Category Archives: Memoir

Emergency Appreciation

Yesterday, my 13-year-old daughter, Meg, broke her wrist in two places.  Ouch!  She was playing basketball during PE at school and went to block a shot.  She fell back onto her left wrist, instantly turning it into a lumpy mass.

I got the call from her school around 2:15 p.m. to come and attend to her.  Fortunately, I live close by so Meg didn’t have to wait long for me to get there.   The principal and school secretary were huddled over Meg comforting her as she tried to contain her agony.  She thought she did a really good job, but I knew otherwise.

Once Meg settled into the car, she screamed for a solid 30 minutes while I drove through stop and go traffic, missing every traffic light, to finally arrive at the doctor’s office across town.

Meg with cast

Meg with cast

Meg’s doctor saw her immediately, splinted her wrist and sent us across the street for X-rays.  Even though I had given her four Ibuprofen, Meg’s pain continued unabated.  Soon, the X-ray results showed why.  Her wrist was broken in two places and “angulated,” which meant it needed to be manipulated back into place.  We had no choice but to check into the Emergency Room (ER).  Poor Meg!

The ER docs and nurses evaluated Meg, and determined that an orthopedic doctor was needed.  We were advised to sit tight for two more hours and the orthopedic would be on his way.  In the meantime, my daughter anguished.  I asked for more pain relief, which the ER staff duly provided.  This finally quieted Meg down.

Around 7 p.m., the orthopedic doctor arrived.  I felt hungry and tired and more than impatient, and was prepared to dislike this late arrival.  Instead, the new doctor charmed my husband and me and completely disarmed my daughter’s fears with his friendly and outgoing demeanor.

I sang softly to Meg one of her favorite lullabies as the orthopedic prepared to numb Meg’s wrist in preparation for the “reduction” or correction of her fracture.  The doctor complimented me on my ability to keep Meg calm, which led me to ask him if he had any children.

“Yes, three under the age of seven, “ he answered.   “One of them is sick right now, so I know how hard it can be to take care of them.”

I asked him what his child was sick with, expecting him to say the flu.  Instead he answered, “Brain tumor,” and instantly I sensed he regretted sharing this with me.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.  I looked across the room at my husband and felt incredibly sad.  The doctor thanked me and moved on, refocusing on my daughter’s  needs.

I did too, but said a silent prayer that Meg had only endured a broken wrist that would mend soon enough.

After about four hours in the ER, Meg was finally released.  She continued to feel scared and uncertain, but was comforted by a stream of messages on her phone and on her Facebook wall from classmates and friends wishing her a speedy recovery.

My husband nicknamed Meg “Sweet Pea” because she truly has the sweetest of dispositions.  She also possesses a remarkable understanding and appreciation for the important things in life, family and friendships and honesty and loyalty.

Right before bed, Meg outlined her numerous concerns and anxieties over her injury, but then concluded by telling me how lucky she felt to have so many people in her life that cared about her.

I agreed and said another prayer of thanks for a healthy daughter, loving and caring family and friends, good health insurance and excellent medical care.   May we all be so blessed.

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Application Season

‘Tis the season for applications at the Crowley home.  My daughter is applying to high school and my son is applying to college.  I am cooking a lot of food.  When my kids hunker down to do extended schoolwork or in this case, extended applications, I function like a combination cheerleader and short-order cook.  I check on my kids occasionally, talk them off the ledge if they are despairing, and provide liberal servings of turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches and steak fajitas.  This gives my son and daughter the strength to complete their tasks and I feel immense satisfaction that I am contributing on some level to their success.

Mention the word “application” and parents of teens shudder.  In my day, I applied to two colleges.  I was going to apply to a third, but the essay seemed like too much trouble and I felt confident that I would be accepted to one of my first two choices.  Times have changed.  My son will probably apply to nine colleges, which is considered on the low side.  The common application AKA “the common app” is supposed to alleviate some of the tedious data entry, but only four of the colleges to which he is applying accept the common app.

Some of the application questions elude me.  For example, my daughter has been asked to identify her favorite quote.   If I were asked this question, I would be dumbstruck.  The ability to summon up a favorite quotation represents a major hole in my education.  I can tell you the lyrics of a number of Top 40 songs that ruled the charts between 1970 and 1981 especially any Carly Simon, James Taylor or Carole King hits.  I specialize in these three artists’ recordings.

But I was never asked to memorize a single literary quote in my long education.  Now it’s too late because my memory is shot.  Anything from my life that I remember took place between the ages of 10 and 21.  I don’t know what happened to my brain after that, but I never learned all the words to a favorite song again, let alone a poem or quote from literature.

Sometimes I feel intimidated when I read a book that uses a lot of quotes from other sources.  I wonder, “Do these authors annotate everything they read and if so, where do they find the time, or do they have amazing memories, or do they just Google a lot?”   Personally, I Google a lot.  I’m not proud of this, but let’s face it, everyone does it.  I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag without Google and my virtual Thesaurus.

I do have a few sayings that I draw upon, and naturally they’re from my mother who could quote Shakespeare if prompted, even though her daughter can’t.   They’re more like Patsy proverbs because that was my mom’s name and her words communicated useful thoughts like a proverb does.   She often told me, “Simplicity is the key to style,” advice I have taken to the extreme at times.

My mom also told me “not to get attached to material things,” counsel that I did not appreciate when it was dispensed but has carried me through many a disappointment.

I think if admissions officers really want to understand the essence of a student, they should ask them to identify and interpret a memorable quote from a parent or caregiver.   The variety of responses would open up a Pandora’s Box of emotions.  One thing I know for sure, you can’t Google those memories.

Here’s one of my favorite songs from Carole King.  I could sing this song in my sleep and probably have, just in case you were wondering.


Old Friends

Last week, I took a walk in the fog on my blog.  To be truthful, I do enjoy my walk, but I really didn’t like my post.   It had good descriptive qualities, but it lacked honesty.  I appreciated the positive feedback I received, but I felt unsettled.

Then, I received an e-mail from Sarah, one of my oldest friends, (not age, mind you, but length of friendship.)  “Wow,” she wrote, “I want to go for a long walk on the beach and talk to the birds…and you, of course.”  Boom!   Nothing like an old, true friend bringing me down to earth.  I laughed so hard I cried.

Some of my old friends

Some of my old friends

You see, I wrote about the birds and the names of the avenues and the surfers out of obligation.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are all things worth noticing.  I know this because I’ve read many books on writing that tell me I should notice everything and be specific as possible.  Therefore, I included an explanation and some thoughts on the endangered snowy plover.

But how much do I really think about the snowy plover on my walk?  When I have to meet my self-imposed blogging deadline, the snowy plover takes on a sense of urgency.  Otherwise, I barely notice any birds other than to duck and cover when they fly by in packs.

Most of the time, I walk with my friend Janet who I’ve known since the third grade and doesn’t want to be mentioned in my blog.  Suffice to say, we yack the entire four miles and by the time we’re done, I’ve barely noticed that time has elapsed let alone the snowy plover and the surfers.

This brings me back to Sarah.  Sarah and I were born around the same time and shared space in the nursery at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Although our parents knew each other, we did not become acquainted until we were 13.  We’re almost 52 so we’ve known each other well for almost 40 years.

I don’t get to see Sarah as often as I’d like as she lives two hours away.   It doesn’t matter.  When I see her, we pick up where we left off and she dishes me in a way that only someone who has known me for 40 years can do, ribbing me in her e-mail about a previous walk we shared on the Santa Cruz beach where I donned a blue terrycloth jogging suit that I accessorized with penny loafers and an Italian satchel draped across my body.  Of course, I give it right back to her, but her wit often trumps mine.

I feel very lucky to have a good number of old friends.  Although I’ve grown up in a large city, I’ve lived in a small community where so many of my schoolmates still reside.  I went to college across the Bay and made new friends who, because of my advanced age, are my old friends now.  And I treasure them.

Old friends sparkle like diamonds.  They light up the room in a party and I am immediately drawn to them.  My old friends absolutely judge me and tell me what they think to my face.   We celebrate milestones together because we’re roughly the same age.   I don’t have to explain that I am the youngest of six children; they know the names of my brothers and sisters, my parents, my late aunt Margie, my husband and my children.  They know that I don’t like vegetables and that a long time ago, I drank like a fish.  They get my humor and I relish theirs.

As I said before, I feel very lucky.  I have new friends, too, folks that I have known only 15 or 20 years and or maybe just 15 or 20 months.  I love them dearly, but they really only know the “adult” Nancy and sometimes, I just want to go back to that time when I was young and didn’t have a care in the world.

When my mother turned 70, my sister threw my mom a birthday party and invited all of her old girlfriends.  I remember my mom being asked how she felt now that she had reached 70 years of age.  She answered, “I feel like I just turned 13.”

Why wouldn’t she?  She was celebrating her birthday with her old friends.


My Brush with 9/11

I feel a little like Forrest Gump.  If you saw the movie, the simple-minded Forrest had an uncanny ability to be present at every major world event.  I was not visiting New York during 9/11 so the parallel isn’t exactly straight, but my husband, F.X., had just arrived in Manhattan a day earlier.

I had talked to F.X. on 9/10 and all seemed well.  He was staying in mid-Manhattan at the Edison Hotel, having traveled to New York on business.

The phone rang early the morning of September 11 and I answered it, expecting a wake-up call from my husband.   My brother-in-law Joe, F.X.’s oldest brother, said hello and immediately asked me if F.X. was OK.  “Yes, of course,” I replied.  “Why?”

9.11 New York skyline

9.11 New York skyline

“Because two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said.

The last time I had visited New York had been in college so I had little understanding of Manhattan geography.   I knew F.X. had a meeting that morning, but I did not know where.  When I told Joe that F.X. was staying in Midtown, he concluded that F.X. was probably not in danger.

I hung up and began shaking violently.  My three-year-old daughter slept soundly in F.X.’s spot, next to me in bed.   I called for my son and turned on the TV.  The news unfolded in front of me and I became distraught, jarring my little daughter awake.  I dialed F.X.’s cell phone number repeatedly to no avail.  “All circuits are busy,” droned the operator.  F.X. also carried a pager so I tried paging him, over and over and over again.  My children gathered close to me, sensing my fear and began to cry and call for Daddy.  I tried to be strong, but failed miserably.

About a half hour later in what seemed like an eternity, F.X. miraculously got through to me on his cell phone and explained that he was about four and a half miles removed from this enormous catastrophe.   Once I heard from my husband, my children recovered instantly and went about their business.  My two older stepchildren called in a desperate panic and I vowed to them that their Dad was safe.  I had recovered my adult self and appeared in control again, even though I really did not feel that way.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, F.X. was able to call me and report on events.  He observed thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers retreating from downtown on foot covered in debris and soot, like refugees from a war.  His meetings were obviously cancelled, which left him with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  He walked the streets, visiting a nearby fire house and offering condolences.  He talked to me on the phone as he ventured closer to the Financial District and began coughing and choking on the toxic, putrid air.

I urged him to turn back, get in a car since planes weren’t flying and come home.   I worried about biological warfare.  My overactive mind went crazy with endless and lethal possibilities.

F.X. remained calm and resolved to wait it out until the planes resumed flying.  He connected with friends, Tom Rocca and John Meyer, who also were stranded in New York on business.  They kept each other company for a day and then attempted to board a plane at JFK on Thursday to return home when the airports presumably had opened.

Machine gun-toting National Guardsmen ran security that day.  A trip to the bathroom turned into a police lineup with suspicious riflemen poised to fire over one false move.   Several hours later, the F.B.I. arrested the co-pilot and the flight was cancelled.  The scheduled take-off had evolved into a snare to smoke out more suspects.

This final experience convinced F.X. and his friends to rent a car and flee New York.  I’ll never forget when he called me for the umpteenth time that week and reported that he had crossed the George Washington Bridge and had merged onto Interstate 80 West heading home.   I had held it together once I knew F.X. seemed safe, but my sense of relief at his departure from New York was palpable.

He and Tommy and John rented a blue Ford LTD, slapped an American flag on the side window, and drove 1,600 miles straight in 25 hours, landing in Denver where the airport had just re-opened.  Wheedling their way onto the first flight out of Denver to San Francisco the next morning, F.X. and his friends made it home safely on Saturday morning.

My son had a scheduled soccer game at Larsen Park on 19th Avenue in San Francisco at 10 a.m., which F.X. was determined to attend and he did.  Our family felt overwhelmed and lucky and grateful and deliriously happy that F.X. had finally come home to us from work.

Tragically, 2,977 people did not receive this same consideration on 9/11.


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