By Peggy Gaddis, ©1963
“We have a date to fall in love,” Dr. Norman Hewatt said
“I haven’t forgotten,” Nurse Happy answered, but she couldn’t meet his eyes.
“I’ve been thinking about you and that Rustin fellow.” Dr. Norm’s voice was suddenly bitter. “Don’t you know better than to fall for that line of his?” Before Happy could answer, Dr. Norm caught her in his arms and kissed her—hard and thoroughly. “That’s what love is all about,” he said huskily and walked away.
Happy stood there, her face over her hot face, trembling from the force of his kiss. And shaken to the depths of her being …
“I would stop being a nurse, Norm, if I didn’t think of my patients as people and worry about them.”
“Some day soon, she promised herself, she’d have a much larger office and her own secretary and she would work at her desk wearing a hat—the status mark for women executives.”
“Women are funny critters, son.”
“There are strait-jackets waiting for men who try to understand women!”
Nurse Hallie Gibson is known by the nickname Happy, but she’s having a crying jag on the Florida pier because yet again she has interfered overmuch in her patients’ lives, in this case bringing one newborn baby that is to be put up for adoption (because his show-biz parents are too busy to raise a baby) to a woman who has lost her third child and all hopes of having another, and suggesting that the woman adopt the baby herself. Happy’s “good friend” Dr. Norman Hewatt, hearing of this incident, only says, “Your intentions are always of the very best, but you are impulsive.” The fact that she manages to keep her job at all is frankly shocking, but apparently they’re hard up for nurses at Gulfside Memorial.
The plot hinges on an accident that is brought in: Elderly Ethel Kingsley tripped when stepping off the curb and fell in front of a car driven by Vernon Rustin, who does not appear to have actually struck the woman, but she’s going to need two weeks in the hospital to recover from those scraped knees. Vernon is sincerely devastated by his nonexistent part in the accident and pays for all Ethel’s hospital and visits with her and her husband Josiah daily—and keeps old Josiah company outside of visiting hours. Soon he’s smitten with the folksy and kind Kingsleys, and wants to “adopt them as the parents I never had,” he declares. Soon he’s calling them Mom and Dad and deciding that in that old folks’ home where they live, “they have nothing to do and nothing to hope for,” which he plans to remedy.
But the problem is the Kingsleys selfish, driven daughter Jennie-Sue, now going by Janine (and who could blame her?), who persuaded her parents to sell the farm and move into that old folks’ home, where they’re not allowed to chat when the TV is on, so she could buy a junior partnership in the advertising agency where she works. She’s a beautiful but cold young woman whose only concern is that the hospital bills are paid by someone else, and the poor emotionally crippled lass can’t bring herself to be cordial even when she discovers that they will be. (One does wonder, if the Kingsleys are so great, how they managed to raise such a horrible child.) But when Vernon finds a new home for the Kingsleys, an island hunting lodge in need of caretakers, where he proposes to set them up and live there with them himself forever and ever, Happy’s friend Dr. Norm is, not unreasonably, suspicious. “I would like to know why a man his age should be wiling to bury himself here on this lonely, isolated island just to provide a home for two old people who are nothing to him,” he says to her. “Hadn’t you realized what a perfect spot it might be for a man who wished to cut himself off from unpleasant, maybe even criminal activities?”
Janine shows up on the island intent on marrying Vernon, though she can’t bring herself to even smile or offer one pleasant sentence, so it’s hard to believe she is going to pull that off, though she threatens her parents that she won’t “allow” them to live on the island, and the fact that Ethel and Josiah are competent adults who don’t need her permission to do anything is utterly ignored.
It turns out Norm is wrong about Vernon—you see the truth coming a mile away—who is actually fairly wealthy, but Norm is justifiably jealous because Vernon takes no more time to fall in love with Happy than he did with the Kingsleys. Norm has decided that when he has a little more time and money he will become involved with Happy. “Some day you and I have a date to fall in love—remember?—the first chance we get when we have a few hours off,” he says.
But Happy calls out Norm on his hypocrisy, saying, “I don’t think I care very much about that kind of love; the kind that wants to tuck me into a corner of a mind that will be busy with other things and just has a minute to fling at me once in a while. Doctors aren’t supposed to be human enough to fall in love without setting certain times and places and being sure that romance won’t interfere with their practice?” But when she finally receives a proposal of marriage, she is only furious that it occurred in the hospital cafeteria. “How dare you say that here in a room filled with people? Where’s your sense of romance? Where’s your instinct for building memories that will last all our lives?” Several stupid pages of absurd bickering ensue, and then everything is wrapped up.
That’s about all there is to this book, and it’s not often you find a book with so little plot, but then author Peggy Gaddis is known in these electronic pages for work that is generally mediocre at best and alarming at worst. Here she is not equal to her best books—that would be Nora Was a Nurse, Hurricane Nurse, and The Doctor’s Wife—but we also escape her penchant for racism and hypocrisy. A win for us! But overall not really enough of a reason to bother with A Nurse Called Happy.