Saturday, January 23, 2016

A daughter's thoughts: Stage set July 1987, my kitchen

Stage set July 1987, my kitchen in downtown Charleston, SC. Cue phone ringing. It's my mother, in St Louis.

Her: "Mamele!* I'm coming to Charleston!"
Me: "Great, Mama! We'd love to have you come back! I miss you."
Her: "Since I have to fly to Atlanta, I called Evelyn (old family friend), and she and Will asked me to go to the Outer Banks with them, and then they'll drive me to Charleston!"
Me: "Wow! That's terrific. The only thing is, can you time it so that you don't come on August 7th or 8th? Those two days are really slammed-- we have to move the kids from the 9th floor of the old hospital into the new Children's Hospital, and will be working all night and most of the day to keep things smooth in the transition.
Her: Got it. No 7th or  8th.

I'd gotten my first job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist the year before. It had been a wonderful time, applying into practice all the information crammed into my head during post-graduate studies. On top of it, was the planning for how to move into a brand spanking new, state of the art, Children's Hospital. Logistics, decisions, working out potential kinks before they occured-- we even had to fight for that apostrophe in "Children's".

As the day of the move approached, the anticipations and anxieties grew, especially among the management team. My boss wished there were some way, after the move, that the whole management team could debrief, relax, and unwind, but as we didn't know exactly when we'd be finished, we couldn't make reservations anywhere. We knew we wanted it to be away from the hospital, but not too far, so people would be able to swing by after the move, dropping in when they were finally able to break away. The czuk home, at the time, was a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian, which we were renovating, and it was within walking distance to the hospital. Husband and I offered our home for the recovery gathering. It was perfect.

My mother kept me up to date on her plans to fly into Atlanta on the 6th, drive to the Outer Banks, where she had never been, and come down to Charleston August 10 or 11. Perfect. You see where this is going don't you?

Fast forward to the 8th-- tired, grubby, and giddy with relief, my colleagues and I tumbled up the stairs to my home. My husband met me with a warning greeting of "Surprise". There, sitting in the living room, was my mother. Apparently, Evelyn and Will, who hadn't seen her since the 60's but kept in touch by phone and mail, were frightened by her frailty, and by her need to use a cane and wheel chair with her MS. They panicked when she didn't respond to them as they drove, but kept staring out the window. It never dawned on them that she had simply turned off her hearing aid, and was just drinking in the pleasures of new sights on a road trip. The couple, quite simply, was afraid she would die on them, and decided to amend their trip, and take her immediately to Charleston. They dumped her on our doorstep, and into the loving hands of her son-in-law, while her daughter was busy moving babies into new beds.

My mother was not dying. She was actually quite robust; quite spunky, and quite humiliated at the behavior of her old friends.  She also knew that she had been delivered at an inopportune time, but there was nothing she could do about it. In the midst of the weary crowd of nurses  who were flopped around the living room, eating pizza and drinking beer at 9am (since we'd been up all night, that was what we wanted. We'd had coffee to the gills to get us past that 3am slump), my mother moved into social mode. She wanted to make people comfortable with her unexpected presence. Or so she claimed later. What, in fact, she did was perch her tiny body in a chair (resembling Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann), and as someone passed her, would announce, "I'm Ruthe Nadel. Who are you?" Shocked and stuttering, people gave their name, rank, and serial number. If someone missed passing in front of her, she would point at them, and beckon them to her, then introduce herself, and wait for their reply. For days after, people asked me, "Who the hell was that lady?", since most of them only knew my married name, and were too brain fogged at the time to try and figure it out.

(Side note: Not too long ago, I was reading an article about the planned MUSC Children's Hospital and Women's Pavillion scheduled to start construction soon. It referred to the need for a new state of the art facility, as the old one was outdated. I was stunned. Outdated? I remembered opening it. How could it be outdated? It was state of the art -- back in 1987.  Suddenly, it became clear to me why my mother used to get such a look of bemusement on her face when confronted with new and improved technologies.)

While still in recovery mode from illness, I overextended myself at a party given by friends. To gather strength before going to find Javaczuk and head home, I curled up in one of the comfy chairs of the home. Not too long after, I saw someone I'd been wanting to congratulate on the birth of a grandchild and called them over, then I waved to a child of a friend who was home visiting her parents, and then another alto from choir stopped by my chair to chat. It wasn't until I actually found myself pointing at another guest, who I'd never met in person, but knew we had mutual acquaintances, to call them over, that it hit me. I was a little lady, sitting in an oversized chair, summoning strangers.

My mother lived another 19 years. She never got to the Outer Banks, despite a life-time wish of seeing Nag's Head. I've never been either, but maybe someday, I'll go. When I do, she'll be with me, because clearly, I am channelling my mother.

August 2008 Mama and Mamele

*little girl (affectionate) in Yiddish. A pet name of my mother's for me. She would also say "mamele, tatele, bubbeleh" as a little love phrase when talking to babies or children.


  1. I'm not crying, I just got poked in the eye with a feel.

    I love that you're becoming the little old lady in the chair. It's our job to fill these spots so the younger crowd can tell these stories when THEY grow up. <3

  2. OH, Amy! What a lovely story! Do you see your mama in the mirror when you look sometimes? Hugs! Elaine

  3. I tend to see my grandmothers...

    1. Both of them, just so you know that's not a grammatical mistake.