My Mum was a nurse – a state registered children’s nurse – a SRCN. She never made it to sister, something she felt aggrieved about but, perhaps it was because she didn’t work full time, having a young family to juggle. I don’t understand the ins and outs of being promoted to Sister, but she remained a Staff Nurse.
As children, growing up in a small village, our Mum was something of a minor celebrity, back in the day when such things didn’t really exist, as she’d nursed so many of the local children who had been hospitalised. She wore her halo with immense pride. In fact, we only knew how grateful other children and their mothers were because she told us.
She trained before I was born but didn’t go back to nursing until I was 12 years old and she began working night shifts at weekends. These were twelve-hour shifts, so she’d arrive home around 8.30am on a Sat morning. She’d go to bed around 10 and be up again by 4 to sort out the tea, before heading back into work for an 8pm start. She cycled the 4 miles to the hospital in the town nearby.
I was the oldest and often left in charge of my three younger siblings, especially Saturday mornings as our Dad worked from 7am till noon. He would wake me up as he left for work.
He was the foreman of a large fruit farm and would see that everyone was getting on with whatever they were meant to be doing and speak to the owner. Dad had about eight men and a dozen women working under him, following his instructions, which the farm owner would relay to him. The farm owner was very remote. Not at all hands on. My Dad ran the farm. He had status in our small village, as so many worked under him. I looked up to him.
My siblings would play up. I would want to get the breakfast things cleared away and the place tidied up and they would come down and make a mess.
When Mum got home, she would almost invariably have presents in her bag for us all. Small things. I used to feel frustrated by this, seeing her as squandering her money on cheap tat, when we couldn’t afford the roller skates and boots that I longed for. She was understandably tired but would stay up in a tired state for longer than she needed to. And she was never pleased with my efforts to tidy up. I couldn’t win her approval.
In retrospect, I can see I was stepping on her toes, the house was her domain.
We would hear stories about the children on the ward, always casting her in a favourable light. I was proud of her, especially that others thought her so wonderful.
I would often get set the task of taking her nursing laundry into the hospital when I went into town on a Saturday afternoon. I’d be going in to meet my friend, visit the market and hang out in a fashionable coffee bar, making a coke last the two of us all afternoon.
The corridors squeaked as I walked along them and there was an eerie quiet. I felt as if I was an interloper and about to be challenged but I never was. I’d head as instructed and put her laundry in the bag it was meant to go in. I didn’t have to pick anything up, she’d collect that on Friday when she next went in. It made me feel over-awed.
This laundry was important. A starched white apron over a blue and white striped dress and a white starched hat. She had her SRCN badge pinned to her apron and her nurses watch. And she wore lace up shoes. I have her badge now. One of my keepsakes.