We have a comforter in our home that is over 35 years old. I know that for a fact because this comforter was a gift we received at a baby shower in 1985 when Barbara was pregnant for our first child, Maria.
This three-color comforter is off white, gray, and burgundy and is big enough to easily cover a king-size bed. Through the years, we have used that comforter on our bed during the cold winter months in upstate New York. We have also used it in our guest bedroom. And we often have had it draped over the couch in our living room, so if one of us wants to take an afternoon nap, we can easily pull that comforter down over us for both warmth and comfort.
The words “warmth” and “comfort” apply perfectly to this comforter because the two women who together crafted it for us were two of the warmest people I have ever known, and both of them had a unique way of making everyone around them feel comfortable.
I am speaking of two Carondelet Sisters of St. Joseph: Sister Concetta Cuscianna, who passed away in 2017, and sister Claudia Marie Amrod, who passed away just last week. I haven’t seen either one of them since 1986, but we taught together in a small Catholic school for almost a decade, and I think of them often when I see that comforter in use.
I met Sister Concetta first, when I began working as an English teacher during the fall of 1977 at Keveny Memorial Academy in Cohoes, New York. At that time, I only had one year of teaching experience, and Sister Concetta welcomed me and willingly shared her classroom knowledge and wisdom with me. We both taught freshmen and sophomores; she taught History and Social Studies, and I taught English. Thus, I often found myself in her classroom early in the day before classes began or at the end of the day — either because I had questions or because I wanted to share a story from the day’s adventures.
Inevitably, I could hear her boisterous laugh echoing down the hall as I approached. Sister Concetta was rarely alone in her classroom because her students loved her and wanted to spend extra time with her. Whether one student were present or five to ten, Sister Concetta held court and made sure everyone was included in the conversation. At first, I was hesitant to interrupt, but when she saw me near the doorway, she always invited me to join the party. For a few years, too, we coached together. She coached the girls’ softball team while I coached the boys’ baseball team. Quite honestly, we didn’t win that often, but sometimes, we shared the bus trips to away games, and we all had a blast.
Sister Claudia joined us the following academic year as a math teacher. Apparently, the two of them knew each other somehow — I don’t remember the details — and were best friends. Sister Claudia was a more subdued version of Sister Concetta but just as warm and just as kind. And from what I heard from her students, she had a wonderful way of explaining percentages and theorems and formulas, so that everyone could understand. Together, those two were dynamite, in a good way, of course.
In addition, those two nuns were always involved in every extracurricular activity at the school. I remember one parent saying that she felt the two of them somehow, like Jesus, “multiplied” the amount of meatballs for a fundraising spaghetti supper. On another occasion, I convinced both Sister Concetta and Sister Claudia and other faculty members to join me as we entertained the students at an assembly by singing “Wonderful World,” a song first recorded by Sam Cooke in 1960. Naturally, I had Sister Concetta alone sing the opening line “Don’t know much about history” while Sister Claudia came in later with her key lines: “Don’t know much about algebra.
Don’t know what a slide rule is for.” Once again, the experience included lots of smiles and laughs for all involved.
Finally, I’m not 100 percent sure about this, but I think these two wonderful and thoughtful individuals organized the faculty baby shower for us in the first place, secretly invited Barbara to join us, and managed to surprise me in the process. I know we received other gifts that day — such as a highchair and a mobile, among others — but that comforter has outlasted them all, serving as a sweet reminder of two remarkable women who devoted their lives to their students and to their God and who left an indelible mark on everyone who knew them.
Souvenirs Tell Stories: Part 1
Whenever I talk to students about writing their essays, I inevitably hear a common complaint: “I don’t know what to…
Souvenirs Tell Stories: Part 3 — My Fraternity Paddle
A while back, I started writing stories about souvenirs. My initial story was about the first trophy I ever earned when…
Souvenirs Tell Stories — Part 4: A New York Yankee Pennant from My First Game at the Stadium
I have always been a huge baseball fan. Growing up during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the New York Yankees were the…
A Demolished Building Lives On
Souvenirs Tell Stories: Part 6 — A Ticket to Graduation
Souvenirs Tell Stories — The Rocking Chair
As the Saratoga Race Course opens today in upstate New York, I recall a souvenir that came indirectly into our home…
Souvenirs Tell Stories — Baseball Stories
Spring has always been my favorite time of the year because of the warmer weather, the rebirth of the grass and the…