Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Rifle


I was the little brother. My sister, Elaine, 16, called me Mikey. We loved each other.  To me Elaine seemed so very old. Our 1950’s family treated me as a little prince but Elaine was not raised as a princess. 

Despite the unequal treatment, Elaine never resented me.

We lived in Phoenix where western events were a big deal.

 Each year Elaine and I would go to the Annual Rodeo Parade together.

I was always so excited. Elaine and I would plan it all out.

“First we’ll take the bus downtown.”
“We can catch in on Indian School Road.”
“Here, Mikey, you should wear this red bandana.  Let me cuff your jeans.”

I told Elaine, “this year I get to be on a parade float with the Kinelworth elementary school.

Elaine hugged me as we plotted the day.
“We’ll go to Woolworth’s for lunch.”
“We’ll get ice cream at the big Carnation store downtown.” 

After the parade, we took the city bus home.  Elaine asked me to help her with her squaw dress. She was wearing some type of Indian costume for an event beyond the ken of her little brother.

We went in the backyard of our suburban home.  Elaine had a bright blue embroidered skirt hanging on the clothes line.

“Mikey, hold one end while I twist it.”
Elaine began to tighten and twist the dress to create special wrinkles
“Are you going to wear your silver concho belt?, I asked.
“Are you going to wear the turquoise bracelet.”

In earlier years, I had  been the annoying little boy listening in on the phone extension:
“Mikey, are you on the phone!!
“Get off!! I’m going to tell mom on you.”

I liked to make Elaine yell at me.  I never thought she was truly angry with me.

Elaine saw herself as my teacher on all things related to etiquette.
“Now, open the door and let the women enter first.”
“Help mom with her chair.”
“Always let women  go first.”

And then there was personal appearance.

“Stand up straight, Mikey.”
“Comb her your hair! You can’t go with me with your hair like that.”
“Throw you shoulders back. Don’t slump.”

I obeyed.  Elaine seemed to know the order of things and I listened to her.

As a 10 year old boy, I was generally not included in family decisions.  So it came as a surprise to me when mom and dad announced  we were moving to Long Beach, California. They explained, Elaine would stay behind and live with her friend Dorothy.  Elaine would finish her final year at West High..

Elaine promised, “I’ll write you and tell you about high school.” 
“Here, I have some stationary for you to write to me.”

I wondered what would happen with my big sister gone.
I felt she was leaving us.

After dark, our  stuffed 1951 Chevrolet pulled away from our driveway headed  California.  Without air conditioning, we always made this  desert trip in the night.

During the car ride, my  mother and father explained  the move. They had purchased a small business,  It was a delicatessen. .

Mom said: “we have rented a big apartment near the ocean.  It is close to where we go on vacation in the Summer.”

As a bonus, she explained, I could walk to the ocean and to my favorite Belmont fishing pier.

For years past, we had been going to Long Beach each Summer had been a huge treat for me and Elaine. Every day, I hunted the beach for shell and various treasures.  I was out all day, every day. 

Our car pulled up at the curb to our new home. The  apartment was done in a grand Spanish motif.  The outside stairs were  brightly painted  tiles with each stair level a different pattern of flowers.  A 12 foot yellow hibiscus grew along the stairway.

Inside,  the rough stucco walls had sconces that had once held gas lights but now were electric  The doorways were arched. The front door was a particularly heavy oak with a little black iron peek through window.

At the end of a long hall, I had my own room.  This seemed pretty fine to me.  Elaine’s room would be next-door.  But her room was empty for now.

I felt we had  begun a vacation. The apartment was so unlike our box-like home in Phoenix.

Among my most prized possessions  was my 22 rifle.  I had been a proud owner of a BB Gun in Phoenix but now I had moved up the gun food chain to a real 22.

My dad, taught me how to fire the weapon and clean it. He took me to gun ranges and often to the Arizona desert where I shot at the rusty tin cans sprouting up like the surrounding mesquite and cactus.

“OK Mikey,” lay down and hold the rifle like this.”
Dad lay on a blanket on the floor of the rocky desert. He bent his hat back, just so to shade his eyes.  

“You have to slowly squeeze the trigger and keep your target aligned .”

“There… good shot. You came closer this time!”
Ocassionaly I could hear the sound of the bullet hitting a can.

I was proud. I loved spending this time with my Dad.

Rifle instructions often included stories about his time in the Army. He had been in the 7th Cavalry when they still had horses. My dad had been a polo player.

I loved to take out his Army paraphernalia . He still had boots, spurs and a sword.

By the time we moved to  Long Beach, I had become reasonably proficient with my 22.  Mom and Dad were consumed with their new business, so I didn’t get out to practice and in Long Beach there was no desert.

Often while watching TV, I would take out the 22 and clean it. I would fondle the wooden stock and polish the metal parts. I liked the ritual of swabbing the barrel with gun oil.  I kept the 22 shells in the top drawer of my bureau and my stood my rifle in my closet.

My parents drilled me about gun safety. Even as a boy with a cap gun, I was forbidden to point it at another boy.  Of course I broke that rule, but, if caught,  I would always be admonished
“Never point a gun at a person.”

As soon as Elaine finished her last semester of high school, she came to live with us in the apartment.

I was so excited to have her back. Elaine could now drive. She took me shopping and bought a large yellow fishnet for me.  We bought a bamboo pole and she rigged it up on the wall of my room.

“There! Now you can hang your starfish and shells on the net!”
I was ecstatic.  My room was even more wonderful.

 Elaine  began community college and made new “college” friends. She met a lot of students in the performing arts.  She told me about plays and the actors she had met.  

Elaine seemed to suddenly be much older. With mom and dad at work and Elaine busy with friends and school, I was mostly alone.

When Elaine was home, she  and I often ate in a diner near our parents delicatessen .  There was no time for family dinners.

In the diner one evening, we sat at the counter
Elaine: “I’ll have coffee.”
Me: “Coffee!!” Elaine, you are having coffee!! I said a bit too loud.
The waitress smiled.
Elaine: “Stop it, you are embarrassing me.”

Despite her embarrassing little brother,  Elaine continued to do her duties as my big sister. Moving on beyond basic etiquette she enjoyed trying  to teach me to dance.  Getting ready for a 6th grade event of some kind, we put on music in the living room of the apartment.

Elaine would show me where to place my hands, how to move my feet as we turned our living room into a ballroom.

We laughed and danced around and around. Eventually we put on some very loud rock and roll and really began to stomp around.

“Boom, Boom, Boom”
Oh god, it’s Mrs. Ehrenkrantz downstairs. She has a broom out again!
We stopped but continued to giggle.

In the early evening, it was already  dark in November.  I was home with my mother. Dad was at work.  Elaine came home. We all began to talk about getting Pizza or going out to Delmonicos.  We lived two blocks from a busy street.

I was headed down the hall to phone for Pizza  when the doorbell rang.

My mom pulled open the door, not bothering to look through the metal grated box to see who is visiting.  She swung the door wide and a man walked in pushing my mother aside.
“You are Elaine’s mother.”
“I am here to tell you that I have bee watching her.  She is seeing some very bad people at City College! She’s hanging out with those no good kids in the theater!

I stood at the end of the hall. I put down the phone.  I could see my mother and sister were both frightened. He was a big man with backpack.  He was menacing.  I knew this was bad.  I felt afraid for mom and Elaine.

I thought: “I should protect them.”

He was much bigger than all of us.  I could sense the threat from my hallway vantage point.

“I want you to leave right now! “My mom said,
“But you have to listen to me. You are being a bad parent.!!”  His voice sounded angry and loud. He was screaming.  

I closed the door to my room. I could hear the argument continuing down the hall.

I got out my rifle and loaded a single shell.

I sat on my bed for a moment thinking what should I do?

My mind raced.  My imagination took me out in the hall with the rifle.

My rifle fired one shot at a time. If I took off the safety, I could fire it.

What am I supposed to do?  Should I shoot this man?

While I thought, I heard the front door slam.  He was gone. 

I discharged the shell and put everything away. No one knew about my little life defining melodrama in my bedroom.

After the event, Elaine became fearful to walk alone. Although I was still relatively small, Elaine wanted me to meet her at the bus stop and walk down our darkened streets.  If she needed to go out, I went with her. 

I felt older and bigger.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Laura Ann

Sarah was what we called seriously pregnant.  She was sitting on our thrift shop sofa in our Berkeley apartment.

“Come sit by me”

I sat on the couch collapsing the middle cushion. Sarah immediately tilted and started to fall on me.

We laughed.

I had just come home from my job in the hospital, I was still in my Army dress uniform, complete with my one little medal.

Sarah grabbed my hand and put it on her tummy.
“Its  really kicking hard.”  “Maybe the baby will come tonight!”
I asked, “Do you have any cramps?”
“No” “It’s just jumping around a lot.”

We were so excited.  None of our friends had children. Both of our parents lived far away.  So, it was just the two of us.  And we had Dr. Spock’s book on Common Sense Baby Care. 

We were going to have  our first child.  We painted our extra bedroom a bright yellow.  Sarah made curtains.  I assembled a crib. We went to garage sales to pick up things that would be good for our new baby.

I was happy  and worried at the same time.  What did I know about being a father?
We read our Dr. Spock book as if it was a bible. We were sure Spock would tell us what to do.

We were in full baby mania. That is all we talked about. It was November, we didn’t pay attention to the holidays or much of anything else, it was all: BABY BABY BABY.

Sarah picked the name: “I want to call her Laura Ann.”

Sarah seemed to be healthy and doing fine, yet I worried at every stage of the pregnancy. We took a natural childbirth class in downtown Berkeley.  We practiced breathing.  They showed us scary movies.

I wondered “Was I up to this?” I was sure Sarah could do it.
“Could I do this?” Could I be a father?

The next morning, I drove our  VW back to my work at Letterman General Hospital where I worked on the locked psychiatric ward as a social work technician.  Sarah had stopped working at the University. She stayed home. Waiting.

The Letterman psychiatric unit was a separate building from the main hospital.  I found my usual parking spot under the freeway and hiked up to “the unit”. Almost as soon as I was buzzed in through the big locked front door, my phone rang.  I closed the door to my tiny office. It was a very thick door and I could close out the ward sounds. 

“Specialist Gorodezky, Speaking Sir!” I said as I picked up the phone.
We enlisted Army folks always talked like that until we knew who was on “the other end of the line.”

“Its me, Sarah”

I took a deep breath, thinking this was it!  My 16 mile  morning drive had taken 1.5  hours in rush hour traffic. I thought:  If the baby was coming, I would have to drive back to Berkeley, pick up Sarah and then fight my way back to the hospital which inconveniently sat at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge.  I felt far away from Sarah.

Over the phone Sarah said,”
“I think this it. 
I’m not sure.”
Come back but don’t drive crazy. Be careful. I’m not sure.”

I got out my keys and let myself into the next ward to find Sergeant Embry.

“I gotta go home now Sergeant.”
He knew what was going on with Sarah.  Chuck Embry spun around in the hallway and said: “OK Mike, Get going!”  He had a big grin and was genuinely happy for me and Sarah.

I ran about a mile to my car, jumped in and started back to Berkeley. Panting, I tried to calm myself. The car radio music made me crazy. I had to turn it off to concentrate on getting home.

This trip only took 60 minutes. I ran into the apartment. Sarah had her bag and was ready to go.

“My water broke. I called the hospital they said we probably have time to get back into the City.”
I said, “How do you know your water broke?”
Sarah looked at me with that “You-can-be-so-stupid-look.”

We began to drive back.  Suddenly the traffic stopped dead.  I got out of the car to see what was happening. It was a long train.  I had never seen a freight train crossing University avenue. Never in the several years we lived in Berkeley. But there it was.
“Ok Mike, calm down.” Sarah said.  I might have been slightly freaking out.
“The train isn’t even moving”, I whined.

After  what seemed like an hour,  I heard the clanging of bells as the barriers rose and we could move onward.

We got to the hospital. I drove fast up to the gate, but then went very slow once I passed the flags and cannons.  The Presidio, where the hospital was located, was also the home of a school for Military Police.  They were very aggressive with speeding cars even when carrying a pregnant soon-to-be mother.

 Since I worked at the hospital, I knew how to get to OBGYN right away. I navigated the warren of little service roads behind the hospital. The  Maternity ward  was in some old wooden light green barracks.  

I knew the medic who took Sarah away in a wheel chair.
“Hey Mike!”
“Hey Charlie”
“Big day, huh! We grinned.”
Charlie,  told me to wait in the hall outside the double doors to the ward.

This was not the waiting room I had imagined.
No pacing men.  No men at all. It was just a long hallway with a bank of windows facing a parking lot. I was completely alone. Various people casually came and went but nobody was waiting.  Just me.

I spent my time worrying. I am a specialist at that activity.  I had nothing to read, no radio. I just that there and vacillated between the thrill of finally meeting our baby and the fear that something might go wrong.

The night before the trip to the hospital, I got up during the night and found Sarah watching tv. She was a bit weepy.  It was the story of a mother who had a baby that was ill.
“God! Why would you watch that now?!”, I said
“I just want to.”
“But why that”
Sarah continued to watch the melodrama. I went back to bed, confused.

In my hallway waiting room, the time seemed like hours. This time it was several hours..  Finally, a nurse came out and told me the baby wasn’t coming and they would wait a while and then if necessary they would induce it.

They let me in to see Sarah.

The Nurse told me, “You should just go home and go to sleep. We’ll call you.”

Sarah agreed, but said to the nurse: “You promise you’ll call him if I want Mike to come back.” “Right?”
The nurse smiled and promised.

I thought briefly about sleeping on the tile floor of nearby office in the Psych Ward, but, in the end, I drove back over the bridge home to Berkeley.

About 4 in the morning, I gave up trying to sleep and drove back to the hospital. I walked into Sarah’s room. She was awake.

She said: “I asked them to call you. Did they call?”
I shrugged “No I just was worried so I came back.”
“Well they are going to induce the baby.”

They sent me back to my empty hallway.  The hall had a long vinyl green couch with huge cushions. It had metal bars at each end. It was a real institutional treasure.  I lay on it briefly until an officer came by and told me to sit up.

A new morning shift was coming on and I recognized one of the interns who had just rotated through the psych unit.
“Hi Captain, Smitham,”
“Hi Mike,” I’m coming over to deliver my first baby.”

I thought, “that would be our baby!’

Another hour passed and Captain Smitham walked by me  still sitting on my couch.

“Don’t you want to see your wife and your baby?”, he asked.
“Oh, didn’t anyone tell you. You could have watched. The baby is fine”

I rushed through the ward doors, crashing them against the walls.
Sarah was sitting up, a bit groggy.  There was no baby nearby. 
Sarah said, “I just feel very tired. I’m ok. They said if I want to see the baby, I have to walk to the nursery, down the hall. “Let’s go see the baby.

I asked, “Is the baby o.k.?  Does she have all her fingers and toes?”
Sarah laughed. The baby was o.k.  I felt a rush of relief and joy.  I felt I could finally relax a bit. But only a bit. I was excited to see baby Laura.

When we got to the nursery, there were only a few babies there. A nurse handed our Laura to Sarah.

According to Army hospital policy in 1966 Sarah had to stay for 5 whole days regardless of how she felt. 

Sarah said, “I feel like I’m in jail.” “I want to go home now.”

On the fifth day of maternal incarceration, I had the day off. It was a Sunday.

Sarah, said “You have to go buy Laura a baby dress to come home in.”
I asked, “Where do I get a baby dress?”
Sarah ignored my question, turning to baby Laura.
“Just get it now, so we can go home.”

I drove off base to the big Sears store on Geary.  It was my first foray into dress buying.
“How big is the baby,” the clerk asked?

“I gestured with my hands?”
I was a in a foreign land, of sorts. The baby department.  I was amazed they had dresses for babies.
“She is about this long.”
The male clerk held up a dress. I grabbed it anxious to be out of the store and to get back to the hospital.

I returned to Sarah’s ward.  Now, on a Sunday afternoon the place was crowded with visitors with gifts of balloons and flowers.

Sarah yelled at me. “It’s yellow!!”  “Go back and get pink!  Laura is  a girl.”

“Really? I have to go back?”
“Yes Really!”
Another trip to Sears.

I returned with a pink dress covered with tiny, tiny white buttons.
A medic with huge hands more suited to construction work, began to try to put the squirming, crying Laura into the little dress.
“Damn it,” “hold still” , he cried.
He couldn’t hold the baby and do the tiny buttons.
Sarah sighed “Give her to me, “finally said as she rescued the  medic and the baby.” The medic and I watched as Sarah magically assembled Laura in her tiny pink dress.

As we left, the nurse casually explained that Laura’s clavicle had been fractured during delivery. They had used forceps. (Remember, Dr. Smitham’s first baby?)

The nurse went on
“Its no big deal, we don’t do a cast, just an ace bandage.  Come back in 3 days and we’ll check it”  I passively mumbled some acknowledgement, took our discharge papers  and we headed to our car.

We were given a case of Enfamil along with other things. I put the case on top of our VW, helped Sarah into the car. The medic handed the baby to Sarah and I drove off. Sarah held the baby in her arms. I went about 2 blocks before an MP stopped me to inquire about my case of Enfamil on top of the car.

We went home to our apartment and began to study our Dr. Spock paperback. Far from our own parents,  we felt alone. Just the 3 of us.  A new mom, a new baby and a new father.

I thought, “My god, what have we done. I don’t know anything about babies.”  Fortunately Sarah was the oldest of 4 children and she knew a lot about  the care and feeding of babies.

In a few days, we took Laura back to Letterman to have her bandage checked.  We were directed to the Orthopedic Clinic. It was an  area with perhaps 50 chairs in a waiting room.  That  room was full  of severely injured soldiers from the Vietnam war.   Many men were smoking. It was loud.

I showed the Sergeant on duty our paperwork.  He pointed to some empty chairs.
“OK, take a seat. Today is cast day, so I don’t know when you’ll get seen. We sat as far away from the crowd as we could.  I sat for only a moment.

I thought, now, I was not Specialist Gorodezky, I was Laura’s father. 

I stood up.
I checked my uniform.
 I walked passed the Sargeant who told me to
stop.  I whacked  through the DO NOT ENTER doors.  I walked into a hall filled with busy doctors and nurses.

I stood in the middle of the hallway.
I spoke in a loud clear voice.
Heads turned to listen.
“I have a 3 day old baby out there and I don’t think we should wait out there to see a doctor!

A nurse with Captain’s bars took me by the arm and lead me back into the waiting area.  She ecorted Sarah and I to bring Laura in to see a physician.

We silently  waited in an exam room, I began to understand a bit about becoming Laura’s father. I had a new important job. This job mattered.

The doctor arrived
As he removed the ace bandage around Laura’s shoulders, I asked
“Why is her clavicle broken?”
“What happened.”
The physician calmly and perhaps condescendingly answered:
Oh this isn’t unusual. It says right here on her birth certificate that forceps were used during delivery.  It was the forceps.”
“Don’t worry, this will heal quickly. Babies heal fast.”

Sarah held our fragile baby close to her.  I held on to Sarah. Our tiny family walked out of the clinic.

Laura did heal quickly.

Happy Birthday Laura Ann