I don’t remember much about the age of ten. For sure, I wasn’t focused on a career. Growing up in a small town, I spent my days as a child playing outside with my sisters and brother or a friend. If anything, I thought about becoming a wife and mother.
The one thing I do remember wanting to be when I grew up was, a non-smoker. Having grown up in a smoking household, I hated the smell of smoke and the stench that permeated every surface. At the young age of nine, I made the conscious decision to set a different and healthier path for myself. I would never smoke. It was the first step toward my career and realizing what I really wanted to be when I grew up – Florence Nightingale.
Florence Nightingale surfaced while I was holding court with three preteen boys in the basement of their home. Our parents, long time friends, were upstairs visiting. Why I came along for the visit, escapes me now.
Bored, I perched up on top of the washing machine as if I owned the world, and the boys gathered round. A precocious adolescent, developing ahead of most of my friends, I’d learned years ago my blonde hair and green eyes were an asset. A subtle flip of hair or intent gaze seemed to work magic.
All three boys stood around the washer, looking goo-goo eyed. Elbows propped on the edge and baby-fuzzed faces cupped in fidgety hands, they couldn’t take their eyes off me as I regaled them with stories of becoming a missionary nurse and traveling the world to help the sick and infirmed.
Of course, I could’ve been speaking jibberish for all they cared; adolescent boys will believe anything given the circumstances. I loved the attention using every bit of my wily teenage charm on those six sets of adoring eyes.
I’m guessing, based on the oldest boy’s level of attention, his mom spent a busy day laundering sheets the next day. Just saying, I could be pretty disarming for a young lady. And, when you’re fifteen, unmitigated adoration goes a long way feeding that demon.
I grew up in a small southern town. The middle child of three girls, and a younger brother. Two half sisters came later when Mom remarried. Maturing ahead of most of my classmates, I learned early on, when a boy in my class bumped into me, boobs created a lot of attention. He pointed at my well-developed chest and yelled for the whole class to hear, “She’s got them things.” A smart girl, I caught on fast; discovering that my assets, while unwelcome at first, had advantages.
He and his friends followed me around the playground for weeks until I had enough and reported them to the teacher. Attention, although nice could also be tiresome. It would be on my terms or not at all.
Over the years, more than those three young boys, hanging onto the side of the washer and my every word, would accuse me of sending double-whammies with my green eyes, but I digress.
As usual, when you make broad declarations at the age of fifteen, they rarely come true; mine were no exception, at least, not in the strictest sense. I didn’t do the missionary thing, not the way you think, but in 1972, Florence Nightingale followed me to nursing school.
The satellite branch of the University of South Carolina, less than an hour’s drive from home, offered the closest associate degree nursing program. With four younger kids left at home, there would be no dorm room or college campus experience for me; I’d have to commute. I didn’t mind. Contrary to my precocious adolescence, Florence and I weren’t the partying kind.
One of the first assignments I received in nursing school included keeping a personal journal to record why we chose nursing and our experiences during the first semester. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The assignment sounded juvenile to me, more like high school than college. But, to the professors, the journals were serious business, counting a third of our grade. If that’s what they wanted, that’s what they’d get, with a bit of a twist.
From day one, I signed my journal Florence Nightingale. Of course, identifying myself, on the inside cover, to get credit where credit was due. Every entry went under the name of Florence, and my professor’s reaction? Oh, my God, she loved it. She and Florence had quite the rapport going the whole semester. Based on her graded comments to each entry, you would have thought she was communicating with the dead.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A good student, I studied. While others played hearts in the canteen area, I hit the books. By the end of my first semester of nursing school, I’d learned more than the funny language of medicine or how to stick the butt of an orange (nothing exciting). In fact, my “assets” paled in comparison to what the journal and Florence taught me. I’d discovered the art of bullshit and spin; the power of words.
No doubt, I had big plans. I’d be the next Florence Nightingale, work to help cure cancer, or the next disease threatening to wipe out humanity, and I swear to God, I think my professors believed it too, but then, that might just be me. First semester – I earned an A.