Alphabet Challenge: H

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

H: Hospitals

I counted up all the hospitals I have worked in during the 40-plus years I have been a nurse. The total is 18. These are the hospitals where I was officially employed. That is, I attended an orientation, worked forty hours a week and received a regular paycheck. 

It doesn’t include the hospitals I visited as a nursing instructor when I had to review patient charts in order to choose appropriate student assignments. 

It doesn’t include the hospitals that I visited to enroll a patient in a home care program. 

It doesn’t include the community hospitals that I visited to evaluate the care that veterans received (I worked for the VA at the time).

So, I have been in many hospitals. Hospitals prompt a plethora of memories.  

The newer hospitals don’t stir up remembrances. They are disguised as hotels. Sterile. I suppose that’s desirable in reassuring patients and visitors that germs are kept in check. The older hospitals, to me, expose the nursing effort of caring for patients at a critical time in their lives—sometimes with success and sometimes with failure.   

I visited an older hospital in 2001, right before I retired, to enroll a patient in a hospice program. The hospital was a small community facility that had little renovation over the years. 

I needed to copy a form. The xerox machine was in the basement. I hiked down the stairway. On opening the door, humidity from steam heat, warm ovens in the kitchen and the noise of the washers and dryers immediately assaulted me. 

This was a functional basement of hospitals of long ago. 

Jolted by the sensory stimulus surrounding me, I trekked along the long corridor feeling as if I was twenty years old, wearing a white uniform, spotless white shoes and starched nursing cap held with bobby pins on the top of my head. My life in nursing, unlived, still ahead of me. 

Lost in nostalgia, I almost forgot to look for the Xerox machine.   

Alphabet Challenge: A

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

AAunt Anna’s Apartments

Aunt Anna lived in an apartment above a florist shop in Linden, New Jersey. She didn’t drive but she could walk along Wood Street where Mom and Pop stores lined the road. Once, inside a large Polish deli where ropes of sausage hung on hooks from the ceiling, Aunt Anna insisted on buying smoked garlic Kielbasa for me to bring home to my Polish mother. 

When she moved to Carteret, she lost the vibrant neighborhood. But she also lost the long staircase she had to climb up to the second floor, the traffic noise from the street and isolation from her neighbors.

What she gained was a sun-lit, ground level one-bedroom apartment, closer to her grandchildren and great grandchildren, a quiet neighborhood with a front porch she shared with a woman who lived next door—a new friend. 

Aunt Anna, my Italian father’s sister, was the second youngest and now the only sibling still alive among her five brothers and five sisters. When I last visited, she was in her late 80’s, twenty years older than I. We laughed together as if contemporaries. Opening the bottle of Chianti I had brought, we played Mob Hits CD’s and shared a bag of potato chips. My husband never could understand how I craved potato chips with fine wine. “It’s in the genes,” I would tell him. 

Aunt Anna and I sipped our wine, sitting side by side on the sofa, listening to the Italian songs from my childhood. As the music played, nostalgia filled us with sadness for family members who had long since died. 

Living in North Carolina, I planned another trip to New Jersey in a couple of years. I never made that trip. Aunt Anna died suddenly. 

What would I have done differently knowing on that last visit I would never see her again? Wine and potato chips, Italian music and reliving memories—not a thing. 

I miss her. 

Haunted Townhouse

Back in the 70s we rented a townhouse in Arlington, Virginia that was haunted. 

Now what made me remember this? Maybe because I, like many others, have been fixated on food while sequestered in my home over this past year due to the pandemic. Food and kitchens and houses. Now there’s a connection. Right? 

Back in the 70s, I was young and energetic and loved to cook and entertain—even though I had a toddler and worked part time in the recovery room at a local hospital. Some of my best creations came from that tiny kitchen in the townhouse. My husband and I often hosted dinner parties for the other young families who lived in our cul-de-sac. Once, inviting several couples, I made my husband’s favorite meal: Sauerbraten, sweet and sour red cabbage, potato dumplings and, from scratch, Black Forest Cake. Foodies out there will know that Sauerbraten marinates for five days and then is cooked long and slow and Black Forest Cake is a bear to make. Not to mention the challenge of that cramped kitchen. 

Back to the haunted townhouse. First, you have to know that we moved into a friend’s townhouse. Karl and his family outgrew their two-bedroom house and moved next door to a three-bedroom. He suggested we move into his vacated rental. We loved the idea of being close to our friends and having more room than our one-bedroom basement apartment, especially since I was expecting a second baby.  

Continue reading “Haunted Townhouse”

Thanksgiving Tradition

Looks like I have started my own tradition. I am posting Happy Lasagna Day on my Blog during Thanksgiving week for the third time since 2016. That year, my husband and I chose to spend Thanksgiving alone. Last year, although we enjoyed a traditional turkey meal with my daughter, son-in-law and the grandkids, I posted Happy Lasagna Day for the second time. 

This year we will spend Thanksgiving day alone, again, but not by choice. My husband and I are at high risk for the devastating effects of Covid-19 and we decided to stay safe at home. 

Rather than feel sorry for our isolation, I will relive the warm memories of family celebrations of the past by posting Happy Lasagna Day for the third time. Yes, my new ritual. 

Happy Lasagna Day

First posted on November 24, 2016

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. 

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.  

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 Happy and Safe Thanksgiving with Joyful Memories. 

 It Takes a Village or a City Block

This is my 262nd Blog post. It’s a significant number for me. I spent the first twenty years of my life in a two-bedroom apartment in a three-story brick building in Jersey City, New Jersey: 262 Summit Avenue.

Most of the buildings on the block were three stories with an apartment on each floor. I could name everyone who lived on the block. Few people moved. Multigenerational families stayed in close proximity. My grandparents’ place was a two-block walk away.

2009 visit. The gates are new.

We children couldn’t do anything wrong without a neighbor correcting us or telling our parents. In the summers we played outside until evening darkened the skies and the streetlights came on. In the colder weather, when the chill kept folks indoors, the older women sat by their windows as if afraid they would miss something.

Across the street, taking up most of the block, sat the massive New Jersey National Guard  Armory. The National Guard soldiers came for weekend training. Blaring brass bands cut above the street traffic. It was only when I reached my teens that seeing all the young men in uniform kept me close to home.

In summers, the Armory hosted the Rodeo and big-name performers: Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. My friends and I, probably around ten or eleven years old, had managed to sneak through a side door and wander around before the Rodeo started, watching the workers set up the stands for the audience and the pens for the animals. During the show, we edged up so close to the action that we could hear the cowboys’ grunts, as they desperately tried to stay on the backs of the bucking horses or angry bulls.

Unknown

We listened to Frank Sinatra from the shadows along the walls. A spotlight followed his lanky body on the stage as he crooned into a microphone. We felt invincible.

In retrospect, it seemed easy for my friends and I to slip into the Armory. I don’t remember ever once getting kicked out. Perhaps the workers chose to look the other way.

My best friend, Carol, lived at one end of the block and I lived on the other. I’ve written about her in a post: Taking the Bus. We met when we were four or five years old, attended the same grammar school and high school. After she married, she and her husband moved to south Jersey. Two years later, I married. We moved to Newark, then near DC, making other moves until we eventually settled down in North Carolina.

After many years of exchanging Christmas cards, Carol and I now live 20 miles from one another. When we get together, we rehash our childhood memories on the 200 block of Summit Avenue. The city street that was the Village that raised us.

Home Visits Can Be Fraught with Danger

 

One time, long ago, at a nursing conference, I sat fixated as a fellow nurse told a story about the time she rang the doorbell at her patient’s house, and he didn’t answer. It was later that she found out he had been murdered. And in hearing more detail, she discovered that the murderer had likely been in the house the exact time she was ringing the doorbell.

Home visits can be fraught with danger.

One time I visited a patient who wasn’t on my list for that day only because I was in the neighborhood and had the time. He was bed ridden and unable to speak. He had a caregiver, a tall, muscular man who wore a long blond wig and make-up but masculine clothes, such as jeans and a sweat shirt. He was attentive and capable and flamboyant. An exotic array of visitors wandered in and out of the apartment. My patient’s mother, strikingly average-looking compared to the rest of the visitors, lived in an apartment above her son’s and was often present when I came. However, this day, unannounced, I walked into an unlocked and darkened apartment. Only my patient, lying in bed, was present.

Neither the caregiver, nor the patient’s mother, or anyone else familiar to me entered the apartment while I was there. However, as I finished with my evaluation, a man opened the unlocked apartment door. He wasn’t anyone I had seen before. In fact, he was unimpressive in slacks and button-down shirt. My patient smiled at him knowingly. We introduced ourselves. His eyes moved down my body. Acutely aware of the precarious situation I was in—alone in that apartment with a strange man and unhelpful patient—a band tightened around my chest. I promptly packed up my nursing bag and left.

Safely back in my car, I chastised myself for making this impulsive visit. No one back at the office knew where I was. It was a time before cell phones. What If something had happened to me . . . .  I didn’t want to think of that. I never again made an unscheduled home visit.

As I work on my second book, which is about home visits, I contemplate my experiences. I want to include the various unsafe situations visiting nurses may find themselves. It’s not just the “iffy” neighborhoods that may hold danger.

For example, I have previously posted a story about a patient that might have been murdered by a family member. When I drove down the tree-lined street in a middle-class neighborhood to make a last follow-up visit to the widow, it never occurred to me that foul play, and not terminal cancer, could have caused my patient’s death.

There are other dangers to home visits, of course. One nurse I knew broke her leg while stepping on an uneven floor; another was attacked by the family dog. Environmental conditions, such as inclement weather, flooded roads and extreme temperatures, are a constant threat to home visits. Once my windshield wipers died on me as I drove on the highway in a snow storm.

Yes, home visits can be fraught with danger.

The Old Faded Picture

Recently rummaging around in my office closet for my watercolor materials, I came across an old envelope with a faded 5 X 7 picture inside. Years ago I had planned to frame it. Obviously, I forgot all about it. Most of what is stored in the closet fits into the category: out of sight, out of mind.

This closet is stuffed with past journals, yearly calendars dating back more than 20 years, greeting cards, and evidence of my artistic endeavors: pastels, watercolors, acrylics and scores of papers for each medium, along with canvases, and a variety of paint brushes. However, the significant items sharing the confines of the closet are the photographs spilling out of albums, in shoeboxes, and in dilapidated wooden frames.

Over our many moves, I boxed my memorabilia without weeding anything out but only adding to the collection, always promising myself that I would organize the stash.

And as the years passed I became more reluctant to tackle the task. Maybe the constraints I have placed on the act of clearing out do more to deter me than support me. I will need two days since I will pull everything out of the closet, not returning anything until I have handled it and made the decision to toss or save. Did I say I needed only two days?

I can see myself sitting on the floor surrounded by these old pictures, fingering each while nostalgia washes over me. I will be revisiting places I lived, missing family members who have long since died, dealing with changes that the passage of time had not only had on me but my spouse and children. Yes, I know how this all will affect me and I am not anxious to deal with such an emotional task.

Getting back to the picture.

 

We rented a house on Sister Bay, Wisconsin after I read about the area in the Chicago Magazine: the best place to see the fall colors and beautiful sunsets. Since we were “poor”—my husband was in graduate school and we were living on my salary as a part time nurse—I wrote the owner of a rental home asking for a discount. Since we didn’t go during the annual Fall Fest, the owner agreed. Our children loved that we were steps from the bay. They explored the large room on the second floor with rows of single beds and at least two cribs. We took out the rowboat on that first visit, catching the winds of an abrupt storm and just made it back to shore without capsizing. We rented bikes to survey the fall colors. Our favorite breakfast restaurant had a goat grazing on grass that grew on the roof.

We rented the same house over the years, without the discount. Each time the owner had made improvements: a porch, a wrap around deck, bedrooms replacing the one large room on the second floor, and finally he declared “no children. “

On our last visit, my mother came with us. Late one afternoon she must have picked up my camera on the deck and took this picture of my daughter and me. She also captured my son sorting stones on the narrow strip of beach. My husband probably was grilling hamburgers on the other side of the deck. Perhaps after another magnificent sunset, we went inside for dinner. Perhaps afterward, my son would show us the best stones he picked at the water’s edge to take back home.

Perhaps sorting through the old pictures won’t be too daunting after all.

Nurse at the Switchboard

Ten of us from a class of 44 traveled to Cape May, New Jersey to attend our 55th nursing reunion. We first met as young Catholic teens in the late ’50s enrolled in the diploma program at Saint Peter’s School of Nursing in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hard to believe we are now in our mid-70s.

At our luncheon at the Inn of Cape May on a glorious sunny day this past September, we laughed and reminisced about the three years we lived together, when Connie mentioned that she had to man the switchboard at night during the psych rotation at a private psychiatric facility in a Maryland suburb.

Never heard of this we said. But one of us (can’t remember exactly who that was) chimed in to say she remembered at the time how glad she was that she never had to do this. So there was validation that Connie’s memory was intact. Imagine having to work at a telephone switchboard! What does this have to do with learning about psychiatric patients?

lady at switchboard

I found a picture of a telephone switchboard for you too young to remember this contraption that connected folks to each other via telephone lines. Or you could just watch the old movie: Bells Are Ringing with Judy Holiday and Dean Martin.

 

 

 

After hearing about the switchboard, we began outdoing each other with anecdotes about our early nursing days.

I wanted to take notes to capture these unique tales but decided I would rather just enjoy the fellowship. Later, I asked my classmates if I could call them, one by one, and document what they would want to share with current nurses about life in the “olden days.” They all consented.

So now I have a new project. I had been thinking about surveying my classmates about their nursing lives for quite a while. Since our 55th celebration is over, I realize it is now or never. We are dying off. Sad to say but true. Who will remember us? Or what nursing was like years ago? Who would believe that as part of the educational program to learn to be a psych nurse you had to know how to work a telephone switchboard?

You’ll be hearing more about my classmates.

Happy Lasagna Day

happy-thanksgiving-images

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

img_0007

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.

SO WHAT’S NOSTALGIZING?

Nostalgizing is a new word for me. I discovered it in a New York Times article: Tierney, John. What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows. The New York Times, 8 July, 2013.

I needed to re-read the essay for reassurance that feelings of nostalgia I’ve been experiencing with some frequency could very well be positive. (The Oxford dictionary defines nostalgia as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.)

Just the other day, I made the trip from my new home in Raleigh to Chapel Hill where we used to live, about half an hour away, to meet a friend for lunch. We moved three months ago, yet as I walked up the steps to the restaurant, memories flooded my mind. I recalled that I had sat at one of the outside wooden benches with a writer consultant that helped me put together a proposal for a grant I didn’t get. How enthusiastic I had been. And once an acquaintance stopped me in front of the counter with coffee carafes to tell me she enjoyed an essay I had published in the local newspaper—the closest I ever came to having a fan club.

When I left the restaurant, I felt a pull to return to my old home, to be back where the grandkids visited us in that tree-lined cul-de-sac. They graduated from babbling in strollers to riding tricycles, to skate boards and on to bicycles. They made friends with the neighbors’ children. Of course, I see them more often after our move since we live a lot closer but those remembrances doggedly follow me.

Tierney’s essay describes the work of Constantine Sedikides’, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology, a pioneer in the study of nostalgia. Sedikides’ findings show that nostalgia is a way of thinking about the past. “ . . . topics are universal—reminiscences about friends and family members, holidays, weddings, songs, sunsets, lakes. The stories tend to feature the self as the protagonist surrounded by close friends.”

“Nostalgic stories aren’t simple exercises in cheeriness, though. The memories aren’t all happy, and even the joys are mixed with a wistful sense of loss. But on the whole, the positive elements greatly outnumber the negative elements . . .”

Some positive outcomes of nostalgizing include feeling less lonely or depressed, “having stronger feelings of belonging and affiliation,” and becoming “more generous toward others.”

I was reassured when I read that nostalgizing increases with age and “helps us deal with transitions.”

An old friend is coming to visit. Our first houseguest. She is especially flexible, thank goodness, since our new home is in a state of disruption. I look forward to showing her around the neighborhood and the city. But what I am really looking forward to is our trips down memory lane covering 40 years of friendship. We will be nostalgizing together.

Afterthought: I have kept a short essay by Robert Oren Butler since 1994 that moves me every time I read it.

 Nostalgia by Robert Olen Butler

“A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable condition in the past . . .”

When the word came into common usage in America in the early nineteenth century, nostalgia, a sickness for home, was considered a form of insanity. This is not a surprising attitude for a new country driven to explore, to expand, to push on to a far sea—even at times conquering and dispossessing others in search of a new place. Now, after nearly two centuries have passed, we have settled into a sort of national middle age and nostalgia has become a cultural virtue. Golden-oldies radio stations and movie remakes, Elvis stamps and classic cars, the moral certitudes of the Gulf War and of Family Values: We have now institutionalized the backward look, the moist eye for where we’ve been.

But for me, nostalgia is this: When I was studying the Vietnamese language in an Army school in Arlington, Virginia, my teacher was a young Vietnamese woman who had come to America for the love of an American soldier. It was 1970 and she had grown up near the ancient city of Hue with the sounds of war thumping and chattering through most of her childhood like the angry ghosts of the tales her mother told. She was happy with her man here, happy with her job, happy with the televisions and the rock ‘n’ roll and the frozen foods and with her Ford Mustang convertible and with the night sky that would flare only with lightning. But when the sunset came and they fired the ceremonial cannon over at Fort Myer, she would weep. The sound of cannon fire made her think about Hue, and she would grow sick with yearning for home.

Self, January 1994.th-1