Excerpts from “Formative: The Years That Changed Everything”
A little confused? Want to read the first two parts? Catch up here.
Tommy, March 1961
He felt suspended, on edge, hopeful. A few weeks ago he found out that somehow, he’d managed to score well enough on the SAT to get a tuition waiver from New York State. Hardly remembering the test and thinking only mildly about college, he sent an application to Iona over in New Rochelle on a whim. Yet for how haphazardly the process had begun, he now found himself checking the mail every day.
Today among the bills and fat catalogs was a cream-colored envelope with an emblem of the Irish cross drawn in red ink on the front flap. He tore it open, finding an acceptance letter with his name written grandly across the page’s top.
Immediately, he considered how to tell his father. He wanted to see the look on his face. Not five minutes after smoothing out the acceptance letter and laying it neatly centered on his desk (in case anyone were to barge in and see it) he heard his father’s booming voice. He was home early, and Tommy knew that tone. He poked his head out of his room to get a glance down the hall.
He could see his father at the table in that same chair. No beers — he was moving straight to whiskey and it wasn’t even 5pm. He should wait. But he couldn’t, the excitement was too fresh. Tommy grabbed the paper and stepped hesitantly out of his room.
“Home early Dad?”
“Well, I got a letter from Iona, and I got accepted. So I think I’m going to go.”
He stared at his glass and looked like he was thinking. Tommy held his breath.
“Congratulations, son. Your mother would be proud.”
Kathleen, November 1961
Barbara was lying on Kathleen’s bed, flipping through an issue of Life magazine while Kathleen tried to finish up her anatomy flashcards. Barbara cried out in a mock frustration as
she paged through a feature on Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
“It’s just not fair. I’ve tried to fix my hair like that a thousand times, and it will just never look the same.”
The movie was said to be the biggest hit of 1961, and her friends often made passing by Tiffany’s on their way home from school part of their routine. Maybe some of Audrey’s magic would brush off on them if they spun around dreamily outside the storefront, too.
Kathleen rolled her eyes and continued flipping through the flashcards.
“It’s not that special, Barb. But I’m sure I could help you if you wanted.”
She didn’t care much for idolizing Audrey like the rest of her friends. Kathleen had better things to do, like studying for this exam.
It was their freshmen year of college at St. Vincent’s College of Nursing, and Kathleen was still getting used to the fact that she was in college, instead of high school. She still lived at home, so it didn’t feel much different. Some of her classmates, the girls who lived in the dormitories, were taking full advantage of the freedom. They’d skirt past the sisters late at night, coming home from parties at other universities. She came to class every Monday morning without anything to contribute to the conversation, listening and taking stock of this new social scene.
Truthfully, she didn’t mind missing out. Hearing these girls obsess over who would be the next one to be taken on a date or get a dance at the weekend’s party was overwhelming enough. Most of the time, she simply didn’t know how they got all of the homework done for their class load. Next year they’d be starting actual clinical training, and she felt like if she didn’t study enough now, she wouldn’t be ready when faced with real patients. Plus, it was nice to live at home. Being a half hour train ride out of the city was a good change of pace, and since her sister had already been through nursing school, she could help with homework on the weekends.
Her friends were always pushing her to come along though. Sometimes she thought they felt guilty since she was always willing to stay after class and help the other girls with their assignments. She’d even take their extra volunteer shifts at the hospital sometimes on the Friday nights they wanted to head out early. They would always tell her she was too nice for her own good, that she needed to get out and relax, that the boys would just die if she’d join them at the next party.
Their pleas for her to come along never went far, though, a cheery excuse bubbling out of her quickly. They always claimed she could make up anything to avoid going out, and never believed her that she really didn’t mind the extra volunteer hours at the hospital. They did mostly housekeeping tasks at this point, but it didn’t matter. She loved the hum of a hospital; even just listening to conversations between the doctors while she folded bed sheets was entertaining to her. She envied the nurses in their uniforms, often imagining what she would look like in the same outfit.
There weren’t any hours for students to pick up at the hospital tonight since it was Saturday, and she was almost done with her homework. Barbara knew she would be out of excuses when she asked Kathleen about their plans for the night.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kathleen said. “How about seeing a movie or something?”
Barbara huffed. This is what Kathleen always suggested, and she knew Barbara was sick of it.
“Kath, another one? Come on! Don’t you want to get out from under your parents’ eye a little bit? I think the other girls were headed into the city in a couple of hours. We should join them.”
“I don’t know, Barb. I just don’t really like that party scene. Maybe we could just listen to some records and have a girls’ night?”
“I don’t get it! You know those boys wouldn’t be able to keep their eyes off of you if we brought you along. Records and a girls night sounds like a sleepover from when we were kids — I want to go to the city! We’re in college now Kath, we’re only young once.”
It wasn’t that Kathleen was antisocial. But the thought of trying to coordinate a whole new outfit, catch a train into the city, and talk to a bunch of boys she wasn’t interested in sounded much less appealing than eating dinner and watching shows with her father until they fell asleep. That way, she wouldn’t have to get in so late and be half-awake at Mass the next morning. She could already see the fit her mother would have.
“I might sit this one out. You should go, though. It sounds swell.”
“Well, you know the invite is always there Kathleen. You would have a blast if you just came along once.”
She gathered her things and picked up the Life magazine.
“I’m stealing this.”
She waved the magazine in front of Kathleen and winked.
“Don’t you dare,” Kathleen jokingly responded. “But OK, I’ll catch up with you on Monday. Have fun tonight.”
She put a rubber band around the anatomy flashcards and went to join her father in the living room. She could already hear The Andy Griffith Show echoing out of the TV.
Stay tuned! Part IV is on the way!