“Being hit by a car traveling 35mph is equivalent to jumping off a third story building head first.” — Physics 101.
In 1972, I was broadsided by a Marathon taxicab speeding at an estimated 70mph. Pictured is Christine, the Bellevue ER nurse who was instrumental in saving my life. She attended to me for days, even after I was transferred to New York University Hospital’s intensive care unit. I’ve carried her in my heart ever since. For decades I tried in vain to find her, but no source could provide me with her surname.
Last week, while discarding thousands of 35mm slides accumulated over the past 49 years, I inadvertently came across one I must have snapped from my hospital bed while still heavily sedated. After having the slide printed, I enlarged it until I could read her name tag.
Christine Marie Tekverk, R.N., was born in New York City on April 2, 1947. She spent her entire adult life as a nurse. Her last position was at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn, NY where she supervised cardio recovery. So praised and beloved by her patients, her photo was featured on the cover of The American Journal of Nursing following her death from cancer on August 27, 1994. She was 47.
This is National Nurse Month.
If you’ve encountered even one nurse in your life, take time to honor her.
It can never be too soon.
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MY SISTER KATE BELIEVED IN THE TRUTH. She thought she recognized it, practiced it, and that it would always prevail.
But I’m not sure truth ever was or can be. Nor am I certain of its prevalence in society today since all alleged truth stems from whatever was written beforeus, as if verified as absolute fact.
And given that even the most inspired of wordsmiths are writers-at-soul, we each must choose from multiple abstracts of speech, edicts, merged thoughts, external influence, doubt in some entities, unbalanced confidence in others, and a necessity for meticulous punctuation in order to advance beliefs — all while knowing the end result will be subjected to individual interpretation using multiple mediums regardless of the author’s intent.
Enter the innate willingness for many to automatically believe whatever is being told them and — worse yet — parroting those narratives as if each utterance was an original thought from which errors can be justified by citing a misdi- rected faith in the charisma of charlatans dressed in fleece.
Please don’t get me wrong by taking me out of context.
I harbor no objection to faith. It’s an effective, convenient, efficient, popular, time-honored tradition that’s both easier to embrace than most of us are willing to admit and necessary for the survival of both the fittest and unfit.
What I question is an inclination to believe the worst in others, as if in doing so we’ll esteem ourselves to those whose alliance we crave.
What I find dubious is our rallying to deny rights to those unwilling to join school cliques, group cliques, office cliques, organization cliques, political cliques, and awards cliques.
What I cannot fathom is the instant exclusion of those we’ve never met nor ever spoken to based solely on what’s been heard from a friend, relative, or associate about a stranger.
Think of how many times you’ve united against bullying in our schools over the past decade, assailing the abusiveness of name-callers as detriments to society.
And yet, sixty million Americans voted for a name-caller to lead this nation and participated in the notion of locking up a person who has never been indicted, arrested, booked, tried, or convicted of any crime in her lifetime while another hundred million Americans capable of taking action chose to do nothing at all.
In a patriarchal society (which ours is) I can understand how misogyny can flourish among males. But the implausibility of misogyny is such that I cannot understand how it thrives among females!
Except… I do?
Perhaps it’s because every news anchor, commentator, journalist, politician, and figurehead over the years fail to question the ecclesiastical elephant in the room.
I first recognized the enormity of its presence forty-two years ago when I refused to attend my brother Michael’s wedding.
At the time, I’d been in love with my Elizabeth for seven years, a woman who’d not only been crucial to saving my life after a catastrophic car crash, but had eagerly, earnestly, and single-handedly tended to my long-term recovery for five of those seven years. Nevertheless, the invitation to my brother’s nuptials didn’t list Elizabeth’s name, nor did it include her as a plus-one option.
As a result, I declined the invitation.
Now before you feel any indignation on my behalf, please, don’t. Remember, it was 1977. Homosexuality had only recently been declassified as a mental disease, while me and mine remained labeled by law as felons at risk of being sentenced as such. We were outlaws, social misfits, deviants, and — worse yet — a cause for embarrassment.
Even now, there are communities in America where being homosexual is portrayed as justification to detain, although not prosecutable; municipalities where dissident gender profiling can divert police from responding to assaults, or delay ambulances from arriving in a timely manner; where medical treatment is subpar and getting away with causing a death as a result could go unnoticed or be ignored altogether. (It’s at this you should take umbrage.)
My brother’s wedding was viewed as a big deal because, of six children (all of us then in our 30s), only two were married. It was likely his union would mark the last chance for my mom to be a mother-of-the-intended ever again. So, even though it was discreetly discussed and agreed that my Elizabeth should have been invited, I was nonetheless demonized for my decision not to go — right up until the portion of the actual ceremony where the bride agreed to obeyher husband. It caused my sisters and mother to storm through our front door several hours later echoing each other.
“Thank God you weren’t at the wedding, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, oh my God, thank you for not coming! You would have caused an uproar. Even we nearly did!”
It’s true. They knew me well. I’ve never taken kindly to being submissive to, or even particularly respectful of, male authority. At very least, any sacred pledge to obey would have made me gasp conspicuously, if not trigger an audible spontaneous, “No-o-o!”
Which returns us to those questions unwritten by journalists, unspoken by news anchors and commentators, unsought by pollsters, unaccounted for in election booths, unstatesman-like in Congress, unaddressed by constituencies, unadulterated, unanticipated, unalterable, unapologetic, unassuaged, unappeasable, unsettlingly, unstudied, and (perhaps) unassailable, untouchable, untenable, and even unrighteous in the final analysis.
But not unaskable.
Does a woman’s pledge to obey her husband require being dutiful to his choice of candidates when she is casting her ballot? And if so, does that mean America has become a Silent Theocracy?
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I’VE ONLY EVER MADE ONE New Year’s commitment. It was soon after I learned I was conceived during the wee hour following a New Year’s Eve celebration welcoming January 1, 1946.
“I don’t remember your birth,” my Mom dodged as she ironed blouses on my fiftieth birthday while detailing the deliverances of my siblings. “Your’s was like a used car after a New Year’s Eve dalliance.”
“Excuse me? Dalliance? I was a dalliance?”
My folks didn’t display evidence of a demonstratively affectionate union. The serrated edge, sepia wedding photo buried at the bottom of a bedroom dresser drawer attested to their having once been in love. But by the time I was old enough to empathize, there was no physical contact to observe. Suffice it to say, I never saw them kiss, hold hands, or even touch. It made any accounting of my arrival play more like a balancing act between burning the ironing board cover and battling spray starch build-up than accurately answering me. And, to be fair, at eighty-three her memories of maternity weren’t exactly chart toppers.
“Cathy was born fifteen months after me,” I pestered, “yet you remember her delivery day and not mine?”
“David was my first, that’s why. Kit was my biggest, Michael was my earliest, Susie was my first girl, and Cathy was my last pregnancy — all two years apart! How could I forget?”
There were other distinctions made between us as well. As children, David and Cathy were gifted athletes. Kit marched in every school band through college playing coronet. Susie sang well enough to turn professional and Michael looked like a movie star. I was quieter by comparison, content with pets as my companions and seldom sought attention.
Perhaps I was like that from birth? It called for my surrender. “Well, at least I have the distinction of you remembering my creation.”
“Oh, no, I recall them all,” she perked up. “David was planned as our first anniversary gift to each other, and Kit was conceived on Halloween as a treat. I ended up in labor for 33 hours with that boy, walking the halls of Foote Hospital, trying to push him out. To this day he’s never without a piece of candy in his mouth. As for Michael — Michael was a Valentine’s Day creation that we were expecting near Thanksgiving. But you know how your brother Michael is about being early. Delivered him on the elevator. He just couldn’t sit still and wait. Now your sister Susie was conceived on my birthday, so we knew she’d arrive as our seventh anniversary gift. Of course, we were expecting a boy. That was the plan, to only have four boys. And finally Cathy, dear sweet Cathy. She was an income tax day deadline we met in the nick of time. But you all have that one thing in common.”
“Your father was never present at any of his children’s birth. I delivered all of you solo.”
Sensing she spent a lifetime twinged by the loneliness of that indignity struck a cord in me more tender than her not recalling my day of birth.
Since then I have made and kept the singularly same resolution: I resolve that my Mom, and all the memories she shared with me will never be forgotten.
Happy New Year!
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Cleone’s favorite song wasJoy To The World directed by the Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She’d begin playing it as a daybreak reveille on December 12th and continued through the morning of her birthday, December 27th. We were reminded of the fifteen-day musical salute while driving Elizabeth’s mother back to Arkansas in November 1990.
“How come I don’t remember this tradition, Mom?”
“You’re never home for the holidays more than a day or two, Elizabeth Ann. Besides, your daddy and I only began it after you left home.”
During those long gone thirty years since Elizabeth’s father died, Cleone remarried several times. As a southern lady rooted in Montgomery, Alabama, she was raised to believe a woman’s life wasn’t complete without a man in hand. Her current husband of ten years, Bill, had been confined to a nursing home, diagnosed with violent hysterical dementia. He hadn’t recognized her (or anyone) for six months and never would again, but that didn’t stop Cleone from visiting him daily, ignoring his foul-mouthed curses and dodging food spat in her direction.
We promised to stay with her through Thanksgiving, but our plans changed after she asked me to sort through stacks of Bill’s personal papers to determine if any needed keeping.
The first item of interest I came across was his association with a local white supremacist group. He kept Nazi propaganda, recruitment paraphernalia, racist hate tapes and a loaded .38 in his desk drawer next to a box of hollow point bullets. I immediately incinerated everything burnable and buried the gun in his asparagus garden.
Other discoveries were as serious.
“Mom,” I tiptoed, “it says here Bill used your Certificates of Deposit and savings as collateral for the mortgage to purchase this house.”
“He promised they’d be safe until the house is paid off.”
“You’re 83, and he’s older. The mortgage is for 30 years.”
. “Who pays the mortgage?”
“It’s automatically deducted from my social security check each month.”
“You have your own direct deposit checking account?”
“Yes. Mine pays the car loan, utilities, and property taxes, too.”
“Why isn’t it all deducted from his account?”
“He pays the insurance, charge cards, grocery account, and incidentals.”
I hesitated just long enough for her to ask, “Why?”
“Well, what’s important is I can tell you how to fix what I’ve found, so there’s nothing for you to get upset about. Since you have his health proxy and financial power of attorney — over his very sizable bank accounts, I must say — it’s merely a matter of shuffling funds.”
. “You have the authority to write checks.”
. By then, both Cleone and Elizabeth were eager for details and had pulled chairs up to the table where I was working. “Mom, your name isn’t on the mortgage, deed to the house, or car title. If Bill should suddenly die, the house and car go directly to his son. His Will leaves his savings and all his belongings to his son. The executor to his estate is his son. His life insurance policy names only his son.”
. “What about me?” Cleone asked, matter-of-factly.
. “He made no provisions for you, Mom.”
. “Do you think his son knows any of this?”
. “According to these letters, he does.”
. I let that sink in between mother and daughter while I ran some figures and finalized a plan.
. After breakfast, the three of us dressed for success in matching hot pink sweatsuits and strings of vintage pearls before descending on the bank where Cleone paid off the mortgage and car loan from Bill’s savings account. Once her CDs were released and there was no longer a lien on her savings, she transferred all automatic deductions for household expenses from her checking account to his. Finally, she removed his name as survivor from her accounts and left the bank, unencumbered.
“How do you feel, Mom?” Elizabeth asked.
“Free,” she answered.
We stayed on until the 9th of December, gadding about town, buying and wrapping Christmas presents, lighting her ceramic tree, delivering cookies, addressing cards, and confirming plans for Cleone to move to Florida to take up residence in our home after the first of the year.
“Are you sure you don’t want to drive back with us now,” Elizabeth hoped.
“No, dear. I want to spend the holidays here with my Bridge club and church group. It gives me time to say a more leisurely goodbye.”
“Are you okay?”
. “Better than okay, Elizabeth. I’m having fun!”
. It took us three days to drive home. We arrived on Cleone’s birthday, greeted by a cheerful message on our answering machine from her. I immediately dialed her back, putting the phone on speaker.
Cleone’s next door neighbor answered.
“Your mom called for an ambulance. The driver swore he got here within a minute. He knew her from church and around town. Everyone loved your mom.”
. We sped back to Arkansas.
. . . . .
After arranging her funeral and hosting a large reception, we had Cleone’s casket returned to Montgomery where we provided her with a second funeral attended by 135 of her friends and remaining relatives. Internment was next to Elizabeth’s father in a small, historic burial ground where all their ancestors also rested. A second reception followed.
The next morning, Elizabeth and I returned to the cemetery a final time.
It was a serene, unseasonably warm December day with no breeze blowing nor snow on the ground. We marveled at the height and width of tiers of fresh flowers left on Cleone’s grave, in stark contrast to the other mostly ancient tombstones void of any signs of recent visitors, decorated with weather‐worn plastic plants, faded flags, or no mark of remembrance at all.
Instinctively, we began removing fresh flowers from her mother’s final resting place to spend the next few hours adorning the surrounding graves, one-by-one, until as many sites as possible in the cemetery had a small bouquet.
Then we rolled down all the windows of the car, popped in a cassette, pumped up the volume to maximum, and slowly drove up and down each pathway playing and replaying
Joy to the World.
Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist.
She values your opinion and appreciates
your sharing of this with others.
Please select LEAVE A REPLY by clicking below the headline.