SOB SISTERS

Originally posted on April 4, 2012.

Nursing Stories

Thanks to my friend Lois Roelofs and her post “Growing Older In “Style,” I found Ari Seth Cohen, a twenty-eight-year-old who is spotlighting “stylish senior citizens.” Love it. Older women—and men—who ignore the old adage: “dress your age.”

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How come a twenty-eight-year-old man finds older people so fascinating? Well, I was sure there had to be an older role model in his life. And indeed there was—a grandmother. Aha!

Back in the 80s at my first job as a gernotological nurse practitioner, Betty, a social worker, and I conducted monthly orientation sessions about geriatrics for new nursing staff. Geriatrics was a new medical specialty at the time and Betty and I wanted to sensitize the group to aging issues.

Betty had the nurses imagine themselves at different stages of life. Invariably, someone would object to the exercise, not surprisingly, when Betty had them imagine looking at themselves…

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Excerpts From My Book

 

My book will be published on November 6, 2018 by She Writes Press.

I have changed the title over the course of writing the book so many times that I can’t give you a count.

The latest one, and I do hope the final one, is Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers.

She Writes Press asked me to select three of what I felt to be the most powerful excerpts from my book (75-150 words each).

I thought I would share them with you:

When Margaret saw me, she ran to unlock the inner door before I got a chance to grab the key from my purse. Had she been waiting for me? My neck muscles tightened.

“Top of the morning to you,” Margaret sang out in her Irish brogue, exposing black, broken teeth, and a wooden expression in spite of her hearty words.

I looked for the ice pick Margaret reportedly always carried. She was empty-handed, and the pockets of her cardigan sweater weren’t bulging. Sometimes, it was said, she stashed the ice pick under Josie’s lap blanket.

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“I’m going to do the dishes,” she said.

“No, you won’t. Ernie and I will do the dishes after our company leaves,” I repeated.

Annie wandered in and stopped by the stove, eyeing Mom and me with nervous concern. I wished she wasn’t present to witness our confrontation. But I was determined not to let Mom wash the dishes. The sound of water and the rattle of pans would be heard in the living room, not conducive to an after-dinner conversation with our guests. They might presume we wanted them to leave.

Mom stood facing me with one sleeve rolled up to her elbow. I held my stance.

From my peripheral vision, I watched Annie shudder, her feet rooted to the floor.

Then I peered into Mom’s angry eyes. Where did this rancor come from?

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(After I told Grandma I was going to nursing school)

“Hey, whana you do? You cleana da bedpans? Huh?” She came close. Garlic breath warming my face as her waving hand grazed my ear. “Thata no gooda work. No gooda.” Her braided bun loosely fastened by hairpins wobbled as she shook her head.

Her feet, with stockings rolled down around her ankles, planted themselves firmly by my chair. The pizza she made just for me, her first granddaughter, lay warm and fragrant on the Blue Willow plate in her hand. She slid the plate in front of me.

Grandma knew as well as I that in the ’50s there were few job choices, much less careers for a woman. Those in her Italian neighborhood lived in multifamily clapboard houses. They cooked the meals, raised the children, and played a supporting role to their husbands.

Grandma expected me to get married after I graduated from high school and start making babies.

Dad and the Bride Doll

 

My father, a complicated man, was the oldest son of 10 children. His parents came to America from Naples, Italy via Ellis Island at the turn of the century, and settled down in Jersey City, New Jersey.

He left school in the sixth grade to pick up bits of coal from the railroad tracks, placing them in a wagon, to later sell to buy food for the family.

Brookyn Navy Yard
Brookyn Navy Yard

My father was a tight package of a man. Dark and solid with biceps of steel and large hands heavily calloused. He worked on the docks of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II and then in construction. When we visited Grandma for Sunday dinners, he would flex his muscles and I, and another cousin or two, would hang on his arm as our legs swung above the floor.

A hard drinking man, he was the black sheep of the family but my grandmother’s favorite. She would cook the foods he loved and he would sing and dance her around the kitchen, dodging the hot wood stove and the table that could expand to serve her large family. He never failed to make her laugh, she who took to her bed with headaches; dour and sad, more days than not.

I was his only child. I knew he would have preferred a son who he would teach to box, throw a ball and take to the Yankee games. To please him, I learned to swing a bat, hit a fastball and bob and weave as I sparred with an imaginary opponent. He took me out of school to see the 7th game of the World Series when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1952.

One Christmas when I was about eight or nine, I wanted a bride doll. I knew it cost a lot of money and money was always tight. My father shook his head indicating I would not get my wish.

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Close to Christmas, when my father went into his bedroom and pulled the door behind him—not quite closing it—I crept up to watch through the slit. He opened the closet and reached on the top shelf and took down a box. Opening it, he removed a beautiful blond doll with a white gown and stroked her veil with his heavy hands. I guess I faked my shocked reaction when I opened the present on Christmas day. I don’t remember if I wished at the time I hadn’t peeked into the bedroom, since it diminished my surprise. However now as I look back I treasure the sight of my father gently smoothing out the doll’s veil and knowing he was making his little girl happy on Christmas.

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

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Happy Lasagna Day

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My husband and I are spending Thanksgiving alone—by choice. We had been invited out but graciously declined.

After having three sets of houseguests in six weeks, we are happy to be alone. By the way, the house has never been cleaner.

And we broke from the traditional Thanksgiving dinner—we are having lasagna.

lasagna

I love leftover lasagna as much or more than leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy.

 

Over the years lasagna has become the ubiquitous casserole. You can find it premade in deli departments and frozen food cases in grocery stores. It’s the go-to meal neighbors bring over to neighbors on happy occasions (childbirth) and solemn occasions (sickness or death in the family).

My love of lasagna goes back to my childhood when we visited Grandma in Jersey City. She lived in a second floor walk-up two blocks from my house. Who remembers what time she got up in the morning to begin cooking the lasagna and the rest of the meal, including homemade bread and a roasted chicken? As for the lasagna, she made the pasta from scratch. The tomato sauce (we called this gravy) simmered for hours on the stove. She used whole-milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses that were made fresh at the Italian store down the block.

Being the oldest granddaughter, I sometimes helped by assembling the multiple layers of the dish. First the sauce, the pasta in one layer, a few spoonfuls of cheese mixture (ricotta, parmesan, eggs, oregano and parsley), sliced mozzarella, more sauce/gravy and then I started over again finishing with the mozzarella on top.

If the family ever had turkey for Thanksgiving, I don’t remember.

In Grandma’ s cramped kitchen the men ate first—Grandma’s three sons, her five sons-in law and Grandpa. My cousins and I sat at the “children’s table” that was cobbled together with end tables and folding chairs. The women served and cleared and eventually sat down to dinner with the windows open to let out the steam from the kitchen along with the delicious aromas of the Italian Thanksgiving feast.

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So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the usual, although not insignificant blessings, such as health, family, friends, but also for the memories that warm me and bring me back to Grandma’s table laden with her gifts and in the company of my extended family—some long gone but not forgotten.

Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving and joyful memories.

WHAT DOES PEA SOUP HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?

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It’s a soup day. Well, okay, it’s 76 degrees outside on this August morning in Chapel Hill but it’s dark and dreary. The sound of the rain hitting the roof makes me think of soup. Thoughts of the warm aroma of Grandma’s bean soup and the sweet, earthy taste of Mom’s chicken soup, made with the bits of the carcass we modern cooks toss away, stir up memories. Soup comforts. Soup soothes the soul. Soup awakens the senses.

Lately I have been enmeshed in editing my book. And I’m losing ground in meeting my self-imposed deadlines. I should be writing but I’m making split pea soup instead. Both efforts are not entirely unrelated. Rather than searching for inclusion of the five senses in my story, now I actualize the experience.

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I finger the firm half-moon peas searching for hitchhiking stones. The thick broth bubbles noisily on the stove. Its steam fills the kitchen with an earthy aroma. I lift a spoon-full of green soup dotted with specks of orange carrot. The velvety rich liquid satisfies my hunger and need for comfort. And reenergizes me to return to my edits.