based on characters from Call the Midwife; a BBC period drama series about a group of nurse midwives and Anglican Sister Nurses working together in the East end of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s, The series is based on the Memoirs of Jennifer Worth
It was an odd time of transition…. Things had settled back into the lull of quiet gray skies and bliss, which had been interrupted by conflict and doubt. But the lull held a weak grasp and life was slowly slipping into new and bright changes along with new fears of more uncertainty. We stood poised to step into a future of new challenges and new blessing….
Nonnatus House, 1961
The phone rang, leaving all of the women with a start. With only two mothers due and weeks away from delivery, the call could only mean she was too early. Trixie ran to the phone and picked up the receiver. After a moment or so of puzzled silence she half smiled and hung up.
"Lucy’s beau just called. She was up in Sheffield and Johnny Jr. decided to suddenly pop in. Mother and child are just fine, but Senior is a wee bit of a wreck.” She stifled a giggle at the no nonsense stare by Nurse Crane. Sister Monica Joan shook her head.
“Will there be any tarts for dessert? I remember an uncle or cousin who was a Baker in Sheffield. Or was it Huddersfield?” Her voice trailed off until she felt an assuring pat on her arm.
“I’m sure there’ll be something good, Sister Monica Joan,” spoke the almost tiny voice of Sister Winifred, who smiled at the dear precious senior Nun. The calm of dinner returned only to be interrupted once again as a loud rapping came from the front door. Patsy was just walking into the dining room and turned around.
“I’m already up…I’ll get it,” she said and quickly walked to the door. Opening it, she found a woman ages with her or so; dark brown hair poking out from under an oversize red wool knit hat.
“Hello? May I help you,” Patsy asked.
“The…. I’ve been sent….” Her few halting words still unmistakably identified her as an Aussie...maybe boarding school but still definitely 'down under.' She hesitated before reaching under her longish gray-green coat. Pulling out an envelope she stood silent, using her gaze to indicate for Patsy to take it from her hand. Patsy looked over her shoulder; the task of any official greeting really wasn’t hers, but she shrugged her shoulders and opened the unsealed envelope, revealing a letter of introduction,
“The hospital said you…I’m sorry for your loss,” the woman offered and blushed. While Sister Evangelina’s passing had not been expected, she had not returned to Nonnatus House to resume work, so the young woman's unexpected arrival was welcome in the long run even if things were a bit slow. She took off her right glove and extended her hand.
“Colleen McGuire….I’ve come to help in the clinic?”
“Oh…yes…the clinic,” Patsy said, shaking her hand. Patsy noticed a red line that extended from Colleen’s wrist up under the coat sleeve, The sight seemed to spark a fleeting moment of vague recognition, which quickly faded as the young woman pulled her hand away slowly,
“Well, Colleen did you say? Let’s just get you inside and introduced.” She ushered Colleen and past her briefly as she closed the door. The young woman walked slowly down the hall without prompting, and Patsy noticed Colleen was walking with a slight limp; unremarkable but for the second spark of hazy recall.
A moment later she was standing in the dining room; hat off and coat draped across her left arm, revealing the rest of the thin scar on her right arm; a scar that seemed to end in a tee just short of her elbow. Patsy paused, staring at the scar even as she handed the letter to Sister Julienne.
“Thank you for welcoming Nurse McGuire,” Sister Julienne said with a quiet smile directed at both Patsy and Colleen. Never one for protocol, she appreciate any initiative that included welcome and warmth.
“I suppose reinforcements are here,” Nurse Crane said brusquely, earning her a shake of the head from Sister Julienne. She and Phyllis had been working on revealing more of the kind woman who lived behind the impatient exterior borne of disappointments and hurt.
“I’m sure she’ll help whilst you’re off to Liverpool to see your cousin.” Sister Julienne smiled again, disarming the woman’s defenses.
“Thank you, everyone,” Phyllis said. Colleen blushed and Patsy placed her hand on the girl’s back; evoking a start from her and a wee bit of the green eye from Delia; Patsy’s girlfriend. Looks and glances and other revealing visual clues seemed increasingly difficult to hide, but still hopefully lost on everyone but Patsy.
“Why don’t you and Delia help Colleen get settled,” Trixie said. Neither girl could tell if Trixie saw through them but if anyone at Nonnatus House might understand, it would be Trixie. Delia stood up and nodded; evoking a slightly raised eyebrow from Patsy. A moment later they were up the stairs and down the long hallway to the line of the unused rooms. As they walked, Patsy hung back, watching as Delia led Colleen into the room. The girl’s limp might not have finished the prompting earlier but for the soft hum of an old hymn which escaped the new girl’s lips. Patsy’s eyes widened in shock; followed quickly by reserved puzzlement which in turn was punctuated by reluctant recognition.
“I hope you enjoy your brief stay Delia said. She softly grabbed Patsy’s wrist; accompanied by a sideways glance at the door.
“Why don’t we let Colleen settle in.” Patsy nodded but quickly shook her head. As painful as Delia’s recovery from her accident only months ago had been, the hurt could not match the lonely, hopeless despair both girl’s felt; separated until destiny and what seemed to be a very understanding God brought them back together.
Patsy was sure enough about the growing hunch that inserted itself in her psyche that as uncomfortable as Colleen might feel at the question Patsy had; the answer would only come from not one but two understanding souls. She raised both eyebrows; accompanied by a ‘pretty-please smile’ that pulled Delia into a trusting hug.
“”I’m…. I’m…” Delia stammered and Colleen looked back and forth between the two women. Patsy closed the door and turned around; giving the nervous young woman a slight but welcoming grin. Colleen stepped backward and tripped; sitting down hard on a desk chair beside the bed. She started to shake and put her hand to her face in shame. Patsy grabbed Delia’s hand and both of them sat down on the bed; practically knee to knee with the sobbing girl. Delia reached over and grabbed Colleen’s hand; not knowing what else would help. Her gentle squeeze sent a small shudder up the girl’s arm; almost tracing the scar. Patsy nodded in pride as the green eyes of her lover returned to trusting light brown, so to speak.
“I’m going to tell a story, alright?” Patsy asked as she gently cupped Colleen’s chin; raising her face to gain eye contact.
“Alright…Colleen?” she repeated. The girl nodded even as she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“Once there was a sad little boy. He was alone and far from home. Some very bad men had killed his Mummy and Daddy, and he ended up In a place with some nice people…” Colleen’s eyes widened just a bit in fear and sadness that pulled at her even as Delia patted her hand; avoiding the scar.
“At a place across the sea...a place called Singapore. There was a little girl who had gotten lost even if just for a little while. She was found by the same nice people who had found the little boy, They became best of friends and they were just like two peas in a pod. They talked about what they would do if they ever made it back home. The little girl decided she wanted to help people get all better.” Patsy’s eyes began to tear up. Delia could not know where the story was going, but she could see the emotion etched across Patsy’s face and she bit her lip for the little girl who grew up to become the sweet red-headed nurse she loved.
“What did the…. The little boy wish?” Delia asked, evoking a gasp from Colleen.
“The little boy had so many hopes and…dreams.” Patsy paused as a sob escaped her lips.
“He wanted to help just like his friend. He was only a little younger than her, but he had already been hurt so much. He ….he tried to save his Mummy and Daddy, but the bad men hurt him. They …they hurt his leg and they….” Patsy began to sob; so sad and afraid for hurts from years past. She struggled but faltered. A soft caress wiped away her tears even as a voice spoke barely above a whisper.
“They cut his arm. One of the men spoke to him…using words he could understand. He wanted to make the little boy hate, but his Mummy and Daddy had taught him only how to love. Most of his hurt only lasted for a little while, but the rest of the hurt little boy felt was healed inside by ….” Colleen paused; it was her turn to squeeze both Patsy’s and Delia’s hands.
“By the love of the little girl. Like a big sister. Like family. The little boy said to her just before the nice men came to rescue them all. He…he…” Colleen stopped; overwhelmed by needless shame and guilt. Delia gasped as she thought she knew. Patsy spoke haltingly while Colleen sobbed.
“He said,’ when I grow up…..I…I want to be just like you.”
“I….I know I’ll never be as brave as Mummy and Daddy, but I hope that they would be proud of me,” Colleen said at last. Patsy felt both honored and humbled by the words of her childhood friend; both survivors from the horror that nearly destroyed humanity but served to bless the world twice with two very brave little ….souls, Patience Elizabeth Mount and Colin…..Colleen Mary McGuire. Delia stood up and kissed the top of Colleen’s head. She smiled at Patsy an 'I’m sorry smile;' returned with an 'I love you' squeeze of the hand.
“I think I’ll pop downstairs for some tea... back in a while?” Colleen put her head down once again, but the warmth of a very dear new friend and the rebirth of an old one finally pushed away the years of shame. No longer survivor’s guilt, but survivor’s gratitude and peace.
The week of Colleen’s stay proved uneventful. Apart from helping at the clinic and assisting Sister Winifred with the early arrival of Moira Muldoon, she did manage to fit in with small but meaningful gestures. One evening she blessed Sister Monica Joan with some home-baked raspberry tarts. She happened to sing quite coincidently Sister Julienne’s favorite hymn. She even managed to pop into an AA meeting with Trixie. And she finished her time at an out of the way club that Delia and Patsy had found. They even served lemonade for girls just like her. And perhaps for the first time in her life she felt she fit in; her own rebirth.
Farewells were made with the best of intentions with hugs and promises to write accompanied by the requisite ‘oh yes’ and ‘I’ll send you my addie’ and such. It wasn’t until a few years after Patsy had gotten a dozen or so letters returned ‘to sender’ that she received a phone call from a cousin she didn’t know Colleen had apologizing for the delay and such, what with all the arrangements and contacts that needed to be made.
The brave and hopeful little boy grew up to emulate the girl who grew up to fight her own, different battles. Remembering the wishes and hopes that delivered them out of the horror they endured, the boy who was a girl who finally became a woman joined a cause both hard-fought and futile but for the comfort she gave to her countrymen all the way on the other side of the globe in a place called Wung Tau. Instead of bringing little ones into the world she soothed the pain of soldiers broken by war and eased the passing of boys and young men.
From Singapore to Vietnam, she had come full circle in a way; as she also helped little boys and girls survive the ravages of a cruel world.. Life sometimes can be kind in its harshness in a way. Nurse Colleen McGuire died in a moment in time called the Tet offensive, God called her home to reunite with the family she lost those many years ago. Her cousin sent Nonnatus House a nice note of thanks; being sure to include a special hello to a dear old friend
So Patsy mused; recalling the children….the little girls she always knew they both were and remembered a prayer she also prayed, “When I grow up I want to be just like her....”
In loving memory of those who served, saved, and sacrificed all
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