LC Van Savage
And What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
What did you want to be when you were a kid? Did you grow up to be that? When you said aloud, “When I grow up I wanna be a…” did they laugh at you? Did you become it? Me neither.
Now remember, back when I was a kid, young ladies were offered the Big Five things from which to choose; Wife, Mother, Teacher, Secretary or Nurse. I was given a big nurse doll one Christmas so becoming a nurse was my very first career choice. She was dressed in what nurses wore in those days: white dress and pointed cap starched to painful stiffness, white stockings with garters to hold them up, thick silent white shoes polished every night with liquid white Shinola, and most glorious of all, a heavy, dark blue cape with brass buttons, a stand-up collar and a dazzlingly bright blood-red (what else?) satin lining. Oh my, when those ladies marched resolutely toward their hospitals to get to work, to save lives and to give succor to the suffering, they were a sight to behold! Saviours! Angels in brilliant red, white and blue. I know those uniforms had to have been a horror to keep clean and pressed, and how they must have hurt and chafed with all that encrusted starch in them, but at least one could tell those women were nurses. I can’t tell who nurses are anymore because they all look so great in their non-uniforms, and I find myself asking visitors in hospitals about the condition of a friend or relative because nurses don’t wear nurse uniforms anymore and I don’t know who they are. They look just regular. And why should they wear those uniforms from long ago? Nurses then probably spent an inordinate amount of time keeping and getting those old uniforms surgically clean, blindingly white and woodenly stiff.
And while we’re on the subject, when did nuns begin to look like normal non-nun women? Sure all those floor length black robes, thick black stockings and heavily starched wimples must have been incredibly torturous to wear, especially in areas of the world where the heat and humidity are in perpetual triple digits, but at least we could tell we were in the presence of a nun when they were swaddled in their regalia so we had a chance to clean up our language and speak in whispers. Today these good women look like everyone else so it’s not our fault if they hear us cussing and shouting.
But as time passed, yet another uniform caught my eye, and I quickly abandoned the nurse idea. I decided to become a WAC when I grew up. Oh, those way cool outfits they wore. Those hats! All that leather and khaki. I’d often see them on the Staten Island ferry as a kid during WW II, and thought they were so heroic looking, such brave, strong women saving our nation, women I could never imagine whipping up meringues, housebreaking puppies or growing pansies.
But then on the ferry one day a WAVE strolled by and fickle then as now, I instantly fell in love with that uniform and never again looked at another WAC. That jaunty white hat, navy blue outfit with white trim, oh my. Even the sensible shoes thrilled me. I began to daydream that the Navy could take me to a lot of places the Army never could such as Constantinople and Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro and Casablanca, and I fantasized about strolling the decks of mighty ships wearing my jaunty hat, saluting people and more importantly having them salute back. That was it! My career was set. The WAVES it was.
But soon yet another uniform presented itself, and being a mere WAVE quite quickly vanished from my fickle, feckless pre-adolescent mind. I knew what I wanted for sure now; Ringmaster. OK, girls weren’t usually ringmasters for the big circus at Madison Square Garden in NYC, but that was a minor problem. After all, I’d seen National Velvet. Oh, that tight red jacket with long tails and gold trim and gold buttons, white turtleneck shirt, white jodhpurs and a snappy leather riding crop, tall shiny black boots and top hat, black, snazzy. Yes, that was it for certain. I’d found my life’s path. I began to ask relatives where and how I could apply, how old did I have to be, did I have to have a close relationship with lions and elephants and tightrope walkers. As usual, everyone looked down at me, shook their heads, laughed and said the same old thing: “Oh that Elsie. There she goes again. Crazy kid. Just plain cockeyed.”
Well, I guess they were sort of right. Back then my head was easily turned by the sight of a uniform, but, as my years piled higher, I eschewed Nurse, WAC, WAVE and Ringmaster although in fact today I wear a uniform myself, every single day the same one so I’ll be easily recognized in case I get lost, or my nearest and dearest lose me; Geezergrannie ensemble is what I calls it; sweatpants, T-shirts, sneaks, socks. Sweatshirts when the temps drop. No slave to fashion I. I guess I’ve finally become what I wanted to become after all, a woman in uniform. Not spiffy. No jaunty caps or red satin linings, no leather or shiny black boots, no top hat. No one saluting. Nope. Just that plain and simple geezergrannie uniform, quite possibly the best of them all.
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