Monday, September 13, 2010

Nunzilla Was My Mother and My Stepmother Was a Witch

Nunzilla Was My Mother and 
My Stepmother Was a Witch
Terry Gelormino Silver


Growing up in a two-parent home during the Great Depression of the 1930s was certainly no picnic, but living in an orphanage run by dozens of nuns was undoubtedly worse.

Just ask Terry Gelormino Silver, the author of Nunzilla Was My Mother and My Stepmother Was a Witch. Terry spent her formative years under the care of so-called pious nuns who acted as if her very existence was a cross to bear. For so many years she kept these memories inside, as if waiting for the proper moment in time to let them out. Well, that time has come, and it is her readers who are the richer for it.

Shining with rare insight and vivid descriptions that ably present a world most people can only imagine, this compelling memoir still manages to capture the magic of childhood and the anxiety of adolescence while granting readers a new understanding of an innocent era.

The author's experiences in three separate orphanages are examined. In the end, Terry Gelormino Silver arrives at some very interesting conclusions, some of which will surprise even those who know her best!

About the Author:
Terry Gelormino Silver was born in Bellaire, Ohio and spent her early childhood in St. Ann's Infant Asylum and in St. Vincent's Orphanage, both in Columbus. She went on to earn her high school diploma from the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans home in Xenia, Ohio before relocating to New York City. Having worked for the Air Force Institute of Technology for many years, Ms. Silver is now retired and living in Georgia.
"What I learned living in orphanages was not to snitch on others, how to use cunning to get what I wanted, how to make an angry nun laugh, how to pass time during long and boring religious services or how to avoid them altogether, gratitude for simple pleasures, mental and physical survival skills, how to gain self-esteem in non-traditional ways, and how to bluff my way through tense situations. Even in an Oliver-Twist type of orphanage, kids can manage to have fun and outsmart their caregivers. Although my book tells about some sad or angry moments, it's not a tear-jerker. Read my book, and you may be surprised to find yourself chuckling at times. Kids are irrepressible no matter what their environment." - Terry Silver
This little book is the fascinating, true story of life in several orphanages during the Depression and WWII eras. The author, Terry Silver, spent her young childhood in two Catholic institutions in Ohio, then moved to the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans Home, where she graduated from high school in 1945. 

After all these decades, Silver remains hostile to (most of) the nuns who ran the two Catholic orphanages, albeit her bitterness has become muted somewhat upon reflection. She remembers a few happy times, and a few worthy nuns, but most of them she still regards as religious fanatics and neurotic, sadistic tyrants. Hence the term "nunzilla." Deprived of love, hungry all the time, nevertheless she, and many of her fellow orphans, struggled on and survived in their irrepressible youth.
Their Catholic-related experiences were often self-contradictory. The nuns were full of hatred and fear concerning the human body, and anything pleasurable, yet they sat through Hollywood movies with the children, romantic episodes, luxurious life-styles and all, and did no more than avert their eyes during, e.g., kissing scenes. The children were terrified of incurring God's wrath, yet they enjoyed, e.g., reading comic books while supposedly at their devotions.
I think most children are like that, but Catholic kids in this poverty-haunted orphanage some 80 years ago were all the more so. 

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphanage was a far pleasanter experience, though Terry initially feared contact with Protestants and secular temptations, against which the nuns had warned her. There was also one dreadful housemother--the "witch" in the book's title. Yet again, Terry won through, an academic success, though scarred by the ham-handed attentions of the Home's psychologist.
It was interesting to read Silver's final reflections. Despite her troubled youth, she believes that orphanages are better than foster homes--at least secular orphanages, where children can live in a pluralistic atmosphere among staff who, usually, care about them...unlike the crabbed and pinched (and pinching) nuns who, Silver mainstains, didn't even like the children they had to endure.
I expect this book will be an eye-opener for readers from the Baby Boomer (and later) generations, though many of Silver's recollections will seem familiar to anyone, of any age, orphan or not, who hasn't completely repressed his or her childhood memories. Think Jane Eyre with an (Oliver) Twist.
--Karl G. Larew, Ph.D.

Click below to get your copy!


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