Nurse of the Day

When you were five or six years old, did you have a dream for your life? A ready answer to the question, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I didn’t. I find that kind of sad, like I missed out on something really important.

This memory is fuzzy: When I was five, I was in the audience for a local Cincinnati television show called Skipper Ryle. Skipper Ryle was pretty low-key. He told excitings stories and had a studio full of friendly, walk-on shipmates. (And maybe a fake parrot?) The Skipper was big on safety. I remember a fake traffic signal that stood on the set, blinking red, yellow, green. Of course, at home we had to imagine the colors because our television was black and white.

Each day, the Skipper would single out a boy and girl from the audience. Somehow (it may have had something to do with my father’s cousin, who worked at the station), I ended up being the Nurse of the Day when I was there. I don’t remember what the boy was supposed to be. The Skipper’s assistants helped me don a little nurse’s cape and white folded hat, then gave me a small medical bag to hold in front of me. I’m sure I was supposed to be delighted, but mostly I remember being terrified, not knowing what was going to happen to me. Then they hurried me up onto a scuffed block of wood, where I was supposed to stand, looking at the camera. Skipper Ryle asked me some questions–my name, etc–and I suppose I muttered some appropriate response that my mother was no doubt telegraphing into the inside of my head.

What did it all mean, Nurse of the Day? I remember thinking it should have been significant, this nurse thing. I’d never before wanted to be a nurse. I didn’t know any nurses, except the ones who greeted me when I had to go to the doctor’s office for shots or an earache. Had I made some kind of commitment to be a nurse? It bothered me for a long, long time. In fact, I think it pretty much quashed any thoughts I might have had about becoming a nurse because the whole thing was so stressful. Then again, I was kind of a stressed-out kid.

No. The blood-and-guts world of nurses, doctors, trapeze artists, car mechanics, teachers, grocery clerks, mayors or presidents, actresses or singers, wasn’t for me. Later–much later– I toyed with the idea of being an archeologist or an architect, but I wasn’t brave enough. I thought of becoming a librarian. The librarian idea stuck with me for a long, long time because it involved books.

To bastardize a perfectly good Tennessee Williams line: I have always depended on the kindness of books.

In books, I could be anything, anytime, anywhere. I could be the sad “crippled” girl (a very old book) who watched, jealously, out the window as her friends played and danced. I could be that same girl, a few pages later, whose handsome doctor cured her so that she could attend her first ballet class (the drawing was of toe shoes? must’ve been a quick study!). I could be the girl detective with the handsome boyfriend and the top-down car. I could be the pirate, the cabin-boy, the serving wench, the goddess who wrecked the ships against the rocks. I could be the girl who wins the Grand National on the best horse in the world.


I think I was stressed by the Nurse of the Day thing because I couldn’t bear to limit myself. The possibilities are, indeed, endless. Aren’t all avid readers a little bit like this? I think that maybe writers–many of whom can be a tad shy–simply take the idea one step further.

So maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be anything. It was that I wanted to be everything, all at once.

6 thoughts on “Nurse of the Day”

  1. Jess says:

    Laura – I LOVE this post. I relate completely. I still think I was supposed to be a doctor…but the idea of wanting to be everything is quite profound.
    On the flip side, I wanted to be ‘deaf’ when I was 7. I attended a deaf school and was in the only hearing class out of 500 students, in New Zealand. I would come home after school and make hearing aids out of wood blocks, string and cotton wool (for the actual ear pieces)

  2. Bizarrely, I was just talking about this very thing with friends the other day and I cannot remember what I wanted to be when I was a child. I was the only one in the group who couldn’t and I decided that because I’d always had my head in a book – back then it was usually Enid Blyton (most of the time it was The Famous Five) or Roald Dahl – that I probably wanted to be a professional reader 🙂

  3. carmar76 says:

    I always wanted to be a teacher when I was little. I practised by tutoring elementary kids when I was in HS. Then, college hit & I actually had to teach a class full of peers, had a panic attack to end all panic attacks, and voila – a customer service guru was born. *laugh*

    I’m actually kinda sad I never became a professional reader. I miss editing! : )

  4. I wanted to do everything, influenced by what I was reading at the time. For a time it was a nurse, inspired by “Nurses Who Led the Way.” Then the idea of being a detective always solving mysteries caught my fancy (a la Nancy Drew). Chief among those intriguing professions was archeologist, inspired by the Deenie Gordon books. Do you remember those? I can’t remember author’s name. I was very curious and living in small, rather dull town, eager to break out and see the world – especially Egypt, where all the good archeology gigs seemed to be. I had a big imagination, which is where writing came in. In high school I chose journalism, which would allow travel and writing. (Although the high school guidance counselor said girls should consider only being a teacher, nurse or secretary). It’s also allowed me peeks into other professions.

  5. JT Ellison says:

    What a fabulous post! I love the idea of you as a renegade librarian.

    I wanted to be the first female firefighter for the city of Denver. This was a real, serious goal. I made my Dad take me to the Fire Station weekly. I was so focused…

    Then one day, the newspaper came, with a huge headline – 1st Female Firefighter. It had a picture of this woman in her fire suit, the hat, everything. I can still see exactly what she looked like, with that genuinely thrilled smile on her face. I was so crushed. 5, and my dream was shattered. Informed my childhood, for sure.

  6. Hi, Jessica. I’m so blown away by your desire to be deaf as a child. Did you just want to fit in where you were? What did your parents think? I can just see you making your little hearing aids. Brilliant story.

    Hi, Danielle. So glad I’m not alone in my lapse. Let’s just pretend we were always just ready for anything! (Don’t know Enid Blyton–will have to look up.)

    Carrie–I love that you tutored kids in HS! And I say that it’s never too late to become a professional reader. At least a para-professional!

    Tara–You are one of the most adventurous people I’m acquainted with, and I admire you so much. Your desire to be everything you read about doesn’t surprise me a bit!

    JT–I’m so glad you came by, sweetie. What a poignant story. Were there many tears? But I can’t believe you didn’t go on to be the first female astronaut or something by the time you were six!

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