September 1956 — I walked proudly into the kitchen wearing my brand new school uniform. Green and white plaid skirt, crisp white blouse and the best part, a deep forest green weskit. On my head, I sported a green beanie accented with round silver studs.
My parents smiled. “Ready for the first day of school?” I was more than ready. I had been going to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church my whole life and St. Pat’s School was right next door to the church. My older brother was going there and he and my father had walked me around the school numerous times. It helped that my best friend who lived one street down from me would be in the first grade, too, and we would be carpooling together so I was ready.
When my dad dropped us off, my brother showed us where the first graders would be lining up but he needn’t have – Mother Dorothy was already on the playground directing our fellow first graders into two lines, one for the boys and one for the girls. She deftly shifted students back and forth until we were ranked from shortest in the front to tallest in the back. I was second to last; only one girl was taller than I, a big girl named Donna.
Mother Dorothy was a petite woman, probably in her early 30’s, but she was also formidable. It was the habit (uniform) of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary that made her that way. It was quite intimidating. Long black flowing robes that went down to her ankles and made her tiny figure seem much bigger than she was; a pointy headdress that covered most of her face and, in fact, almost acted like blinders. (I’m sure the boys must have thought they’d be able to get away with murder but the nuns never failed to amaze us. It was almost like they had 360° vision.)
Once we were all marched into the classroom and seated in our desks, Mother Dorothy had each of us stand up one by one and introduce ourselves to the class. By the time my turn came, I could barely talk I was so nervous. I stood up and just stared straight ahead. “What’s your name, Child?” Mother Dorothy asked. Finally, I blurted out, “Alicia Fullofgrace McMahon.”
Mother Dorothy raised an eyebrow then looked down at the roster in her hands and gave a little smile. “Well,” she said, “I guess we’ll just see about that, won’t we, Alicia Fullofgrace McMahon? Sit down.” I almost knocked my desk over as I scrambled to sit down. I didn’t know what I had done wrong but I had the distinct feeling I was pretty close to being in trouble.
Later I would have a heart-to-heart with my dad who would explain to me that my name was not really Alicia Fullofgrace but just Alicia Grace. I would not speak to him for a week.