Oh Brother, Crispin: How A Teacher Changed My Life



Oh Brother, Crispin

By Julie Boyd ·  3 min read · From 500 Words: How We Met

“Mother Gerardine went to God this morning. There’s no-one else who can take you for maths and science classes any more. You’ll have to go back to doing the same as the other girls in Year 11. Go and have your breakfast now.”

I stepped outside Mother Superior’s office and tried to breathe. All I could think was, She’s dead. Poor old Gerry. She used to teach my mum when she came here to boarding school, and they thought she was old then. She was eighty five but boy she was a good teacher.

The parlour where Gerry had been my personal tutor for four months was just along the beautiful paneled corridor. I slipped in and closed the door. The polished hardwood table and antique chairs would have graced a boardroom. Here they were usually used for impressing prospective parents.

It was here that I had sat for hours, enthralled by Gerry’s knowledge as she beat into my stubborn brain anything from the periodic table to a love of astronomy. A lace tablecloth had been an unlikely protector for our chemistry experiments.

The door opened. “There you are. Come along for breakfast.” The titanic Sister Marianus beckoned me to follow, then bore me along in her wake to the refectory. “Here. You didn’t eat these yesterday and you know they will be served everyday until you do.” I vomited…all over the cold baked beans.

“Go and clean yourself up, then get to class. You have a lot of catching up to do. I know you can’t write, but you’ll just have to now. No more of this science nonsense.”

Three agonising weeks later, I was standing at a football match with my parents who had arrived on an infrequent visit. My brother’s football coach, a man with a reputation for making demons tremble, walked toward us. Black cassock flowing over pressed black trousers. Black horn-rimmed glasses. Shoes as impeccable as his dog-collar.

A former AFL player, Crispin had the physique of a panther, the voice of a lion, and the look of James Bond in a dress. Everyone was terrified of him.

“Now then young lady,” I almost died as he spoke directly to me. “What’s this I hear about you having to do humanities?” he snorted. “That’s not on. You want to do science, don’t you?” Apparently, news of my abberant behaviour had reached the boys college at the other end of town.

“Yes, Bro…”

“So if it’s okay with your mum and dad, and I can’t see why not,” he spoke over me, fixing that black-eyed glare on my parents. “I’ll be up to have a word to Reverend Mother in the morning.”

True to his word, at seven the next morning, after daily mass, I was summonsed again.

“Well, this is most unusual. Brother Crispin has made a personal case for you to continue your science education. I suppose you can ride down and back each day. He is guaranteeing your safety. Most unusual,” she muttered.

And so began an arrangement where I would ride my bike down to the boys school for classes, or to escape the nuns or dreaded religious education. I was the only girl there, so I was given another beautiful antique parlour all to myself for entertaining friends. Even the Brothers would not come in without invitation. In return, I’d often stop off at the TAB to drop the Brothers’ bets in.

He was my protector, my inspiration and my idol, an indelible stamp on my life. No-one who met Crispin ever forgot him.

Published 19 Nov 2013.  Sale VIC 3850