Like all healthy, normal young people there came a time when the older girls inevitably took an interest in boys. We juniors were aware of this although we didn’t quite know what it was all about. We’d loiter around curiously.
“Get off from here,” the seniors ordered us once, and “M.Y.O.B,” they added, using the time-honoured shortened form for “Mind Your Own Business”.
The nuns understood that it was quite normal for teenage girls to take an interest in boys, but disapproved of long-standing “affairs” that would affect our studies. Our own nuns also felt somewhat embarrassed to talk openly on the subject of boyfriends.
While the Irish nuns had the same attitude towards boy-girl friendships, we could talk to them without embarrassment.
Once, in Good Shepherd Convent, Kandy some of us senior boarders surrounded a nun who was in a chatty mood, and started talking about boy-friends. Her attitude, predictably, was that we could have plenty of boy “friends” without becoming attached to one particular person.
“What about kissing?” asked one girl bolder than the others.
“Well, what about it?”
“Is it alright to kiss a boy, Mother?”
“Certainly it’s alright,” said Mother, “if,” she continued as everyone brightened, “you are married to the boy. “But if you are not married to him, it’s a sin to even think of kissing a boy.”
“Wow,” we thought, “Wow, well that put paid to that !”
The one event at which convent girls and college boys met freely was the annual convent fair. The older girls prepared for the event weeks ahead, trying on different outfits and matching bangles and ear-studs with their dresses. With their hair in roller-curlers, they looked like aliens from outer-space.
On the day of the fair, Mother Melanie would call us twelve and thirteen-year-olds, and tie woven baskets around our necks with a pretty ribbon. In the baskets were tiny floral posies.
“Go around and sell as many as you can,” she’d advise us.
But we soon found that the older girls were not interested. They had other distractions. But strangely enough, the boys seemed interested, but they laid down conditions.
After a while we reported dolefully back to Mother. “The girls don’t want to buy our posies.”
“We don’t know, Mother, but the boys like to buy them.”
“So what are you waiting for,” asked Mother, amazed that we hadn’t seized on this chance.
“Yes, but.. er… Mother, they want us to pin the posies on their shirts.”
Mother Melanie was silent as she pondered on this new development. But practical considerations prevailed. “Oh, alright, pin them then.”
The boys stood smugly while we pinned the dainty little posies on their shirts, with an occasional “ouch!” as our fumbling fingers sent the pins through their shirts and drew blood.
A few minutes later we would see the boys presenting their posies to their favourite girls with a courtly bow, and the girls would wear them like trophies.
And so they mingled, boys and girls, in the cool of the evening, under the bright twinkling lights of the Fair, their faces alight with joy celebrating youth, the tenderness of young love, celebrating life.