The first time I came to the U.S. with my mother and brothers was in 1965. I was 9 years old. We joined my father who was then teaching Mathematics at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
We lived very close to Colby College. There was a Roman Catholic Grade School there. My father knew the Priest and the Nuns who ran it and liked them very much. The Priest lived next to our house and he and my father talked often. Within a few days of our arriving, me and my brothers were enrolled in that school.
It was a huge change going from Punjab, India to Maine, U.S.A. My brothers and myself did not speak English. We did not even understand it much. For example, it took me a few days to realize that at my school, “Rest Room” referred to the bathroom and not a place to go rest and take a nap in the afternoon if you were tired.
The saving grace in all the adjustment was that I had the most wonderful Nuns as teachers. I especially remember the Mother Superior. I think we called her the Holy Mother. There was something extraordinary peaceful about her. She was full of grace, kindness, and a quiet dignity in all her words and actions.
After we had been in Waterville for a few weeks, the Holy Mother along with the Sister Nun came over to our house. The Nuns spoke to my father. My father said to my mother and us that the Mother Superior and the Sister wanted to take us to a movie. We all readily agreed.
The Mother Superior and the Sister took us to see “The Sound of Music”. It had just come out. That was the first American Movie I ever saw. I did not fully understand the movie at the time but really enjoyed the songs in it. After the movie and some food, the Nuns drove us back. I was singing in the car that very catchy tune in the movie, “You are sixteen, I am seventeen….”. The Nuns and my mother were talking . My brothers were smiling.
In my first month, I had a lot of difficulty drinking water from the water bubbler in my school. I had never seen anything like a water bubbler before. I would squeeze and turn the knob and the water would spring up towards me and go into my nose. I did not know the method of how to get the water to jump in my mouth and somehow suck on it and gulp it down.
The water would at times spring up and go into my mouth but then go right out before I could drink it. Children in the U.S. grow up with drinking water from the bubbler. However, for me it was a formidable challenge. I was used to the Indian style of drinking water with cupped palms.
One day, in between classes, I was engaged in my usual struggle to get a drink from the bubbler. I was really thirsty and so my efforts were unusually strong. But no matter how I tried, I was not able to get the water to fall perfectly in my mouth and gulp it down. Finally, in desperation, I squeezed and turned the knob with one hand and tried to get the water to come to the palm of my other hand and drink it. It was messy. While I did manage to get a few drops of water in my mouth, the rest spilled on my shirt.
A small crowd of students now started to gather around the water fountain watching me.
The Holy Mother saw what was happening and came over. She said to me that she would turn the knob on the water bubbler and I could drink the water. So with the Holy Mother holding the knob and turning it, I put my cupped palms together to hold the incoming water. After my cupped palms were full, I drank the water in the traditional Indian way. This had to be repeated many times because I was very thirsty.
Mother Superior continued holding the knob and I kept drinking the water with my palms until my thirst was quenched. After a couple of minutes, I finished. All this time, the Holy Mother was looking at me intently to make sure that I was fully satisfied.
As she took her hand off the knob of the water bubbler, the Holy Mother said in her gentle and most dignified way, “This is how Jesus used to drink water.”
The crowd around the bubbler then dispersed and we all went to our respective classes.