Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Old Friends, School Reunions, and Books

If you were writing the story of your life, how would you recall your school days? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Wish you could live them all over again?

For me, grade school was great until the end of sixth grade. That's when my family moved to a new home and I ended up in a dying little academy school with nine other girls as classmates. I say dying because the school was closing down, so two grades -- 7th and 8th -- shared one room with about ten girls in each grade. Seventh and eighth grade were the worst years of my life. I was not in the "in" group, the "Big Six" who were the "cool" kids, and I didn't have much in common with the other three girls in the "out" group. Worst of all, I was of German heritage, and this was a Polish school with Polish teachers and mainly kids of Polish descent. You would have thought I'd started World War II all by myself the way my 7th grade teacher acted. She related every atrocity ever commiteed by the Nazis against the Polish people on a daily basis while my classmates pointedly stared at me. It was a hellish year, and 8th grade wasn't much better.

I hated every minute of those two years and was sooooo glad when graduation finally arrived and I could make some real friends in the larger high school setting. Like most teens, I had my ups and downs in high school. It wasn't my favorite place to be, but I did survive and I got a good education while doing so. It wasn't until I started nursing school at St. Anne's Hospital that I discovered what a joy school could be. Not only were the classes fascinating, but my classmates became my closest and dearest friends. I count the years I spent with them as some of the best in my life.

Ten days ago some of us who graduated together from St. Anne's met for lunch in a nearby Chicago suburb. That's a picture of us at the top of this page. (I'm in the red jacket in the back row.) Barb (third from the left) brought her old school uniform along, and we had a ball recounting how cool we all felt the first time we wore them in the hospital. Barb hadn't realized it, but her nursing cap was balled up in the sleeve of the uniform. That's it hanging atop the uniform in this picture, not as good looking as when it was starched and pinned to fit, but the real thing nevertheless. Back then we used to wet them down with starch, plaster them on the window to dry, and once they were stiff as a board, we'd iron and fold them to fit, then apply our black ribbons (one ribbon for a junior, two for a senior) to the right side edge of the cap. Some girls pinned the ribbons in place. Those of us who were more creative used toothpaste to glue them in place. Amazingly, the toothpaste held really well and didn't leave a mark like pins did.

I have so many fond memories of my years at St. Anne's. Not only did I make some lifelong friends there, but it's also the place where I met my future husband. (No, he wasn't a patient; he was my best friend's boyfriend's best friend, or, to put it more simply, Sue was dating Rich and Fred was Rich's best buddy.) It seemed only natural when I began writing A MERRY LITTLE MURDER to name the fictional hospital in the book after my old stomping grounds. My protagonist, Caroline Rhodes, is an ER nurse at the fictional St. Anne's who moonlights as a house mother in the nursing dorm. I patterned the domitory after the dorm I lived in while in nursing school so many years ago. Like so many community hospitals, the real St. Anne's closed in the 1980's when fiscal mismanagement of the Medicare/Medicaid program by the Reagan administration left payments to hospitals in arrears by 9-12 months. In short, St. Anne's went broke. That's one thing I don't have to worry about with my fictional hospital. Since it's purely a product of my imagination, I can have it stay solvent forever. Another difference between the real and the fictional St. Anne's is this: no one was ever murdered at the real St. Anne's. In A MERRY LITTLE MURDER, I kill off seven people in the very first chapter. The fun part for the reader is trying to figure out which of the seven was the actual intended victim. Until you know that, you can't guess who the murderer is.

As you can guess by the cover, this is a winter holiday mystery complete with snowstorms and Christmas trees. If you'd like to read the first chapter of A MERRY LITTLE MURDER, you can find it at my website at (Hint, hint: it makes a great holiday gift for the mystery fan in your life.)

Thanks for stopping by. Next week I'll be featuring Barbara DeShong as my guest blogger. A Texan who gave up a successful career as a practicing psychologist to write mysteries with a dash of humor, Barb is the author of TOO RICH AND TOO THIN: NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I absolutely loved this book and I know you will, too. Stop by if you can on Monday to chat with Barb. Being a Texan, Barb may carry a concealed weapon, but I promise you, she won't do anything more dangerous than tickle your funny bone with her great blog entitled "Extreme Writing for Publication".

Until then, have a great weekend!



  1. That was great! Well, not your school years--but I learned so much more about you. Adults can be so mean to kids.


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