When I was in my last year of high school, they gave us an aptitude test. It was supposed to be predictive of which career path I was to take. Because of my test results, I was told I should be a fire spotter in an isolated forest. Unfortunately, this career did not appeal to me, so my “prediction” test was a failure.
So, what was I interested in? Reading and eating at the same time. I could not read a book without eating something as I read. The family stock of munchables needed to be constantly refurbished, as I ate everything that was a finger food. Sometimes, I even came home and made a batch of cookies if there was nothing available in the cupboard.
Reading and eating were not on the list of careers in my vocation test. But I had to do something with my life.
In the 50s girls were limited in their career choices. Professional schools like medicine, dentistry and law limited female admissions to three a year. And only the women with top grades in college made it in. Since my grades were variable (I made it into the scholarship society only one semester in high school) I knew any profession based upon grades and gender would not accept me.
So, what was I to do?
First choice for girls was marriage right out of high school. Since my family expected me to go to college, I had four more years in which to hunt for a husband. That didn’t happen. But what should I major in in college? Reading and eating were not part of the course offerings. (Reading, in my case, was limited to historical novels. I didn’t learn about mysteries until I got to college and was introduced to Agatha Christie.)
My family- on my mother’s side – were all teachers. (My father’s side were farmers.) My family expected me to become a teacher too. But spending nine months of the year with a roomful of squirming children did not appeal to my imagination. What was I to do? Besides reading, I loved the movies. (We didn’t have TV then.)
No one ever suggested that I contact a publishing company and ask for a job reading the manuscripts submitted for review. It was something I could do at home so I could eat while I read. That idea never came up.
No one ever suggested that I go to Hollywood, not so many miles away, and apply for a scut work job at one of the major studios. I knew I couldn’t act, and wasn’t interested in theater so acting wasn’t even a consideration. But I was fascinated by how movies were made. So why didn’t anyone suggest that I check this out as a career choice? After all, one of our high school students played Boy in the current Tarzan movies. It’s not as if there were no movie connections at our high school.
My grades were not good enough or consistent enough for me to gain admittance to one of the prestigious California colleges or universities. But it wasn’t till years later, that I discovered why. It was only until the research on circadian rhythms came out that my scholastic inconsistencies became clear.
I am a morning person. My brain functions best in the morning. After noon, I develop brain fog. Nothing sticks. But classes always begin in the morning and homework is always in the afternoon or evening after school. No one ever thought that it might be good for me to take study hall as my first class. In fact, study hall was never even considered an option for my free period. Instead, my free period was taken up with classes in art (where I found I had no talent), typing or working on the school annual. They still expected me to study when I got home in the afternoon from school. That rarely happened. As I have said, I read novels and ate instead.
As a result, my teachers labeled me an under-achiever. I wonder how many other under-achievers had the same issues?
With my limited career choices because of my gender and grades, what was I to do?
Among the books I read were novels about a nurse called Cherry Ames. The novels followed her career in nursing school through to her being a hospital nursing administrator. Since nursing seemed to be based upon physical activities rather than academic achievement, and a variety of settings, I decided to become a nurse.
I can blame my nursing career on a fictional character called Cherry Ames.
I felt I needed to honor Cherry Ames for her influence in my life, so the title of my next book, a memoir about my nursing career, is called “Nancy Nurse or Cherry Ames,” which will come out in 2021.