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Amy Choate-Nielsen’s grandmother Fleeta, when she first received her nurse’s pin in 1936.
My uncle once told me a story about my grandmother that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.
For him, the tale was something of a family joke. For me, it was a live wire plugged right into a nerve that connects to the part of me that is employed.
The story goes like this: In the 1940s and ’50s, my grandmother, Fleeta, who died before I was born, worked full time as a nurse on a military base. She opted for night shifts, when the foot traffic was slower, and she spent many nights talking with her patients — veterans wounded in World War II. When she came home in the morning, she went to bed, and stayed in bed most of the day, until she went back to work the following evening.
Because of her schedule, she didn’t see much of her two children, so the story goes, to the extent that, sometime, when my father was about 5 years old, my dad asked my grandmother if she really was his mother.
“Well of course I am!” she replied. “Who did you think I was?”
“Oh, I don’t know, some woman who just came to sleep here,” my father said.
My grandmother laughed at the idea that some other woman would be visiting their house, and she thought the comment was so funny she told it for years as a punch line. She never took offense to his comment, and, as far as my uncle ever saw, she didn’t bemoan the fact that she held a full-time job, when most other women didn’t. She didn’t apologize for being gone. She found humor where I could find tears.
I fit into a category of mothers who have young children who work outside of the home. I am home more than I am gone, and my children have priority on my time. I love my kids. And I love being part of a working community. I think I have talents and skills that I am able to use…