It was great to clean out the garage the other day. I was surprised to find my nursing school uniforms––I bet they were transferred from the attic to the garage on the way to the trash and I decided to hold on to them a little longer. But, yellowed with age, they really need to go now.
I unpacked them all, still stiff with starch from their last washing, the collars and bibs pristinely packed in the zippered laundry bag that brought them to and from the cleaners. I saw my name stamped on each piece. Blue and white stripes. How proud we were of them! Yes we complained about the ten minutes it took to get into them (5 buttons at the cuff, studs and other complex contraptions to attach the collar, bib and apron, and the secret folded Kleenex clipped on to the back of our hair to hold our caps on.) Yes we'd complain, but I know we were proud. I think deep down we didn't mind the limp bustle in the back of the uniform, or wearing the so out-of-it mid-calf long skirt (unheard of in the late 60s/early 70s). I think we rather liked the white stockings and proper nursing shoes ... proud probably because of the rich 100-year history of our school, and for its reputation for producing quality nurses ... proud because we were making it through the rigorous academics.
The summer of our senior year we got to wear whites––after all we were team leading and working full time as nurses in our chosen area of leadership. So when graduation arrived we all decided to cut off those long uniforms and hem them knee-length for graduation. What could they say, anyway? We were at Columbia University in the late 60s--rebellion was a part of us.
And nothing was said about our little deviation as we marched out onto the lush green lawn tucked down among the tall Manhattan skyscrapers, wearing our student uniforms for the last time. There was a sense of freedom in the small adventure of our shortened skirts, signifying an awareness that we would soon be on our own to make our own nursing judgements and decisions.
I decided to keep the best uniform, wash it, and put it away. After all, I have a granddaughter now. With both her mom and grandmother nurses, she may dream about Florence Nightengale herself someday!