Where I was born, there were one room schools.
I was a lucky one. I took this test and afterward, the priest came. You see, because I did well on the test, he got me into a good school, the convent school. They sent my parents the bill, and it said, “No fee.” They were lovely to me. They were wonderful.
I did well in school. They said I could go on, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was so young. I remember this man on the bus talked to me about it. And I never forgot that conversation!
He said to me, “Why don’t you become a nurse? ‘Cause then you’ll have letters after your name.”
That sounded good to me, “having letters after my name.” At 18, you had a chance to take another test and if you did well, you could go on to study to be a nurse. Which is what I did. I actually got quite a lot of letters after my name, over the years. Nursing, midwifery, district midwifery.
I came here as a different kind of immigrant. None of my siblings ever wanted to come to America. But you know, I wanted to see a bit of the world. I came to Chicago at the start of a year of travel. At that time, you could get a work visa if you had a hospital sponsor.
I did three months of nursing at Cook County in 1964. I was shocked by how different it was from where I had been working in London. It was very segregated. You know, the white patients had the AC and electric beds that raised the patient’s head. But the black patients had no electric and beds the nurses had to hand-crank to raise the head. In hospital in London, everyone had the same.
When I first arrived, I’d never seen a shower. I’d only known the bath with a tub, you know? My friend, the gal I was staying with, she said, “Oh you’ll love the shower.” And she showed me the whole thing, how it worked and all. She told me to pull the curtain, but she didn’t tell me to put it inside the tub. What a mess! I slopped around afterward with my towel drying up the floor.
Afterwards, she says to me, “So? How d’ya like it?”
“Well, don’t you think it’s a lot of bother? What with all the wiping up.”
That’s what it’s like when you first arrive. You don’t fit in. You don’t fit in, even if you speak English! I don’t understand how anyone could become a part of a country right away. How could you feel it?
I’ve lived in a lot of places, a lot of countries. Ireland has changed so much over the years. But right here, this country is the most Puritan country I know. And the most repressed.
I became a US citizen in the 1980’s, oh, years ago. And I’ve been here forever, but I never feel fully American. All these years, I still don’t.