Saturday, March 7, 2020

River Nurse

By Teresa Holloway, ©1969

Now that her mother was dead, the last thing Barrie Foster wanted to do was to go back to Delta, the small river town where she grew up. But she felt that she owed old Dr. Hamilton a debt for helping to put her through nursing school. Once that debt was paid, she could think about taking a job like the one she’d been offered in Atlanta. But Barrie had no time to feel sorry for herself. Delta was caught in its usual summer outbreak of sleeping sickness. And the town was divided over a hospital project—with the most influential citizen very much against it. To further complicate matters, a young and very handsome doctor, Jon Tyler, had moved to town … in direct competition with Dr. Hamilton. Suspecting Dr. Tyler had been “invited” to Delta to help eventually force the ailing Dr. Hamilton to give up his practice, Barrie soon found herself caught between her loyalty to the man to whom she owed so much, and her growing attraction to Jon …


“One of the minus factors of being a nurse is never getting to finish a cup of coffee.”

“Time’s a lousy measuring stick for anything except how long it takes a virus to grow.”

“An experience like marriage was for the hale.”

Nurse Barrie Foster is a new orphan, father long deceased and her mother having joined him two months earlier, when she arrives back at her home town intending to serve four years under aging, venerable Dr. Hamilton, the town GP, in order to pay him back for having assisted her financially when she was going through nursing school. Immediately upon pulling into a parking space on Main Street, she witnesses a young girl being hit by a car and runs to apply pressure to the head wound. A man in street clothes steps up as well, and she orders him repeatedly to go get a doctor—classic VNRN mistake!—only to discover that he’s the new medico in town, Dr. Jon Tyler. Ooooh, how embarrassing! And now we can segue quickly into another classic VNRN trope, in which the pair develop “sheer hostility at first sight.” Start shopping for something to wear to the wedding now!

Barrie catches up with girlhood friend Lola Gilreath, whose father is president of the bank and therefore in a position to quash our third VNRN chestnut, the idea of building a hospital in this rural, isolated town of 7,000 which practically speaking is unlikely to be able to support one. But never mind about that, because old dad immediately drops of a heart attack, opening up all sorts of opportunities for Barrie: First, Lola suddenly has room to spare and asks Barrie to move in, and now opposition to a hospital has melted away, and Lola’s house, much too big for two women in a way it wasn’t for Lola and her father, starts to look like a great place to open a convalescent home. It’s a blessing for Lola as well, as she steps into her father’s job and makes a big success of it, even if she is, well, just a girl, and a pretty  one at that: “Whoever would have believed that a brain lives under those blonde tresses?” says Barrie, Lola’s alleged friend.

Dr. Hamilton, spotting a good thing when he sees it, decides to have an attack of his own, but he opts for a stroke, which leaves him partially paralyzed, oddly from the waist down. This means he has to give up his practice to hottie Dr. Jon, but now he has time to putter around in his lab and develop a vaccine for the encephalitis that plagues the town. You will not be surprised to learn that soon a major drug company is knocking on his door offering large sums of money and a “tall and shapely, and with a smile you wouldn’t believe,” lab assistant to wheel him around. This means Barrie is off the hook, so she wastes no time in corralling a dozen women to each get 300 women to sign a petition to get a hospital in town. For those of you who resisted doing the math at home, this is a total of 3,600—in a town of 7,000, which even if half female must have some children too young to heft a pen.

Now all that remains is for Lola to give her house to Barrie for the convalescent home and for Barrie to contract pneumonia, which makes her the home’s first client. While still bedridden, the men who apparently run the town pop in to tell her that they’ve decided to fund the hospital, and soon Jon puts to rest Barrie’s conviction that he is in love with the receptionist, and we can lay the book down.

There are a number of strong women characters—the aged black former domestic of the Gilreaths, who has a quiet dignity and a role supporting the younger women, and Lola stand out—and the book drifts pleasantly along. It’s not a sparkling standout, but certainly the best of the four others of Holloway’s we’ve met (Nurse Paige’s Triumph, which was not; Nurse to Remember, best forgotten; a couple others whose titles don’t make for easy putdowns). Even the cover illustration of this Valentine publication is not as horrific as most of those from this imprint. So while in general not an overwhelming home run for us, this book is a win for Teresa Holloway.

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