As I was looking through the bookcase for my poetry books I ran across my Cherry Ames books. When I was growing up there wasn’t much young adult literature available; The Bobsy Twins, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys were the standard reading series, but I loved the Cherry Ames series. As a child I wanted to be a nurse, and Cherry Ames was a nurse. She was a nurse who had a lot of job variety and a nurse who solved mysteries. The series started with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and after her graduation she becomes Cherry Ames, Army Nurse. Whether Ms. Ames had a short attention span or had an awesome networking system, each book is based on her new nursing position. She was Camp Nurse, Flight Nurse, Private Duty Nurse, Visiting Nurse, Cruise Nurse, Mountaineer Nurse, and Night Supervisor. There were more in the set, but these are the only titles I can remember.
I loved every book and very much wanted to be a nurse. Cherry was pretty, perky, and popular, and I wanted to be that, too. The books were set in a time when nurses wore the traditional white cap, white uniform, white stockings, and white shoes. I coveted that white cap. Actually, I think I wanted to be a nurse just so I could wear the cap and uniform! I was so enthralled with this character and wanting to be a nurse that I can remember the first time I met an actual living, breathing, working nurse. I almost swooned!
When I outgrew the series my parents encouraged me to be altruistic and donate the books to the school library. At the time I was proud to do so, but in hind site I wish I still had those books. A few years ago I stumbled across a copy of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse in an antique store in Stillwater, Minnesota, and scooped it up. After reading it I ordered a few others I found on Amazon.com. I discovered (is it discovering when I don’t remember the detail or is it rediscovering because I must have known the information when originally reading the book?) the first books were set during World War II!! I knew the books would be dated but hadn’t remembered them being that “old.”
I did not become a nurse. My mother pointed out that I didn’t have the “nurse” qualities of empathy and patience and at the time, that was true. I was not bothered by blood, could handle emergency situations, was intelligent, but I was not patient. To continually listen to people complain about aches and pains, to listen to their demands and remain a compassionate caregiver would have been a stretch for me. But, damn, I sure would have looked good in that white cap!
Literature has come a long way. When I graduated from high school women became nurses, teachers, or secretaries. In today’s world young women have endless career opportunities and the literature available for young readers reflects this. But, even though I didn’t become a nurse, and didn’t have many literary role models, Cherry Ames was an assertive, intelligent, independent woman (always surrounded by attentive males, she followed her career rather than a man) who allowed me to dream about a worthy career. And the stories are able to hold my attention upon rereading them 40 years later; a history lesson, a visit to my childhood, a fictional character who still pops up in my adult life.