Ruth and I are counting the dead. Ruth counts 13. I have 11. “We should count anyone who didn’t respond to the invitation as ‘dead’,” she jokes over the phone. I can’t help but laugh. Maybe I’m laughing off the somberness of such a task.
We are putting together a directory of Saint Peter’s School of Nursing, in New Brunswick, NJ, class of ’62 to pass out to the attendees at our reunion next week in Cape May. It’s bizarre that Ruth and I don’t share an accurate list of our fellow classmates who have passed away in the last 60 years!
I have three lists of information in front of me. Ruth, Joan, and Alice had split up the directory from the last reunion in 2017. They attempted to contact everyone who wasn’t on the dead list. I volunteered to collate the results. Ruth and I are trying to sort out those who responded versus those who didn’t versus those whose addresses are unknown versus those that we are sure are dead. I had phoned a few of my classmates to verify the information I was given, and to be honest, to reminisce. Many had moved in the last five years to be nearer to family. Many stopped driving. I heard of their illnesses and of the illnesses of husbands, if husbands were still alive, death of grandchildren and grown children. With each phone call, I heard the warm voice of an old friend.
I don’t remember how many women were originally accepted to Saint Peter’s School of Nursing. No men, married, or God-forbid, pregnant women were welcome. Forty-four young, mostly Catholic women completed the program. We spent three years living together in the “nurses’ residence” under the eagle-eyes of around-the-clock housemothers. We graduated in our early twenties having bathed the dead, birthed the babies, assisted in surgeries, cared for toddlers, and the mentally ill. We were left in charge of a whole ward during the night shift until a nursing oversight organization told the three-year hospital programs (not just Saint Peter’s) that student nurses shouldn’t have that level of responsibility until after graduation, and then, of course, with pay.
The class of ‘62 has met every five years since the school closed in 1987 and the yearly reunions organized by Saint Peter’s Nursing School stopped. I had attended each reunion except for the time I was getting worked up for breast cancer in ’97 and the time when one of the then organizers rescheduled the reunion forgetting I would be in Ireland. I had volunteered to write our one and only newsletter which included the “save the date” that didn’t count after all. To be fair, that organizer moved the date so that I could travel to NJ from North Carolina the day after I got back from Ireland. As luck would have it, I caught a bug from my fellow travelers. I missed the 50th reunion.
The directory is done and ready to be printed. Besides the dead, (the death count turned out to be 13), there are two who dropped off the face of the earth after graduation, some who have never bothered to attend a reunion but are still alive, and others who would attend except for their, or their husbands’, ill health. There are six who Ruth, Joan and Alice couldn’t contact, and we’ll keep them on the list until we hear otherwise. All in all, out of 29 who we believe to be alive and kicking, or limping, only eight will travel to Cape May this Sunday.