My mom immigrated to rural Saskatchewan from rural Philippines in 1967. She came to be a nurse in a small community hospital. She stayed two years before moving to Toronto.
In September 2007, I took my mother back to Saskatchewan – on the 40th Anniversary of her arrival in Canada. We returned to the village where she lived – Arborfield Saskatchewan - a tiny farming community, population 300.
To our surprise, many of the people that knew mom were still there – other nurses and people who lived and worked in the community. And the first thing they would say when they saw mom was “Where’s the other one?”.
Who’s the other one?
Her name is Penny. She was the only other Filipino nurse that was stationed in Arborfield. She came on the same flight as mom back in 1967. We had not planned to see her, as my mother rarely spoke of her, but to say that Penny didn’t seem to want to be there. Though both their contracts were for two years, Penny stayed just shy of a year, moving away shortly after sponsoring her fiancée over from Manila.
On a whim, I typed Penny’s name into the SaskTel search engine and found her in Saskatoon. On the day we were scheduled to leave Saskatchewan, we sat down with Penny in an airport café. She was short, sweet and grey haired. And she looked very much like my mom.
From that encounter I was tickled by the idea of what it must have been like back then when no one could tell them apart, when everybody thought they were like two-peas-in-a-pod but in truth had nothing in common other than nursing and the Philippines.
So Prairie Nurse was born. A partly-true-but-mostly-fiction play about My Mom, The Other One and Everyone Else Who Couldn’t Tell them Apart.
The first preview of Prairie Nurse is a week from today at the Blyth Festival.