“The school-master, always severe, grew severer and more exacting than ever, for he wanted the school to make a good showing on ‘Examination’ day. His rod and his ferule were seldom idle now — at least among the smaller pupils.”  -Mark Twain in Tom Sawyer

There is a common misconception about the nuns back in the day. Everybody assumes that they did their all their whackin’ on us with rulers and yardsticks. That is untrue. They only used rulers on us if it happened to be during math class when we were measuring something. Otherwise it was THE POINTER.

The nuns at St. Mel’s never deigned to actually touch the chalkboard, or the chalk for that matter. The dust might soil the habit. (Our nuns even wore the old school wimples, with the stiff, high cardboard up front.) So they used chalk holders to write with, preloaded by one of us assigned to the task. They used us to erase the boards and to clap out the erasers. (The latter was actually sort of a coveted job, because it got you out of class for 5 minutes or so…even if you did come home yellow and sneezing.) And they never touched the board to point. They used THE POINTER.

Three feet long. Solid wood, but with a rubber tip that made a squishy thwack on the board. However, there was nothing squishy about that stick.

Swish. Whack. A fraction of an inch from your hand with an ear-splitting sound. The jab. The haughty point in your direction, the jaunty wave in greeting, or the menacing waggle.

But mostly the whack. And sometimes they missed the desk.

Well I have one now, and mine’s vintage, baby. My dad found it in his mom’s garage. Three feet long. Over 100 years old. Carved from a single branch of hickory. No rubber tip, but it’s carved in the same shape. Handle, well-worn and smooth. And, oh how it makes a thwack!

The former Quiet Stick now has an honored placed in the front of the classroom, and I occasionally point at it or wave it. But it has been supplanted. This one is simply called Mr. Coward’s Stick.

I walk with it in the quad for yard duty, using it as a cane (a la House).  A twirl now and then. Maybe resting it on the shoulder. I wave it like a magic wand to part the sea of middle schoolers. I stop a couple kids from running with a motion like a toll gate. And then…The POINT.

“You! Gum! Trash! Now!”


This new stick is so”large and in charge” that I can’t even take a picture of it; it won’t fit in the frame. And a mere picture cannot hope to convey the power that it holds.

The nuns knew the power of a stick.