I felt ready to embark on this new stage of my life and, in fact, I had prepared for, and craved it for as long as I could remember. Mom, Dad and I set off on the 5-6 hour drive from our home in North Bay Ontario to Kitchener. I turned nineteen the previous month. Each of us were lost in our own thoughts and feelings that were mixed with excitement, anticipation and also dread at our inevitable separation.
Residence was an old stone out-building on the grounds of the original hospital (now a chronic care facility) and a modern hospital suited to the needs of Kitchener and it surrounding Waterloo Region. And here I stood at the door of my residence room that would fulfill dreams of becoming a Registered Nurse, and where I would experience loneliness, fear, self-doubt, success, anticipation and excitement.
Here I would gradually build friendships that would last a lifetime. My door opened into a narrow entry with closets situated immediately on either side – you know, where you had to close the hall door before opening the closet door. Beyond the closets were two beds fitted on either side of the room. The head of each was backed against those closet walls and faced two desks and a window just a few short feet from the foot of the beds. The room, arranged symmetrically if not fashionably, and despite an economy of size and decor, was all we would need.
Janice was my room-mate.
Residence life has the benefits of privacy when you want or need it, or community when that is what your soul is requires. It is a most beneficial way to live. Evenings after spending a day in the classroom or on a ward, we gathered in the lounge or in a classmates’ room. Days off occasionally meant trips to the home of a classmate. Wonderful experiences. Wonderful adventures. You share so much of yourself (but only as much as you dare) resulting in a camaraderie you experience the rest of your life, often despite decades apart.
Squeezing into a residence room to talk, laugh, share, celebrate. L & CenterFRONT: Gerda, Helen. ClockwiseBACK: Nancy (remember those hairnets over huge rollers???), Suzanne, Sue (back), Ellie (in another hairnet), Sue R, Linda (wearing Della’s hand as a hat), Della – behind (I miss her), Marjorie, Viv.
Gathering in a residence room, sharing new, ghoulish ward & O.R. experiences. L-R BACK – Marjorie, Jan, Kirby, ‘Aunt Suzanne’, Sue, Gerda FRONT – Ellie, Helen, Linda
Weekend at Ellie’s farm, Seaforth, Ontario. L-R: Janice, Pep, Ellie, Suzanne, Linda
CAPPING CEREMONY 1964 BACK – Marjorie, Janice, Sharon, Linda, ‘Pepper’, Ellie. FRONT – Margie, Alison, Nancy, Gail, Helen
Now, some fifty-one years later, Jan recalls that she kept her side of the room tidy, but that I ‘decorated’ mine. To me, it was not decorated. Well, I did place items strategically and pleasingly (I still do that). But the items on the small, functual dresser, squeezed between the foot of the bed and the desk were more than decorations, they were a lifeline to my home and family so far away. They were solace and inspiration during life’s cloudy, stormy moments.
There was our family portrait – my Mom, Dad, my brother Steve who was eight years my junior, and my brother Greg who was still a baby at four years of age. He would become five in another month. Separating from this family that was my entire life to this point was difficult and traumatic, especially considering the distance we were now apart. In moments of doubt, hurt, misery it was comforting to have them close, if only in a photo.
Also, there was a varnished wooden plaque I bought at the CNE the year before. Its quote spoke to me. It became my mantra, my inspiration when I felt sorry for myself:
“I complained because I had no shoes … Until I saw a man who had no feet.”
I had a small white booklet with grey lettering, “Climb ’till Your Dreams Come True” – inspirational (yet again that word) poems that my mother gave me before I left home.
Those three items were my inspiration, my lifeline in the many difficult and lonely times. I cannot relate the number of times they saved me over the next three years.
Friendships have also been a lifeline for me.
Jan was the best roommate a girl could have in that first crucial year when you feel insecure, vulnerable. She was kind, considerate and had a smile that made her eyes sparkle and crinkle at the corners. We liked and respected one another and each other’s space. That made for a successful pairing.
After graduating, we went our separate ways, in different cities, both married to WLU mates, worked and raised our families. We met nearly every year for K-W H Alumni reunions and class gatherings and anniversaries.
Fifty-one years later, in one of life’s little ironies, we are geographically together again. Last year I emailed family, friends and nursing classmates to say that, after fifty years in the twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, my husband Greg and I were moving to the resort town of Wasaga Beach on Southern Georgian Bay. Soon after, I was blown away by an email from Jan saying she and Jim had also just bought a home in Wasaga. What are the chances!!!
We began our careers together and now we are enjoying our retirement together. We see each other regularly at Probus Garden, Euchre and Luncheon clubs, but we each still have other friends as well.
There is something satisfying about the ‘circle of life’ thing that means a lot to me. It is a comfort. It seems right. And other classmates, near and far away, mean more to me now than they did in the stress of our academic environment. Regrettably, some are too far to come to our annual get-togethers …
Enjoying Sunset at the ‘Shuh Inn’. Jan, Betty, Wilma