By Adeline McElfresh, ©1963
Why, Jill asked herself, had she left Bradburn Memorial Hospital to work in the wild and open backwoods country? Was it because she had felt unsure of her love for Giff? Had she hoped, during the year that she would be away from this operating table and his kisses, to test their love? And was that, she thought uneasily, the reason she could turn to Clay Ramsdell so easily—because she did not, truly and deeply, love Giff? Yes, Jill thought, absence makes the heart grow fonder … but of whom?
With this volume, we continue the times of Jill Nolan, RN, as she makes her way toward matrimony; after that point, we need no longer bother with her. In this book, Jill has decided to work at a Navajo clinic in northeastern Arizona for a year, working alongside Dr. John Gray Cloud. John was a friend of Jill’s fiancé’s when the boys were in medical school, and when he stopped in for a visit in Kentucky, where Jill and Giff live, love, and work, his tales of the beauty and hardship on the reservation tugged at Jill’s heart. So she packed her bags and set out for the Southwest for a year-long stint there.
Before she even arrives at the cinderblock clinic, she meets local rancher Clay Ramsdell, and assists a young Navajo woman who is losing a battle to deliver a breech baby. Jill wades right into her scrubs and the woman’s uterus, turning the baby and saving two lives with complete aplomb, and now she is known throughout the reservation as a nurse who has life-saving magic.
Most of the book follows Jill as she navigates Navajo lands, people, and language, and this is the rare VNRN about non-white people that treats them with honor and decency. The Navajo people we meet are poor, but they are largely dignified people facing the steep challenges of prejudice and poverty. Jill’s main struggles throughout the book are, unfortunately, less dignified: She can’t decide if she really loves Giff.
Jill’s decision to leave Kentucky for this year-long sabbatical is never really satisfactorily explained, as even she doesn’t seem to understand it. Now and then, intruding on an otherwise lovely story, are her never-answered musings on the subject, and the corollary, whether she should go home or stay in Arizona, where she is deeply needed and enjoying a very satisfying career—a decision she makes suddenly and without premeditation, much to my chagrin. She is just as uninsightful about her boyfriends: She often sternly reminds herself that she loves Giff, and then wonders in the next sentence why she is attracted to Clay, before she shoves away the entire topic and goes off to set somebody’s broken leg. (I did wish she would spend more of her time doing the latter and less of the former.) Her debate over her feelings about Clay is largely internal, as although he kisses her once, he never brings it up again, and the two just hang out in an essentially platonic relationship. Then, in the end, she makes an unstartling discovery out of the blue about whom she really loves, and the book comes to a disappointing and abrupt close. Now, I recognize that the entire premise of a VNRN is that the young lady is supposed to choose a fella by book’s end, but I’d like to feel that her choice is a sound one, and well thought out. Here her decision, given top billing in the book’s title, is mostly just the thing that came easiest. It’s the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise excellent book—but since Jill really spends little time at all thinking of her love life, this book is certainly worth reading, whether you’ve met her in the previous two volumes or not.