8. Tales of a Student Nurse: Extracurricular Lessons

A few weeks later, my extracurricular learning took another direction. Alice invited me to join a group of second year students for a night out at Hank’s Place, a local bar which featured live entertainment and dancing. Every Thursday night was Ladies’ Night: the cover charge was waived for women, and their drinks were half price. Knowing that the place would be full of women on Thursday nights, men were attracted to attend. Young men found student nurses very appealing; folklore of the time proclaimed that nurses were easy. A highly disrespectful and insulting slogan spoken by men at the time declared If you can’t get a date, get a Nurse. The Women’s Movement hadn’t yet visited small town Canada, or at least, it hadn’t found my Nurses’ Residence. We student nurses giggled along at that sexist slur, oblivious to its denigrating message.

Several issues complicated my eagerness to go with Alice and her friends to Hank’s Place. First off, the legal drinking age in Ontario at that time was twenty-one; I was seventeen. House curfew was eleven pm and the band started playing at nine. Was it really worth going for so short a time? I was not interested in sneaking in after curfew and didn’t want to be forced into that situation. Finally, I loved and trusted Alice but felt intimidated by her classmates; I didn’t find them friendly and wasn’t sure they’d welcome me along. I felt like I was a toddler being brought along by an older sister, rather than a legitimate part of the group.

To each of these concerns, Alice had a ready response. Of course her friends would be glad to have me along; an hour and a half was more than enough time to spend at Hank’s; and legal drinking age was nothing to worry about either. Neither she nor the other second year students were yet twenty-one.

“Barb, how do you think we get into the bars? We borrow proof and we’ll get it for you too. Patty’s older sister always lends Patty her birth certificate and she has friends who lend theirs to us whenever we need it. Come on, you need to come with us; it’ll be fun.”

Really? My innocent soul was blown away; was it really that easy? If anyone but Alice had made this proposition I would have declined, but it was Alice. I knew she’d take care of me and make sure nothing happened to me, and so I decided to take a chance.

When Thursday night arrived, Alice came to my room to collect me and to hand me my fake birth certificate. Mary Jones, its owner, was twenty-three years old!

“Alice: how can this possibly work? I don’t look twenty-three and I’ll get caught. Then you and your friends will also get into trouble.”

She shushed me and hurried me down the corridor so we could meet her friends outside. One of Alice’s classmates had a boyfriend who would drive us to Hank’s. Away we went: the other nursing students were animated and talkative but I sat quietly worrying. My stomach was in knots, my heart was racing, and I was terrified. Sitting beside me in the back seat, Alice was the picture of cool, calm and collected.

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Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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