It was 1960, I was 15 years old, and I was planning on going to university the following year. But first there would be the dreaded Provincial Exams. Every student in the province had to write these exams and they were marked in Halifax, the capital city of Nova Scotia.
My parents knew that finding the time, space, and quiet that I would need to study would be difficult in our household of 11 children. So they sent me to boarding school, about 90 miles away on Cape Breton Island. The school was St. Joseph’s and it was located in a part of Cape Breton known for its stunning scenery and for its many expert fiddle players and musicians.
The population of Mabou was less than 200 people and at the boarding school, there were 100 girls. We attended the local high school, just down the hill from our residence.
I was the oldest girl in the family and was in the midst of 5 brothers, so the thought of living with 100 girls was thrilling. I was never disappointed and many wonderful friendships were made there. But there was something really, really exciting in store for me when I got to school the first day. There would be boys in my class for the first time.
There were three grade 11 rooms and I was in with students who were taking physics and chemistry. I had a couple of experiences with the boys I’d like to tell you about. Don’t worry, they’re squeaky clean; remember, it was 1960.
I was seated in front of a boy named Roger whose brother Brian was also in the class. Well, Roger tried to talk to me but I wasn’t going to get into that. I kept my eyes averted whenever I saw him. I don’t think I said more than a dozen words to any of the boys for the entire year I was there.
A few days later, Roger started touching my back as I sat ramrod straight at my desk. He whispered in my ear and tried his best to get me to talk to him. I never said a word. But when I was in my bed at night, in a dorm with 24 girls, I prayed to God to change me out of that class. The next day, Roger was transferred to one of the other classes. Maybe he couldn’t understand the science courses. But I was free!!! Free of Roger!!!
Roger’s handsome brother Brian, who was 18 to my 15, seemed to have a more “mature” understanding of a very shy girl. Every couple of weeks, he would wad up little pieces of paper and throw them at me. When I would look to the back of the room, he would smile at me. I’d quickly drop my eyes and I don’t think we ever talked to each other.
I still remember those boys – Brian fondly, Roger, not so much. I finished my year at school and entered university the next year at 16. By then I was used to having boys in my classes and you know, I really loved it!