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Friday, 11 December 2009

Sister Vera Puzt

Sister Vera Puzt had a face carved from Polish oak, and she could speak without moving her lips. Occasionally, if something excited her, the side of her mouth would quiver. She was dry as though weathered in Utah and placed in a kiln for good measure, and she was funny and kind and never afraid of the truth.

‘Hey, Mike, you know you smell?” Her nose wrinkled, her mouth didn’t move. I was forced to agree. New York was hot and I was behind in my laundry. The girls had said nothing. Maybe they thought this was an English aroma.

Lesson learnt. No messing around with Sister Vera. Straight from the lip.

She would stand beside me in the corridor as the girls from St. Agnes Academic School walked between bells. A voice, dry like a desert wind, and as faint gave a run down on each of the girls that passed: ‘old German family’ – ‘Columbian drug baron’ – ‘Italian deli on 82 St.’ – ‘Grandfather ex matador’ ‘Mafiosi’ – ‘Fruit and veg’ – ‘family runs a bakery’.

The life blood of the city drifted by, oblivious to Sister Vera’s spare and precise analysis.

Strictly speaking it was the life blood of Queens. Even though Manhattan was less than 20 minutes on the subway they were remarkably ignorant about the city, nervous about going there. So much so the school organised guided tours, along with a brief history of major landmarks. The boroughs of New York then, and maybe now, were self-sufficient, insular and serene. Sister Vera was not insular, but as funny as hell.

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