, wearing witch hats, donning Dopey dresses, calling attention with capes, dipping into division signs, or relishing a raven, but some, like your mum, do it daily as a way of making learning fun and of making a point. One time in high school, I drew words in permanent marker all over a pair of white pants. I wore them to school because I was trying to make a radical statement, and I chose my words carefully. As far as I recall, my pants were a hit, especially with those interested in words. All of the words were connected by a theme and they all were important to me. My idea left such an impression on someone I knew that, after I gave her my pair of pants as a souvenir, she took inspiration from my idea and adapted it for a Halloween costume of her own. I was so flattered when I ran into her at a coffee shop on Halloween and learned that she loved my idea so much that she adapted it by dressing up as “Black and White Thinking.” She was a concept, not a person. And she wrote particular, meaning-packed words in black all over her white shirt. All because my pants inspired her. See how much of an impact a costume can have? A costume is a creative educational space.

As you know, your mum is an actor and actors wear costumes of all kinds. But if you go according to the Shakespearean philosophy, spoken by the clown Jacques, that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” then you might, like me, think that we’re all actors. An actor, then, is acting the parts of actors.

Religious clergy also engage in spirit days, when they dress up to fulfill their duties. Take nuns, for instance. Although the dressing habits of nuns changes according to the times, nuns typically have certain ways of dressing up. I think about nuns a lot, because I identify strongly with them, so I also think about what they wear. I was reminded of their spirit garmentry when I went, last weekend, to see the film The Bells of St. Mary’s. It’s a classic (an old film) and it was played in a magnificent old movie theater in Buffalo. If there are any good family films playing there when you’re in town, we’ll definitely go so you can see how big and how beautiful it is.

The film was magnificent, to match the theater. It’s one of your grandma’s favorite movies and she likes to have it playing (on repeat) when we are baking (hundreds and hundreds of) cookies during the holidays. Even though I have had the film playing in the background during many holiday-spirited cookie-baking sessions with Gramma Sue, I have never actually paid attention to or watched it. In fact, I didn’t even know or care that there were nuns in it until I saw it listed on the North Park Theatre’s Facebook page a couple weeks ago. My era of disinterest in the bells ended… when I saw the bells.

My divine epiphany regarding the bells actually started when I heard a bell choir in church a few weeks ago. It was divine and brought me to a good head space. And then Headsister of the Bells came into the picture at North Park. Sister Benedict, played by the intense and marvelous dame Ingrid Bergman. I associate the mellifluous voice of Bing Crosby, who played Father O’Malley, with happy holiday memories with your great grandfather, Grandpa Adam, because it was at his house, on a cassette player near his office, that I would listen to holiday cassette tapes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Burl Ives, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland while I helped Grandma Mel and your great, great grandmother, Grandma Walsh decorate, bake sesame and fig cookies, and make raviolis.

Ravioli-making is an essential tradition in our family. It comes from the Walsh/Pazzaglia side of our family but we can put our own spin on it. For instance, we can do without the meat raviolis but we can continue the tradition of the mint and ricotta infused raviolis. And while we can do without the meatballs in the sauce, we can still include the raisins. I’m not a solo-cook. I don’t like to cook alone because that just feels lonely. But I like to help someone who knows what they’re doing and I also like to experiment when I cook. That’s what I did as a kid. I would watch and help all of the incredible cooks around me, particularly when I was in the Pazzaglia House on Paradise Road, where your Grandma Mel and Grandpa Adam could almost always be found standing around the counter in the kitchen, cooking and serving food. Memories in the kitchen with them were happy for me, especially during the holidays. I hope that we can make some happy memories in the holiday kitchen when you are in town, and I’ve got our holiday playlist ready to go for when we do.

Back to Bing. Bing Crosby has this deep bellowing voice, even though he was a little man. Your Grandpa Adam also had a deep, bellowing voice, even though he was a large man. His face reminds me of your Grandpa Adam’s face when he was young, too, so there are a lot of associations for me between Bing and Grandpa Adam.

You know what, come to think of it, I learned to sing from the male crooners and singers just as much as I did from the female ones. People never talk about “female crooners” but they exist and your mum is one. They are usually spoken of, if they are spoken of at all, as “torch singers.” A torch singer is just a crooner with a little bit of extra female fire, I guess. I can sing along with Sinatra and Bing, but I just do it in a torched register. There are a number of women out there who crooned (or “crone-d” as I prefer to say) with little credit. Ever heard of Billie Holiday? Well, she had holiday in her name, and she sure could bell-ow and croon. A modern crooner whose voice is divine is K.D. Lang.

Don’t forget the female crooners (“torch singers”), and don’t forget that “Faithful friends who were dear to us will be near to us once more [’cause] Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow, until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” You can always make the yuletide gay if your spirits ring eternally. Keep the bells ringing inside now and ever because you are loved, always and forever.

Seeing and hearing Bing and Bergman in the Bells of St. Mary’s warmed my heart, made my little love bells ring, and was a delight, in and of itself; but it was the entirety and content of watching the film in that grand old dame of a theater that made the cup of my heart overflow with the spirit of love. I was with a friend who has a condition that makes him fall asleep a lot, so he was conked out during the movie, but I was wide awake and I was in heaven when I was in that theater! I wish you were there with me.

Note to any bell-loving someone about to see this movie.

You have to see this movie. It’s a “black and white” film, which means it’s gray, and it’s absolutely packed with meaning that relates to our family, our lives, and life itself.

Don’t worry, Bells. Sister Superior’s in charge; your school isn’t goin’ anywhere!

The film opens with Father O, coming to St. Mary’s. He’s been reassigned to the school and parish after another priest found it to be too much. He finds out that the school is likely to be condemned because a rich and greedy builder next door wants to use it for a parking lot.

“I can see you don’t know what it means to be up to your neck in nuns” (Another classic line, spoken by Mrs. Breen, but appropriate with almost all photos from the film.)

The film’s storyline reminded me of your Grandpa Adam Pazzaglia, as well, because he was a very successful builder in the suburbs around Buffalo during his lifetime. But what made him successful was not his financial accumulations, which were many; what made him successful was his bountiful spirit. Your Grandpa Adam was a generous person, like your Grandma Mel, but what set his generous spirit apart from all the others is that he applied it in the way he ran his business and lived his life. He gave. And he gave. And he gave.

Grandpa Adam started out building houses with his brother, (your great uncle) Fred, in the 1950s. They started building at a time when there wasn’t a lot being developed. Your Grandpa Adam was an ethical builder. He built quality houses of all sizes: ones that will see generation upon generation through because he made sure that the houses were built well. He didn’t even think about using cheap materials to turn a profit at the expense of the people who would inhabit the houses: he made sure things were done well and right, as anyone who worked with him or lived in one of his houses will tell you.

Grandpa Adam wanted me to tell you both that he thinks you’re just grand, and he really loves how strong and spirited you are! Oh yeah, this is a photo of Mel and Adam. Swanky.

Remember when we were sitting in Paula’s Donuts with Missy over the summer, stuffing our faces with angel cream, and a very tall old man sitting across from us, who was reading a Bible, turned to me and asked me, “Is she Italian?” He was referring to you, Darah, because you were doing a lot of loud, excited, and over-the-top talking/story-telling at our table. I said, “Actually, yes, she is.” And I smiled at you, Dar, because I just love how you get when you are talking. You love talking. And you’re expressive and enthusiastic when you do it. He complimented both of you, and said how beautiful you were, and then he said something about Darah. He said you had a “beautiful attitude” and then he called you a word I didn’t recognize. It was an Italian word but I can’t remember it now. I knew from the sound of the word and from my knowledge of you, Darah, that the word was in reference to a strong and powerful woman. He assured me it was a good thing, and then he asked us if we lived in the area, and eventually, somehow he asked us about our family. We ended up telling him that our grandfather was Italian, and when he asked his name, we told him. Adam Pazzaglia. He grew excited and told us that he knew Fred and knew of Adam, and that Adam was a wonderful man.

It made Aunt Missy and me feel good that someone, other than us, would remember our grandfather. He was a wonderful man. Just as was your other great grandfather, your Papa (I’ll tell you as many stories about them both as I can). The man in the doughnut shop made my day. And I think seeing you both and hearing you telling stories and laughing made his day, too. We can bring each other joy. That’s the best way to grow old, I think.

The joy of overseeing wonderful children!

And that’s, in part, what The Bell’s of St. Mary’s is about. The giggle of hope that you feel in your heart that never ages. The Old Miser who plans to wipe out the nuns and the little school surprises everyone except for Sister Benedict when he … well, I just can’t tell you!

Sister Benedict believes wholeheartedly in the spirit of love, hospitality, and generosity, and she maintains that belief no matter what contradicts or serves to destroy it. She reminds me of myself because there are certain things I believe in, like the power of love to reign supreme over the forces that seek to oppress and destroy it, that I know I will believe in until the day I die: even if everything that ever happens in my life stands in opposition to this belief. The belief itself is my happy place, my divine place, and it is what makes me who I am. Each of us is like Sister Benedict in that each of us possesses her own magical place inside that no one and nothing harmful can touch.

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Sister Benedict ROCKS! She can even BOX!

Sister Benedict is a practitioner of spiritual magic because her optimistic, hopeful outlook inspires others to see things differently. Her stubbornly idealistic worldview changes the worldviews of those around her, including that of the greedy Old Miser whom nobody ever thought could be reformed. But she teaches him a lesson using the rhetoric of her soul, and her words eventually transform his own thinking patterns, and he begins to see the world differently. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us had such an opportunity to reform and be reformed. Oh, I hope I haven’t given away the ending. Well, even if I have, we have to watch the movie together, every year, because it will remind us of who we are and of the spirit of love that we possess inside us.

One of the best moments in the film. Right at the start. The kitty in the hat scene. So funny.

Father O is a teacher, too, and he and Sister Benedict learn from one another. I think he learns more from Sister Benedict, though, but that may be debatable. They share in common a love of fun, which is evident in that both of them like to “go on holiday” and to give their schoolchildren holidays.

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Father O’Malley teaches Sister Benedict how to honor a holiday!

Another lesson taught by the film is to tell the truth. You know how important this is, my loves, because it is the foundation of our family. But not everyone feels the way we do about telling the truth. Some people debate, inwardly and outwardly, whether it is sometimes more kind to conceal the truth in order to make others happy or to keep others comfortable or to prevent cruel and mean reactions to the truth from taking place. The film makes a powerful statement about this when Sister Benedict and Father O’Malley are presented with difficult truth-telling situations. This is one of the reasons why I give Sister Benedict the edge as a teacher, over Father O’Malley, even though both are a lot of fun, particularly together: because she is an avid and consistent promoter of telling the truth whereas he is more conflicted about it and about how it should be handled. The issue of telling the truth and all of the other ethical issues are handled playfully throughout most of the film (like, for instance, when Sister Benedict tells Father O’Malley that he has a dishonest face!).

“Did anyone ever tell you that you have a dishonest face?” (But it’s obvious she can see through it, right to his heart.)

The lesson begins to unfold when one of their schoolchildren, Patsy, purposely fails her last exam so that she can stay another year at the school instead of graduating because she wants to become a nun in order to avoid the hurt of feeling abandoned by her mother. She is not telling the truth when she purposely pretends she doesn’t know the answers on the exam. Sister Benedict grades the exam and sees that Patsy fails but feels heartsick over failing her. When she and Father O discuss it, he gently expresses his disapproval over her insistence on telling the truth about the grade, and he, with good intentions, urges her to pass Patsy anyway so that she will not be humiliated and hurt. He makes a beautiful point about how failures in school and on exams can hurt us and shape the courses of our lives. Sister Benedict loves Patsy very much but doesn’t believe it’s right to pass her. She does not take it into her own hands, though: she prays for God to intervene and trusts that in telling the truth, all will work out. And she is right. Patsy ends up telling the truth about failing the exam on purpose, and about why she did it, so Sister Benedict never has to fail her and Patsy can graduate with the rest of the girls her class.

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“You don’t become a nun to run away from life, Patsy. It’s not because you’ve lost something. It’s because you’ve found something.”

Father O’Malley has to struggle with his own contradictions because even though he knows Sister Benedict desires and trusts in the path of truth, he doesn’t want to tell her the truth about her diagnosis of tuberculosis because he is afraid it will hurt her. He learns that he is wrong: it is not the diagnosis that hurts her but his dishonesty— believing that she is being sent away from the school because he did not want her there is so much more painful to her than knowing that he sent her away for her survival and well-being. Only being told that she cannot stay at the school, and never being given a reason why, is a cause of terrible heartache for Sister Benedict but her faith in divine goodness is so strong that she follows the path, in full belief that she someday will understand the meaning of it all. There is a beautiful scene, before she leaves the school, in which she kneels in prayer in the church and prays to God that the bitterness leave her. It is the prayer of someone with a radically loving spirit, and Sister Benedict embodies what it means to be a saint. I definitely wept during Sister Benedict’s prayer, as well as during the scene that followed.

Sister Benedict prays, “Dear Lord, remove all bitterness from my heart. Help me to see Thy holy will in all things. Help me. Please. Please help me.” This is your mummy’s prayer, too.

At the end of the film, Father O finally has an epiphany and is compelled to reveal to her the truth of the situation, and when he tells her the truth, her joy is ecstatic. It is beatific.


But you must see it, with me, to experience it in its full glory. The Bells of St. Mary’s captures the soul and spirit of the holidays, and of our family. I like Sister Benedict’s outlook; she is one of my fictional heroes.

And the bigger lesson here is that life is not about the buildings: it’s about the people who inhabit the buildings and the yards, and it is about what they do to help and support one another. Sister Benedict, Father O, the nuns, the schoolchildren, and even the Old Miser are all the bells of St. Mary’s. You are my bells: the bells of Sinner Mummy. You make my tired spirit sing with joy. We are the bells when we sing of love together.

I am so excited for the spirit days to come. Speaking of those, I’ve been having them already. I have spent the last two nights in a row with Nana. We’ve seen some pretty lights and had some good conversation.

When you’re here with me, we’ll take Great Nana on a “light drive.”

Your Great Nana’s been having a lot of physical pain lately, and couldn’t even get out of the car with me last night when I went to pick up her prescription at Wegmans, but she’s in good spirits and is more grateful than ever, it seems. I am having a holiday spirit day today because tonight your Aunt Missy is taking me with her to a play called “Nuncrackers” at the Lancaster Opera House. Her student is performing in it. You’ve heard of NUT-crackers but have you heard of Nuncrackers?! Well, I’m going to find out all about them tonight for us. On Friday, we have a date night with our Harper—I am taking her to a Christmas caroling party at our church. We will be singing for people who cannot leave their homes, and we’ll also be having pizza and good cheer. On Saturday, we’ll be baking some chocolate covered cherry cookies with Uncle Billy, Aunt Missy, Uncle Brian, Aunt Kate, and Harper. I’ll try to video chat with you while we’re doing it. Later that night, I’m going to a play called “A Midsummer Dyke’s Dream,” which is a great and funny name, if you ask me, and then on Sunday after church I will having a little mini-reunion with a couple of my old school friends (we’re watching “A Christmas Carol” at the magnificent theater and then going out for lunch) before I go to dinner with your Grandma Mel. It’s a busy, busy time of year, and I know you’re busy, too, but we can also try to slow down and just enjoy the love feel inside sometimes. After all, being home for the holidays means being home with the ones who live in your heart and are with you in spirit. We’re never home alone; we’re always home together. That what the bells remind us.

I love you, little bells. Keep on ringing!

Love Always,

Your Mistletoe Mummy

P.S. Did you know that every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings? (That’s a hint about another classic movie our family will watch this season!)

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way…”

— Bell-lovin’ Old BFFs, Bing & Frank














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