written by: Sharon K Wagoner
My dad didn’t even bother to attend my high school graduation. He was off somewhere with his new girlfriend. She moved in and clearly didn’t want me underfoot. I decided to take the CNA course at the local nursing home, so I could get a job and a place of my own. The course only took a couple of months.
I got a little apartment after my first paycheck.
As the newbie, I had to take the most unpleasant patients. I took a lunch tray to an old lady who was known for yelling at people.
She was reading a book when I came in and said, “Just set the tray on the table,” in a distracted tone. “Same old slop I suppose with canned fruit cocktail.”
“You nailed it.” I affirmed. I glanced at the book cover to see what she was reading and who the author was. I like to read myself.
The name on the cover was the same name by her door—Myrtle Greenwood.
“Did you write that book?” I asked.
“In another life,” she replied not looking up.
“Can I still buy the book?”
“You actually want to read a book?”
“Yes, very much.”
She looked at me appraisingly. “There is a copy in the suitcase under the bed.”
“You would just give me one. Really, I can buy one.”
“If you will actually read it, you can have it.”
I pulled out the battered suitcase. It had stickers from all over the world and lots of airline stamps on it. I opened it and took out the book. “Thank you! I will read it! I think this is the first time anyone gave me anything since my mom died.”
“Just read it. Don’t sell it to some used book shop, Missy!”
“I won’t, ma’am.”
I put the book in my locker.
The rest of my shift was the usual making beds, feeding people, and changing adult diapers.
That night before bed, I began the book. It was so gripping that I had trouble making myself stop at one chapter.
When I took Myrtle her lunch tray, I said, “I started your book. I had trouble stopping at one chapter.”
“That is how a book is constructed. It is called the hook.” She said looking up with a brief smile before returning to her book.
“What do you mean?”
She sat her book in her lap and took off her reading glasses letting them hang from a string of beads around her neck, “A book is constructed to get and hold your attention so you don’t put it down. That way you buy it. Then each chapter ends in a way to make you want to know what happens in the next chapter.”
“Oh, yes. I never thought about it, but I see what you mean.” I replied enthralled. I never thought about books as a construction before.
“Let me know how your reading goes,” she said wheeling up to the table in her room.
“I will.” I said turning back to her at the door.
I found myself whistling as I did the rest of my shift. I was anxious to read the next chapter. I started right after I had my macs and cheese and finished 3 chapters before bed. The story kept me glued to the book.
I rushed down to her room with her lunch tray eager to tell her about how much I liked the book and how I read three chapters yesterday and how much I enjoyed them.
She gave me another brief smile, and instead of gloating about her book asked me, “How were your grades in high school?”
“What are you doing here as a CNA? You should be a nurse or be in school for a degree.”
“I needed to make enough for an apartment. I was on the way to my dad’s house. His new girlfriend didn’t want me in the way.”
“If you like this work, start some classes for a nursing degree. You can get them remotely here.”
“I..I’ll think about it.” I replied. I was thrown off stride. No one even noticed me before or talked about my future with me.
I stopped for a burger at the Dairy Barn and rushed home and read 5 chapters.
The next day I asked her more about book writing.
“A book is like a roller coaster. There is a big start. A quieter time where characters are introduced. A slight uphill of action with a dead-end making a down and then the build up to the climax.”
“How do you know what to write?”
“You get an idea and you make a plot plan and do research.”
“Did you go to Alaska to write this book?”
“It is so real. I thought that you must have gone there.”
“I even had a fling with one of the past winners of the Iditarod when I interviewed him.” She smiled remembering.
“What an exciting life you must have had.”
“I just lived it instead of letting events push me here and there. Life is like the Iditarod, it is tough and you have to prepare as best you can and keep going no matter what.”
“Instead of letting events push you here and there.” I repeated. “I am going to go to the office and sign up for that nursing course.”
“Good for you. Just do it because you want to, not because I mentioned it.”
“I am. I want to do something better.”
The next day, the doctor came to the clinic and was giving checkups. When I pushed Myrtle down the hall we were yelling, “Mush, mush,” and laughing. The other CNAs gave us strange looks. I didn’t care a bit. I am going to be a nurse at the big hospital in the next county.
Myrtle seemed a little subdued after her checkup. I got her talking about when she went to Alaska. It seemed to perk her up.
The next week I started my classes. I had homework now, but I still read one chapter a night and discussed it with Myrtle the next day. I rushed to her room to tell her my grade after every test. She always was interested and encouraged me.
Time went by. One day, I brought my brand-new nursing license to show her. “I have been offered a job at the hospital in Wichita,” I told her proudly. “I am so sorry to leave you, but I will write and call.”
“I want you to go on to better things. You go with my blessing.”
I just had my two weeks’ notice to finish up. On the last day, I rushed to Myrtle’s room for a last lunch together. She was so quiet, just sitting in her chair asleep over her book. When I touched her, she was cold. I started crying so hard.
I am at Wesley hospital now. I love my job. I am taking a course to be an operating room nurse. I am thinking about writing a book about a girl who takes a nursing home job and meets a woman who turns her life around. I plan to dedicate it to Myrtle.
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