Fandango has challenged us to re-blog a post that we did on this day in the past. I have taken up the challenge to post something I wrote on 4 November 2015. It was in response to a writing prompt:- “When you were a kid, did you want to have the same job or a different job than your parents when you grew up?”
Immediately “SHOES” came to mind. My father was a shoe man – he sold them as a travelling rep, then as a store manager until he opened his own stores in Fish Hoek where I grew up. My feet were always shod in the best quality shoes and were both stylish and good for young growth. He cared about feet and what was placed upon them.
“You have a healthy foot,” he told me, A good instep but they’re too broad across the toes and too narrow at the heel.”
This made it difficult for me to find a good fit, but luckily Dad made sure I always did right up to the time he closed his stores and retired. But I diverse. Did I want to follow a similar career? No, I didn’t – but Big Brother worked in one of the shops Dad managed and so did Little Sister – from very tender ages too! Neither of them went into retail but I’m sure the work experience made them wealthier than me who shunned the idea of touching the feet of all and sundry.
No, secretarial work sounded more attractive. Mom had been a legal secretary before marrying dad. She gave it all up to raise a family of four lively kids although she did work on and off when the need arose. The idea of dressing up in smart clothes and wearing high-heeled shoes while taking dictation seemed to me to be a very glamorous job when I was about 10 years old. And Dad encouraged it.
“It would be better than working in a shop,” he said. “Good secretarial skills are like gold. If you’re good you’ll be in high demand and will be able to command your salary. An academic matric is not good for girls. When you’re older you will send you to a school for secretaries!” He did too – but that’s another story!
Dad brought an ancient Typewriter home from his company’s office and Little Sister and I had hours of fun pretending to be secretaries. We banged away on its resistant keys, talked on a discarded broken telephone and busied ourselves writing out accounts.
But then in my teens, the “higher calling” ideas started to set in. I should do something worthy. Perhaps I could become a missionary, a nurse, or work in a home for orphaned children. I fancied myself as a saviour of the underdog.
Yes, I would be the Perfect Florence Nightingale, ministering to the sick and making a difference in their lives. So when I was seventeen, just before my final year of high school, Mom encouraged me to first try it out during the Christmas Holidays. And that is how I landed up working as a nurse’s aide at the local hospital. How I loved the white nurse’s uniform complete with a red cape. It made me feel very grown up and oh-so-worthy. But it was hard and dirty work. I learned to make a perfect hospital bed, to dust and clean the metal beds and side cabinets, and to empty bedpans!
One of my patients was a young mother of three, terminally ill with cancer. The first time I held a bowl for her to vomit into, I almost vomited myself! I won’t even describe the things I had to do for her but the emotions I experienced were the worst. To me, the staff nurses seemed indifferent. Perhaps they had learned not to get emotionally involved and to maintain a professional barrier between themselves and their patients. I, on the other hand, ran immediately to answer the bell when the young mother rang. She complained bitterly about the nurses and if one of them did come to her she would ask for me and they were only too happy to let me deal with her as she could be ‘difficult’
“Well, wouldn’t you be if you were suffering like that?” I asked them but they shrugged their shoulders.
She was skeletal and her pallor was yellow but before visiting hour she’d call me to help her put on her makeup and brush what little hair she had.
“It doesn’t matter how ill or old you are,” she told me “You must always make an effort to look your best for your husband.”
I’d do my best to make sure she was fresh and presentable, prop her up on her pillows and stay and chat till her family arrived. Her hubby was always smiley and pleased to see her and the children were adorable – quiet and well-behaved bringing cards and pictures they had drawn for her.
My heart ached for them and for her as I knew she was going to die. The pastor from the Methodist Church visited her every day and told me that at first, she’d raged against God for what was happening to her but that now she was beginning to accept her fate.
I was not there when she died. It was in the middle of the night before I came on duty. The pastor greeted me the following morning and broke the news to me. He had been called to her bedside.
“She went peacefully, believing that Jesus had come for her,” he said.
I never saw her family again, but I still think about them and wonder how they dealt with their loss and whether her husband married again. I am pretty convinced that he did as he was still young and very good-looking! The strange thing is, I remember them all so well, what they looked like, what they were going through but I can’t remember their names.
Just over ten years later I, myself, met and married a widower with two young daughters. I believe that having had this experience in my teens helped me to understand what they had gone through losing a wife and mother to cancer.
But I also had a joyful experience while working at the hospital. I was going about my duties when the sister called me. “One of the mommies in the maternity section is about to give birth. Would you like to watch?”
Would I ? Oh yes, please!
I had no idea what to expect – I certainly did not expect the emotions that welled up inside me when that beautiful little boy popped into the world. I experienced a miracle and the tears flowed – tears of wonder, joy and excitement! It was a lady doctor who delivered the little boy and the mother was her daughter-in-law. She said she was delighted and honoured to be allowed to deliver her own grandchild. When she put the baby into her daughter-in-law’s arms, she said, “Ugh he’s so ugly.” And there I was blubbing and thinking he was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen! But then I hadn’t been through the pain of childbirth! Now the strange thing here is, I remember all their names quite clearly!
So after all that, did I become a nurse? Not a chance! I decided that all this worthy stuff was over-rated and that Teaching would be more appropriate to my skills. After all, I could still wear smart clothes and high heels and pour out my love to the youngsters I taught. Nursing had certainly been a life-changing experience and playing secretaries with my sister had been fun but school-school was always my favourite game.