Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Power of the Baby

I had only one brother.  He was six-plus years older than I was.  He seemed to have everything.  I looked up to him as a child.  He was successful at everything he did.  He always got “A’s” in school.  He starred in the plays at school.  He was the captain of the tennis team.  He got into Princeton, but just missed getting into Harvard.  He became a respected psychologist.  He married had a daughter and was loved by his family.
I believe in sibling rivalry.  My brother and I competed over my mother.  He was furious that I came along.  At first he did try and bond with my mother in taking care of me.  I was told that he would get up in the middle of the night when I cried, to make sure I was okay.  He cared about me.  I’m sure he had great intentions.  
The story goes that when I was born, my mother told my brother that it was time for him to step aside.  He had had almost seven wonderful years being the only child.  But now it was the Billy’s turn.  He was seven years older and dumped.  He retreated into his room.   
He was ambivalent about me.  He tried to love me, but then his competitive side would come out.  He would help me and he would then turn around and trip me.  
But this is about my competitiveness.  
It was the middle of the night.  We were all in bed.  My brother’s room was down the hall.  He had started adolescence and frequently had growing pains.  He would get what they called “charlie horses” in his calves.  The best thing for this was to have his legs massaged.  My mother would do this for him.  
I heard the noise.  My brother was having pains in his legs and mom was going to his room to massage them.  I remember being jealous that she was with him.   I felt an asthma attack coming on.  First the wheezing and the coughing.  Then the chest tightens even more and you have to fight for breath.  The more agitated you are the tougher it would be to breath.  
It only took a few minutes.  Shortly, I was lying with my head on my mother’s breast and she was stroking my hair and I was in heaven.  This is the power of the baby.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lesson in Health

I have been thinking about all the gifts I received from my Grandmother.  She was a great old lady and she loved me dearly.  I knew I was her favorite.  It may have been that I spent more time with her than her other grandchildren.  It may have been that I was her favorite daughter’s favorite child.  Whatever it was, she was always great to me.  
I have already written about her going through a reminiscing stage before she died.  For a couple of years before she died, she spent hours thinking about and remembering her past.  She gave me a sense of my own history through the memories she shared.  But other gifts she gave me were more tangible.  
I don’t think I ever visited her without her slipping me a five dollar bill.  In the 1950’s this was a lot of money for a boy.  I prized it.  She would always slip it to me when my mother wasn’t looking and she would wink.  That wink always told me we were co-conspriators in this money exchange.  
She taught me how to sew.  Not exactly a manly art, but one that has proved useful over the years.  She gave us a sugar cookie recipe that goes beyond anything else I have ever tasted.  She also gave me a sense of being responsible for your own self and perseverance.  
Weekly, Grandma would walk down to the end of her street and take the bus into downtown Rochester, N.Y.  She would take herself out to eat, she might catch a movie and she would shop.  When I was old enough, once or twice a year, she would take me with her.  It was an incredible experience going into the city, for a farm boy.  Taking the bus was amazing to me.  We would eat in cafeterias in the department stores.  Usually she would buy me a present.  Finally, we would go to a movie.  I distinctly remember her taking me to see a 3 Stooges Science Fiction movie.  For a 10 year old boy in 1960, it doesn’t get any better than that.  
My Grandmother was a big woman.  I have no idea what her weight would have been, but I can safely say she was fat.  Walking to the bus and walking downtown was really good for her.  However, one day, when she was walking to the bus, a kid on a bicycle knocked her down.  Because she was a big woman, this must have been quite the fall.  She was able to get herself up and make it home, but she was badly bruised and she had severely injured her knee.  
That winter Grandma rarely left her chair in my aunt and uncle’s living room.  She sat there for hours massaging that knee.  I would watch her rub it and massage it the whole time we would visit her.  She did this for the entire winter.  By Spring, her knee was totally healed and she was again taking her trips downtown.  If this were the end of the story, I would never have written it.  But that summer, when walking to the bus stop; again, a kid on a bicycle knocked her down.  Evidently, this was a more difficult blow, because she needed help getting home this time.  The same knee was totally out of commission.  She was reduced to using a walker that winter.  
My Grandma had perseverance.  This time it took her nearly a year of massaging and rubbing the muscles to heal the knee.  But she did it.  Some time later, she was again walking down to the bus stop and taking her jaunts into town.  
Now that I am getting older and feel the aches and pains in my body, I think about my Grandma’s perseverance and I am encouraged.  If there is something wrong with my body, it is my responsibility to fix it.  Doctors may help the healing.  But in the end, it’s my body and if I want to heal it, it’s up to me.