Stories on the road, the two hour drive into Portland. Grandma and I stop at a coffee house to use the restroom, and we see this car – exactly like her Uncle’s car back on the farm – when as a little girl, Grandma would ride right behind the wheel well by the engine block. She tells me stories of helping on the farm in North Dakota, riding her bike to take lunch to the men, to see the horses. She tells me stories of harvesting, of being small and young and doing so much – things we would never allow children to do today.
Grandma wanted to be a nurse. Her grandparents told her to come to Oregon, and they would find a nursing program for her. They were going to drive and tour all the Portland area nursing programs and Providence was the first stop on the road. The nursing program had been started by the military in hopes to get more nurses during the Korean war. Grandma – at a whopping 4’11” – was too short to enter the military. When they arrived, they were about to start testing, so Grandma walked in and tested. Within two weeks she was on campus with a full scholarship, beginning the three years program to become a registered nurse. She told me it was so easy to get in she never questioned it. (Eventually, this program would lead her to a blind date where she met Grandpa. I heard her tell that story today, too.)
Fifteen classes graduated; theirs was the fifth. In the hall, there are women celebrating their 50th through 65th reunions. Amazing. Laughter, giggles, hugs. Beautiful, feisty women. I am sitting at a table of seven amazing women, all nurses, wives, mothers.
Not everyone is there. There are those that have died, and there are those that are “lost.” One woman from this class could not come, and she sent in a letter. Joanne reads the letter to the table, and it ends, “Stay young and beautiful for me.” And they all laugh.
“We were a very rebellious class,” said three separate women. Stories of smuggling beer bottles in under capes. Of tucking drunk girls into bed before flashlight check at 10:30pm. Of giving the House Mother’s bad times. Mischievous.
The cadets weren’t allowed to marry. They changed this for the Class of 1952 – they could wed in the last six months – they did not want pregnant nurses. Sue was the first to wed; Grandma had her wedding announcement in the scrap book.
Stories about politics, about teachers, about the way things were. How much change have these women seen! – in medicine, in technology, in women’s rights and roles.
“All they do now is work on the computer. They don’t have time to be nurses.”
They took a trip to my Grandmother’s grandparents home. Two of them had their boyfriends with them. They became their husbands. They both passed away last year. “Every time I sit on the deck and see a bird, I call out to tell Vern. And then I remember. Every time.” And Sue pats her hand, “I know.”
My Grandmother’s maid of honor was there – Hashi – a lovely woman who I spent a day with (ten years ago) touring San Francisco. Imagine, an original five-speed Volkswagen bug, 72 year old woman, San Fran hills. (Bad ass). An amazing day touring Japantown. It was so wonderful to see her again. When we said goodbye, she said, “It may not make sense, but I think of you and your grandmother a lot. Different memories. Different stories. I think of you both a lot.”
Lots of hands. Beautiful hands. Beautiful rings. I cannot imagine the number of people these hands have touched. The number of meals that have been made. The number of plants that have been sown or fruit harvested. How many times have they been wrung with worry or rage. How many times have they put on lipstick or earrings. These hands have lived and loved, helped and hurt, taken and given. They are strong and beautiful.
For those of you that know my Grandmother – I offered at the beginning of summer to take her to this reunion. She had decided she wasn’t going to attend. A couple of weeks ago, she changed her mind and was going to take the bus and refused for me to take her. Thankfully, she changed her mind. This makes perfect sense if you’ve met her. We stopped on the way home for dinner and split a piece of marionberry pie ala mode. A lovely drive. A very special day.