Times Past: Young nursing students navigate the T back when it cost a nickel

  • A red train waits for commuters at the South Station in Boston. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

  • Janet Keyes

For The Recorder
Published: 6/30/2017 9:44:01 AM

It was winter, 1959. I was a student nurse from Franklin County Public Hospital, doing an educational rotation at Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Roxbury, a stone’s throw from the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

One of my patients was a bizarre, plain-looking young woman whom I’ll call Gorgeousa LaFlame. Although this was not her true name, her real name was at least as strange in an era when most girls her age were named Jean, Joan, Judy, Barbara, Beverly, Linda, Mary, Nancy or some other then-common name.

Gorgeousa was improving. It was time to see if she could handle the responsibility of weekend visits to her home in another part of Boston. The psychiatrist, Dr. Shrink, I’ll call him, told me he wanted me to go with Gorgeousa to try a short, 20-minute visit with her mother. Then, we were to return to the hospital.

“Are you familiar with Boston and the subway system?” he asked me.

“Um, no,” I replied. “I can get to the Greyhound station and the Boston Common, but that’s about all,”

I was a country mouse.

“Great! That’s perfect!” he said. “All you have to do is go along with her and see if she can get you there and back. Do you have any money for a cab if you decide you are completely lost?”

“Y-yes, I have some money,” I answered uneasily.

“If you have to call a cab, I’ll reimburse you,” he assured me. “Now you and Gorgeousa get your coats on and head out.”

I glanced at my head nurse, who nodded approvingly. The doctor added, “If you think you are hopelessly lost after 45 minutes or so, call a cab.”

Gorgeousa and I put on our warm winter coats and walked out into the bitter cold slushy rain. We went up the street to where we could catch the T, deposited a nickel, and then rode around Boston for a while, changing trains and going through a maze of turnstiles.

Finally, at one stop, we got off and Gorgeousa announced, “My house is up that street.”

Whew! That city mouse did know how to go home. We trudged through the slush and rang a doorbell. Her mother answered the door.

The 20-minute visit had my head spinning. Gorgeousa and her mom had two separate conversations going, and neither responded to what the other was saying. Each spoke cordially and enthusiastically in the general direction of each other, but in one-sided conversations. I was glad to leave, even to walk in that beastly cold, dismal weather.

We got back on the T and made the return trip, which may have followed a route like the one we used to get there. We got back to the hospital. We were drenched, shaking with the cold and triumphant — and only one nickel poorer.

After that trip, Gorgeousa was able to make independent home visits on weekends. I still have no idea where we went. Country mice never get accustomed to city life.

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