It was the night of June 25, 1956, and summer had just arrived. I was working as a lifeguard at a summer camp set on cliffs overlooking the southern Chesapeake Bay. It was one of the most beautiful nights I had ever known. As I walked toward the cliffs and past the cabins, I could feel the warm salt-air seabreezes. The night was punctuated by 'The Wayward Wind', sung by Gogi Grant, being played in one of the girls' cabins. The moon was rising in a black sky studded with stars, and I felt as if the world was mine.
I reached the cliffs and spent some time looking out over the Bay. Afterwards, I went back to my cabin and crawled up into my bunk. I remember thinking about how incredible the night was. I was 16, on my own, and the last thing that could occur to me was mortality.
In the morning I awoke early to take an ice cold shower, the only kind available. The sun felt great afterwards as I walked back to the cabin. The next big event of the day would be breakfast in the camp mess hall, but first I would have to make sure the campers I was in charge of were up and ready to go. As usual, there was teasing between the kids and me as we walked to the mess hall. I taunted them by telling them that they were wimpy city kids and before I knew it there were 10 of them on top of me. The food was always good and afterwards the kids would line up to buy snacks from the canteen.
Afterwards there would be a relaxation period. Some of the grand choices of the day had to be made by everyone--important choices such as whether to canoe or to join in a scavenger hunt. When I had been a camper in previous years, there was no doubt what I wanted to do, hang around the water. There was a whaleboat, canoes, and tidal pools to enjoy. I remember one summer at home that I had spent every single day of the summer at a swimming pool several miles away which had required long walks, or if I was lucky, a hitchhike.
This was a different time, however, and I was a keeper for campers. I would get some brief moments of swimming in the Bay later in the afternoon when the campers went swimming. I was hired primarily to work as a lifeguard but doubled as a counselor.
On this particular morning, however, I can't remember what activity I participated in--just imagine whatever you would have been doing on a beautiful sunny day at the Bay. Whatever it was, lunch at the mess hall soon rolled around. I remember eating well, as usual, and going out on the front porch afterwards--the porch extended the length of the mess hall. Again, the snack bar would be opened after which everyone would mill around or go back to their cabins until it was time for swimming in the Bay.
I went back to my cabin and changed into my swimsuit and went towards the water. To get there, I had to cross a wide stretch of newly-mown sawgrass which jabbed into my bare feet. Then I came to the cliffs overlooking the Chesapeake and walked down a long gangplank-type walkway to the beach.
On the beach there was one guard station and in the water, about 30 yards out, were two more situated on telephone-type poles set about 20-feet across. I climbed up on mine which was on the right looking from the beach. I sat there, with another guard to my right, while the campers were turned loose on the water. In order to monitor their safety, they were wearing their red, yellow, or green rubber wristbands we had initially given them, depending on their swimming proficiency. They had been tested the previous day.
The day was a particularly hot one. Contrary to what one might think, being on the water on a hot day can be even more uncomfortable than on land. We had neither guard umbrellas nor hats at our stations, as required by the Red Cross, to give us shade. The glare of sunlight sparkling off of the water had a hypnotic effect and compounded the conditions.
At any rate, we went to work. The usual coterie of girls began to congregate around my guard chair. I admit, however, that I enjoyed the groupies. I remember several campers who had been unruly and ordered them onto the beach. They were great kids and I felt sympathy for them but sent them out anyway. After about 15 minutes, they waded out and asked if they could get back in the water. I told them they would have to stay on the beach. They soon were back looking very remorseful and I subsequently relented.
I waited until after all of the swimmers were out of the water and off the beach before leaving my station. I noticed the other guard do a shallow dive off of his chair to cool off. It seemed like a way to cool off and I did the same. As I dove, I realized that my dive was not going to be as shallow as I had hoped. My forehead hit the bottom forcing my neck back. It stunned me as if I had received an electrical shock and I settled to the bottom of the Bay helpless on my belly. It was something I had not been through before and I realized I was in serious trouble.
In short, I didn't think that I would survive. The other guard had already left the water and went up the cliffs towards the cabins. Here I was, like a turtle, on the bottom of the Bay. For some reason, I chuckled to myself that I was not seeing my life go by before my eyes as people are led to believe. I held my breath as long as I could. I had prided myself in being able to swim several lengths of a swimming pool underwater while holding my breath--trying to emulate Polynesian divers.
I made an Act of Contrition, being Catholic, and hoping for the best. As my oxygen supply ran low, as evidenced by bubbles rising in front of my eyes, were thoughts of what drowning would be like. Would I black out immediately as I inhaled saltwater or would I suffer choking to death? The latter was not a pleasant thought but somehow I was relaxed.
The next thing I knew, I was looking up at a beautiful blue sky and being pulled towards the beach. It was the other guard who had noticed that I was not around as he walked towards the cabins. He went back to the cliffs and scanned the beaches for me. Thankfully, he thought to check the water whereupon he found me. I was pulled halfway onto the sand and he ran for help. Meanwhile, the waters would lift me with each wave and lower me down again.
A group of people including the camp nurse and camp director were soon there with a blanket to lift me onto a stretcher. After they determined how best to lift me they did so and carried the stretcher up the cliffs to an awaiting stationwagon. As the stationwagon drove away I saw my beautiful summer fade away . During the ride, one of the other counselors tried to reassure me that everything would be all right. He told me of a friend of his who had been temporarily stunned and paralyzed while playing football. I hung on to every word allowing denial to do its work.
Soon, we were at a small town in southern Maryland outside of a doctor's office. The doctor gave me a pin-stick test to determine the extent of the paralysis. Of course, I had no knowledge of how badly I was injured. I do know that it was decided that the small local hospital was not adequate for my treatment and that I should be taken to Prince Georges General Hospital. That would be a 90-mile journey. As we approached the hospital I told the ambulance crew where to turn and they said they knew the way. They went past the turn and subsequently asked me how get to the hospital.
As the ambulance backed into the emergency entrance, I could see my Mom smiling, knowing that I could see her, to put me at ease. Her face was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. I felt at home again. I can only imagine the pain she must have been going through. My Dad had not heard of what had happened to me and was still at work. He didn't find out until he came home. I can only imagine what my parents must have been going through.
They carried me into the hospital but would not give me any X-Rays because I hadn't been admitted by a doctor. Here I was, paralyzed, lying in a hallway awaiting X-Rays because of bureaucracy or more likely someone's stupidity. They finally did the tests. My memory becomes hazy after that, probably due to sedation.
I do remember seeing stainless steel drill bits above my head and a grinding sound about my head. Later on, I found out that they had put tongs (like ice tongs) into my skull with weights attached to them to keep my neck immobilized. I also remember being given the Last Rites by a priest. Someone was inserting a rubber tube into me, a catheter, but I had no idea of what it could be for.
I had strange nightmares in my sleep. One was of being carried in a bunk, with lighted candles on each corner post, down a long black corridor. The bearers were in monks robes. In another nightmare, I was walking up a hill near Landover Hills, my hometown, that I had traveled hundreds of times. As I neared home, I changed into a knotted ball unable to move either forward or backwards.
As my condition stabilized, I was allowed a visitor. One was a friend named Jackie Corkhill who promptly exited the room only to faint in the hallway. I was told that he couldn't stand the antiseptic smell of the hospital.
From this point on to sometime in the future, there is a huge void in my memory. I remember nothing about this period. Therefore, I will tell of things remembered.
I remember waking up alone in a semi-private with light blue walls. It was reassuring to see my parents and to receive strength from them. My Mother would put things in my hand from time to time and ask me to squeeze them--one thing in particular was a monkey on a string that would flip over if two sticks were squeezed together at the bottom. It was a terrible frustration to her that I couldn't or wouldn't try to squeeze my hand.
To make my stay more comfortable, they built a TV platform on the wall towards the foot of my bed on which they put a 19-inch TV. After a time, I began to feel comfortable in my surroundings. Friends from my school, which was very close by, would skip to visit me. There were five close friends in particular who made sure that I wasn't alone and they were dubbed the "Faithful Five" in a newspaper human interest story. Adrian LeBeau was the mainstay of the group. He would sit and scratch my head with a comb around the tongs where it itched incessantly.
The head nurse on the wing was Mrs. Rose. She was one of the nicest people I have ever known. Her tolerance of the comings and goings in my room had to have been monumental. There also was a resident doctor from Mexico City who would sit and talk to me at night and teach me a little Spanish to keep me occupied.
My Dad brought in my deer head to put on my wall after I had half jokingly said that it would look nice on my wall. He told me that a woman on the elevator looked at it and exclaimed "Oh, dear!". My Dad was and is the greatest.
Sometime during my three-month stay, my inactivity caused an adhesion to clamp off my intestines completely. My abdomen kept increasing in size and I was put on intravenous solutions only. The only water I could taste was through a piece of gauze with a small piece of ice in it. It came to a point when I could close my eyes and taste the ice-cold spring water that I drank when my Dad took my brother Jim and me camping and fishing in upstate Maine a couple of years earlier. I think it was the sweetest water I had ever tasted. As a result of the adhesion my weight went from 160 to 90 pounds!
My Dad later told me that after my abdomen had become extremely distended, I had started to go into convulsions. He said the resident, from Mexico City, said that I wouldn't make it unless he did something drastic. He rushed out of the room and returned with something resembling an ice pick. He plunged it into my stomach thereby releasing the pressure and saving my life. My Dad said it didn't take long for me to come back to normal. The doctor asked him not to mention the affair for fear of being reprimanded!
The doctor in charge had reiterated to my parents day after day that I would not make it to the next day. I can only imagine their feelings. I'm glad I wasn't in their shoes. It might be noted that at the time I wrote this that doctor had long since passed on.
At one point I had pleaded with the doctor to just "cut me open and find out what was the trouble". He told my parents it wasn't worth putting me through it because I wouldn't make it anyway.
According to my Aunt Florence, my Aunt Margaret suggested that my parents talk to her doctor, Dr. Deitz. According to her, they did and he became my doctor. The first thing he said to me was that they were going to "take me down the hall and do an exploratory on me". That was music to my ears. They did so and he told me that they snipped the adhesion and "everything went right through me".
Later on, I developed a case of double pneumonia from the inactivity. I told the resident they were wrong and that I was O.K. but he simply held up my hand and showed me my blueish fingertips. He said that it was because of a lack of oxygen. That sure shut me up. I was then put in an oxygen tent. I remember how sweet and pure the air tasted (not like the oxygen from a plastic tube near your nose).
I also became addicted to the Demerol. I looked forward to the floating and carefree feeling it gave me. When they started to cut down the dosage I remember yelling for a half a shot now and a half a shot later.
After I was considered stabilized, there had to have been talk as to what could be done next. I remember being shown a pamphlet on a rehabilitation facility in New York City. I was told that they did wonderful things there.
Plans were made to have an ambulance from the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department drive me to New York City. I had been in the hospital for 3 months and wasn't too sad about leaving home because I felt that I would be coming home rehabilitated. I didn't realize there are different forms of rehabilitation. A registered nurse traveled with me and the trip was uneventful until the ambulance blew a tire on the New Jersey Turnpike.
I wasn't taken to the rehabilitation center at first. I was admitted to the old New York University Hospital and was put in a fifteen-bed ward. There were many types of injuries such as burns, stab wounds, spinal injuries, and delirium tremors (also known as D.T.'s) in the ward. I felt a long way from home and thought of my family and friends who couldn't just stop by anymore. It was hot and noisy there. In a large city like New York everyone honks their horn at the least delay and the windows were the only form of air conditioning. There was a TV but it was all the way at the other end of the ward.
I was given a series of tests and was seen by a well-known neurologist, Dr. Cooper. The people were friendly but very noncommittal about my status. I was totally in the dark about my prognosis. There were "specials" assigned to patients who were helpless like me. There was a Fred Hawkins and a Sam Brockington who were "specials " in every sense of the word. Both had been cops in the Brownsville section of New York City--one of the toughest. They didn't give one any sympathy (at least noticeably). They did, however, manage to keep me from feeling sorry for myself. Most of my stay in the hospital was spent in trying to put some weight on me for the coming physical therapy.
There were some strange occurrences from time to time in the ward. One night I was awakened only to find a flashlight in my face. I asked the bearer what he was doing to which he replied "I had to see if you were alive or not". I can only surmise that he was an escapee from a mental ward. Another night a guy was rummaging through the next guys nightstand for, as he claimed, food for his visitors--at around 3 o'clock a.m. He was one of the patients with D.T.'s in the ward. At other times this patient would have fits trying to get someone to remove the "pink elephants" (no lie) from under his bed. Nighttime was sometimes very interesting.
I remember the day they brought in a new patient who had third degree burns over 75 percent of his body. He was around 20 years old and had just signed a contract to be a pitcher for the Washington Senators. His Mother showed me a picture of him before he was hurt. He had been a really good-looking guy. His Mother explained that a drunk ran a red light and exploded her sons gas tank. His doctor would come in around noon and change his dressings to everyone's dismay. The poor guy would scream horribly and the odor is indescribable. The other patients would throw their lunch trays food and all out on the floor in disgust. The poor guy was not able to close his eyes and he had to have drops constantly and to sleep they put a blindfold on him.
For a while there was a Turkish Air Force pilot next to me who had broken his back when his jet did a ground loop on takeoff. He was oddly enough Greek Orthodox (instead of Moslem) and his priest once asked me if he could rub Holy Oil on my feet, hands, and head and so he did and I said "Thank you". I remember the patient telling me that he felt all religions were circular and came together at a central point. I also was offered some baklava by one of his visitors.
I also remember my Uncle Tom's visit which I believe was just after he left studying to be a priest. It sure was good to see him. I remember he bought me a pink comb and that resulted in innumerable barbs from Fred and Sam such as "Oh, isn't he sweet with his pink comb!" or some such other cute remark.
Subsequently, after 3 months in that hospital, I was transferred over to the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (IPMR) on 34th Street and 1st Avenue. I had finally arrived at the place where they would cure all of my ills. The first step in my program was an evaluation of my condition and needs by the doctors, therapists, and social workers.
A program was set up for me which initially consisted of "range of motion" therapy to relieve any tightness in my arms, legs, and neck. Later the strengthening of same would be added to my daily program. Then occupational therapy to improve my coordination and functionality would be added to my schedule.
The range of motion sessions were relaxing and the therapists generally were very attractive. The therapy rooms overlooked the East River and in the morning the sun through the windows felt great. During this period I was not able to sit up in a wheelchair and had to be transported by a gurney.
Other activities involved being lifted onto a tiltboard which was gradually be raised towards a standing position until I would pass out. I had spent 6 months in bed and improving my circulation to a point where I wouldn't pass out was extremely difficult.
Finally came my big day to sit up in a wheelchair. A pair of Levi's were put on along with a tee shirt and as I was lifted into the chair something told me that the chair was going to be the best it could be. As I sat in the chair it was not soon until I passed out. What a miserable feeling to start sweating and then see nothing but white before passing out. This went on week after week and I would continue to pass out only to have my chair leaned back against the wall in the hallway until I came around. Then I would be set up again usually with the same results. All of the time, however, my sitting tolerance had been increasing.
After developing a tolerance for sitting I could start to get around and feel more independent. I finally was able to push the chair a little which was very satisfying.
There were all types of patients at the Institute. Some were quadriplegics (like myself) and paraplegics. Others were hemiplegics (stroke and head injury victims), arthritics, and emphysema. At the time, a number of the patients had been sent by the United Mine Workers union from injuries suffered while or as a result of working in the mines. There were a few with such minor problems as water on the knee or such.
One patient with water on the knee I remember was a priest who ran a rehabilitation center for the blind in Boston. Father Tom was a patient in my room. He hated for anyone to be cheerful in the morning which necessitated my yelling at him to "Wake up, Father Tom. The birds are chirping and it's a beautiful blue sky out today." to which he would reply by throwing the nearest thing he could at me. He really was a great guy except in the early mornings. One time he devised a prank for the newer doctors making their rounds. He took a simulated water faucet someone had sent him and attached it to his knee by wrapping Ace bandage around his knee to hold the faucet on. Then he mixed iodine and water in a glass ashtray which he placed underneath the faucet. When the doctors made their rounds several of them asked him what the device was to which he replied that he had water on the knee and when it swelled up he simply opened up the tap to relieve the pressure. As they walked out I could see their amazement as they talked among themselves with the experienced doctors chuckling to themselves.
Another colorful story involved two other roommates of which one was a quadriplegic from Puerto Rico (about 55) and the other was a paraplegic (about 40) of Italian descent who frequently used the phrase "Mamma Mia!" The Puerto Rican would tell the other fellow to shut up with the mamma mia's and they would argue with each other. One night the Italian guy crawled across the floor and in the morning the Puerto Rican woke up with a bloody nose.
In another case, two others and myself got in trouble for getting drunk. One of the guys, Whitey Covell, was a longshoreman who broke his back falling in the hold of a ship and the other had Parkinson's and could only walk backwards. Whitey was confined to a stretcher on his belly due to a bed sore. I stayed in my room while Whitey and the other fellow decided to go out on the town. To get around the fellow with Parkinson's had to pull the other on the stretcher backwards. The police were notified to be on the lookout for them and I can imagine what it must have sounded like on a police radio.
In the evenings there were a number of activities one could participate in. Volunteers would provide classes on painting, photography, or pottery etc. Once a week a first-run movie would be shown as Sam Goldwyn of MGM had been a patient there. At other times, some Off Broadway group would put on a show. I particularly remember one lady who would push a piano down the hall and periodically stop and play it while she sang in an ungodly voice. At least her heart was in the right place and I have appreciated her efforts more and more over the years.
The Institute also had a battery of psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to ensure that any emotional problems patients had were kept in check. They all seemed to be a strange lot. If you asked them a question they would merely respond with "What do you think about that?" or if you told them of a problem they would ask "How long or when did it first bother you?" One patient in my room, another young guy, would go down to the library and research a number of psychological symptoms of a seriously problemed individual and then relate these symptoms to his psychiatrist. Naturally they would be overjoyed with such an apparent case of a seriously disturbed person that they would come down to the room often to check on him.
The best source of assistance was the social worker who could communicate on an intelligible level. One lady in particular would come up with a positive suggestion for dealing with my feelings. I'm sorry that I can't remember her name as I really liked her.
All of their best efforts, however, could not allay my depression over my condition. Day after day I would push my chair to the top of an emergency stairway and sit there for an hour or more deciding whether or not to push myself over the edge and end it all. Finally, I would come to the conclusion that I probably would only make my condition worse--that thought was in retrospect probably a nice comfortable rationalization.
The thing that kept me going I now know were the visits I would receive from my Mom and Dad every weekend! I couldn't wait until the weekends would arrive and it was always wonderful to have them with me. They were my strength and made me feel at home. It is still hard for me to believe that they would drive all the way from the Washington area to see me every week. It was an amazing sacrifice. It had to have been a great sacrifice for my brothers Jim and Tom also after my injury also. I imagine they must have heard everyone asking "How is Johnny doing?" over and over again. With our parents visiting me in New York weekend after weekend they must have thought to themselves "What about me? Don't I count too?" I thank my brothers for what they went through.
One funny incident should be included here. Once, my father came up alone and normally he would have stayed at a hotel Saturday night. However, one of my roommates had gone home for the weekend leaving an empty bed. The rest of us said why don't you just stay here tonight? We asked the nurse and she said she'd look the other way. My Dad put on his red pajamas and crawled into bed. The next morning, we found out from him that a couple of attendants had turned him during the night thanking that he was a patient. He pretended to be asleep all of the while and he had free a free bed for the night.
It should be mentioned that after my parents arrived I subsequently would take my frustrations out on them and I have always regretted that. I would act like a spoiled brat and I'm sure that Mom and Dad would wonder what they were doing wrong. Actually, they did everything right as much as humanly possible--it was me that was the problem. That's something I can't ever erase from my memory although I'm sure they understood in time.
Many years later when I was at the Institute for a checkup this experience would serve to save another Mother the agonies she had been going through at the time. Her son had been driving with some high school friends when he suffered a broken neck in an accident as they rolled down a hill. His Mother would come to visit him every day from Staten Island only to have him yell at her and sometimes call her names.
After a number of days of this she sat down next to my bed, pulled the curtain, and began to cry. She said in a sobbing voice "I don't know what I am doing wrong!" I replied that she was doing everything that she should do and shouldn't feel bad about it. She replied that she couldn't make him happy and I told her that he was only taking out his frustrations about his problems on her because he knew she loved him and he could get away with it--and he couldn't do that to the hospital staff. She asked how I was so sure. I only had to say that I knew because "I did the same thing to my parents when I was first injured." after which an incredible smile came over her face and she hugged and kissed me. I don't remember cussing at my parents however (at least I hope that I didn't).
At one point during my initial rehabilitation, I had been given the use of an electric wheelchair. One day I had a spasm and fell partially over the side of it with my side hitting the control button which had the effect of banging my head into a locker over and over again. I called for help for a considerable period with no avail. Finally, one of my roommates, a young fellow from Pittsburgh who was a paraplegic resulting from a hunting accident, came in on a stretcher (on his stomach because of a sore butt) and he slid off like an alligator and grabbed the back of my pants until more help arrived.
Afterwards I began to have intense burning sensations in my hands which were relentless and excruciatingly painful. Every morning I would wake up hoping for the best but the burning would resume and continue incessantly. Some days later I started to get headaches which grew more and more severe the longer they lasted. Eventually they grew to a point where they felt like someone hitting me in the back of the head with a baseball bat over and over and over again. The pain became so intense that I started screaming for help. I eventually blacked out only to wake up in the middle of the night with a doctor sleeping on a cot next to me. She explained that I had just gone through several seizures and that the oxygen was in case of another.
Brain scans were done and some damage was found, from banging my head against the locker although never so stated. As a result I was put on Dilantin (an anti-seizure medication) and Phenobarbital, an accompanying medication.
The fellow from Pittsburgh was a great guy and at the time we had several young people in our room and had some fun. There was one staff nurse that we used to drive out of the room with one of our old standbys. When she walked in we would all start humming, at different pitches with the sound of airplane engines, which would continue until they had the desired effect of driving her back out of the room in disgust.
I'll mention briefly that while in New York I got to meet Perry Como (after visiting his TV show) and Ann Southern as she visited the rehabilitation center--I didn't even recognize her when I talked to her.
After thirteen months in New York I was considered "rehabilitated" and was sent back home. At first I was transferred to good old Prince George's Hospital until some arrangement for my home care could be made. I remember that after I arrived at the hospital I wanted to go back to New York because I was afraid that I couldn't manage without the routine I was used to. I underestimated my parents as usual. They say that the older you get the more intelligent you realize your parents are and that certainly has proved true in my case.
Subsequently, I went home and I remember sitting out back in the dark that night and listening to the symphony of the crickets and others. What a beautiful sound they made, especially after not hearing a cricket for thirteen months. I had to sleep on a bunk in the dining room as the bedrooms all were upstairs. To this day I still have an affinity for the little chirpers.
I finally got to be with my family and see my friends again. The seizures that I had in New York, however, had caused partial amnesia and it was embarrassing when I could remember many of my best friends' names. I was invited to a party where many of my friends were and I knew their faces but could not remember their names. The best I could do was pretend as if everything was fine and wait for someone to mention a name.
It was fun being with them again. However, I felt as if I had lost my bearings. Much of my youth had passed me by and I knew that they had experienced the things I had missed. Youth is an extremely fragile and temporary thing that ends before we know it. Much of the evening was spent in pretense about being just one of the group while the inner part of me said to keep hoping things would improve.
I remember going off down to the drugstore by myself in my electric wheelchair. I remember knocking things off of the shelves by accident. On the way home, a fuse blew and I was left sitting on the side of the street in quite a dilemma. Luckily, some young kids came by and I asked if they would push me home. They were really nice kids and I think they had a ball pushing me home.
I went back to high school for my senior year. Everyone was great to me there. My French teacher would tell me to go out into the hall and practice pushing my wheelchair. I would push myself down to the drama class and sit around watching rehearsals. It was quite a change from being at home all of the time after being in New York so long.
I finally graduated from high school in 1958. It was sad knowing that I probably wouldn't see most of my friends as they went on to other places. I'm sure everyone has had that same feeling.
After several years of doing virtually nothing, I was convinced by my high school counselor who continued to help me out, that I should go to college. My father emphasized the same saying that my mind would vegetate if I didn't do something with it.
I entered the University of Maryland in 1961, taking a variety of courses. I found economics and advertising (marketing) to be interesting and I settled on a major in economics. I had been away from high school so long that I had forgotten my high school math. I took a no credit course in math that reassured me about my intelligence as I received a B+.
The whole campus was not set up for someone in a wheelchair. For some buildings, I had to go down steps and then up steps or vice versa. In one building, students would help carry me in my chair up about four flights of stairs. They were always great about it and I owe them a big thank you.
I graduated in 1967 with Governor Agnew of Maryland giving the commencement address. That's when the fun began--looking for a job. I wanted to enter the Federal government because my father had worked for it. I studied the Federal Service Entrance Exam study booklet and had the types of questions down pretty good. I was told by a friend that I ought to have an interview at her company, IBM. I agreed and she set it up saying that there would be no testing involved initially. I went to the personnel department and spoke with the interviewer a while and he then told me that I needed to go for testing. Naturally, I hadn't prepared. He sent me over to their "secret" (I'm not kidding) testing room that was a back room of a shopping center with no markings. They brought out the test booklet and it had virtually the same questions as in the Federal study booklet. I completely went blank--I had never felt so stupid in my life. I never even bothered to ask them how everything turned out as I already knew.
Finally, I was interviewed for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and was sent around to different division chiefs and they asked the normal questions. However, one division chief (Jack Strickland--who later became the Dallas Regional Director) asked me if I had any hobbies. I told him that I raised tropical fish. His eyes lit up and said he had something to show me. He grabbed my chair and wheeled me down and around all over the place through one room after another until we reached a small room in the center of a huge building. He had put his tropical fish in there! He said that he was told not to keep them in his office. I really liked him.
Subsequently, I received a call telling me that another interview had been arranged. I was told to bring my writing gadget this time. I entered the room and, my God, there were about ten people sitting around a long table with the Associate Commissioner sitting at the other end of the table. They asked me to write in little boxes, to show how I could turn pages in a book or in a computer printout, if I could manipulate a mechanical calculator, and so on. Well, I did the things they wanted me to and they told me, "Thank you, Mr. Lacombe." Later, I was called to tell me that there wasn't anything for me--pretty demoralizing!
That left me waiting for an interview from someone else for about six months. I had put my name on a list for vacancies in the Federal government. After a frustrating wait, I received a call from the Bureau on a Friday asking me if I could start working Monday. That was April 15, 1968. That was one of the happiest calls of my life--finally I could join the human race. I had felt left out of things as I sat in the yard watching people come home from work. To this day, I haven't met anyone in the Bureau of Labor Statistics I didn't like.
In 1969, however, I had to take a couple of months for an operation in New York. It was a rather serious operation (about seven and one-half hours) but luckily I had Dr. Pablo Morales handling things at New York University Hospital. I have always believed him to be the greatest.
In my early career, I received an award for Outstanding Employee of the Month. Unfortunately, however, my brother had decided I should have a haircut the previous night. I asked if he was sure he could do it and of course he replied in the affirmative. Well, I turned out looking like one of the Three Stooges. I wondered why the Associate Commissioner asked me if I wanted to comb my hair or something when we were all invited into his office. I then understood his comment, after the photographer came in and the award was announced.
In 1979, I was voted the 'Outstanding Handicapped Employee of the U.S. Department of Labor Nationwide.' I'm sure that helped make up for some of the suffering my parents had been through. They were guests of honor. The ceremony was held in the Department of Commerce auditorium with a presidential honor guard. Eleanor Holmes Norton gave a beautiful speech. I invited my parents and 10 of my fellow workers to a dinner at the Senate Office Building dining room. Several days later, the same was true of a dinner at the Officers Club at Bolling Air Force Base. It was a proud moment in my life.
I had a number of people helping me out through college and work but one of the best person who ever helped me out was a fellow named Norman. He was fun to have around. He was an actor (all show biz through and through) and had the greatest personality of anyone I've ever known. He always had a humorous comment for every occasion--probably a line he read out of a playbook.
He had a dinner theater that I saw him pour his soul into for 5 years until it finally failed. The owner of the building made sure that he got all of his money plus and Norman had to take the leftovers. His wife submitted him, as a prank, as a contestant for Mr. AM Washington (a parody of the Miss America contest) on the Washington affiliate of ABC. He'll hate me for telling you that story. The sucker won! He also won a Howard Stern look-a-like contest.
In 1972, I purchased a 31-foot custom built trawler. It was a real beauty with a Monterey hull and a 37-horsepower Perkins diesel engine that purred like a kitten. It had a true displacement hull and even doubling the horsepower would only get about two percent more speed out of her. Anyhow, the "Belly Dancer" (so named because of its round belly made for ocean travel) became my life.
The boat was delivered, partially unfinished, with a nice note saying "John, I hope you enjoy the boat. It's the last one I'll ever make." He must have worked hard to keep his boat-building company going but the hurricane flooded his plant and a chief carpenter cut his thumb off. We received a call from the boat transport company because he wasn't allowed to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge because the boat was a wide-load not allowed during the daytime. A next door neighbor and my father, along with a couple of other friends, drove down to Seward's Marina to run the boat across the Bay. It seems as though a couple of motor mount bolts were missing and after some corrections, my beautiful Belly Dancer was ready to go. The three of us watched as they left the dock to go over to Anchor Marina to watch them arrive in Selby Bay off of the mouth of the South River.
We waited for quite some time knowing that it was quite a journey. My worrying was really getting to me as late evening arrived. My friends tried reassuring me and it eased my mind to some degree. Finally, we watched as they approached the Marina. Bob Holt went down to greet them as they backed into the slip. Then, his wife and I noticed people scurrying all over where the new boat was pulling in. I became extremely worried. Bob's wife asked if I wanted her to check and see what was happening. She went down to the slip. She came back with a distressed look on her face--she said nothing. I asked, what's happening? She responded with, "Do you really want to know?" I said, dreadfully, "Yes!" She then told me, "Your boat is sinking." All of those months waiting for the boat of my dreams and this is what it came to.
Things weren't as bad as they seemed at first glance. The shaft had pulled loose the first time the boat was put in reverse. Water was coming in through the shaft hole in the stern. They put pumps on her and shoved her aground for the night. No damage had been done. The culprit was a set screw that held sections of the shaft together. It hadn't been tightened enough. Thank, God my father decided not to test the gears, as his friend had suggested, in the middle of the Chesapeake. After a lot of modifications by my father and brother, Jim, the boat was ready to go. It sure got a lot of use, too.
Just about every weekend was spent on the Chesapeake Bay fishing or cruising. My father always used the same corny jokes on my friends. Some wild times were spent there on the Bay. Once, we had caught 47 rockfish and it was a beautiful calm flat day until after we started back to the marina. A half an hour later it was black and the water was crashing up over the top of the boat. With only one engine to depend on that can be really scary. We cut across Thomas Point in about five feet of water and noticed a huge cruiser (over 50 feet) following us in not knowing where they were. We managed to wave them off.
Another time, we left the pier thinking that the fog would lift as noon rolled around. We noticed a string of boats being led back to the docks by one with radar. Someone on one of the boats yelled, "You'll be sorry!" We went on going and started fishing off of the dropoff with Thomas Point as our landmark. Out of the fog would appear a sailboat like a ghost ship-reminding one of the movie with Edward G. Robinson. In the movie, he as the captain in which the ship sailed through a thick fog. After a fruitless day, we headed back. I told my father to head west into five feet and then turn towards the north and then keep us in about five feet of water. One fellow started panicking and yelling that we were heading all of the way across the Bay to the wrong side. I just couldn't convince him to pay attention to the compass. We finally got back to the marina and it was a memorable day although we probably shouldn't have gone out. You just hate to waste a day when you're paying all of the costs that go with having a boat.
Once while fishing up near the Chesapeake Bridge(s), the weather started getting rough. So we started heading into a safe mooring area at Sandy Point State Park at the end of the bridge. We noticed a sailboat with his mast caught under the bridge. He later confided that he had been afraid he would break up on the rocks. He started throwing kids from a summer camp over the side with their life vests on. Somehow, he figured they would drift over towards shore although that wasn't very likely. Another boat came along and started pulling these children out of the water--one after another. He wound up with about nine kids in their pre-teens to their early teens in his boat. It was then that his engine shut down. Seeing him in trouble, we threw him a line and pulled him into the safe mooring area. His adrenaline was pumping away as he related his story. It's hard to believe that there are so many boaters on the water such as the fellow with the sailboat but it's not unusual. People just don't have enough respect for Mother Nature and always seem to feel it can't happen to them. I'm speaking as one who has been foolish on the water also.
Most of our days were spent pleasantly and without incident with the exception of a broken fan belt here and there. One such time, my Aunt Florence (who had been a Baptist missionary in India for 19 years) asked some of her missionary friends out on the boat. Well, as luck would have it, our fan belt broke. Several weeks earlier, a friend of mine had told me about using pantyhose for a fan belt. Therefore, I proceeded to ask if anyone had some pantyhose I could use. Naturally, my Aunt's jaw dropped in disbelief that her nephew could embarrass her in front of her friends. Her missionary friend's wife said she had an unused pair in her pocketbook. We twisted them and made it safely back to the marina (albeit slowly).
I found one of the best friends a person could have at about this time in the person of Ken Hoffmann. I met him at work. He has always been there when I needed him. He has been the proverbial thorn in the side at times but only when I needed it. He would nag at me to get a checkup and finally I'd take his advice. It seems as though poor Ken always had his head in the bilge fixing sometime such as a fan belt. All of our days weren't spent like that, however, and we obviously enjoyed each other's company.
Once he kindly offered to paint the cockpit of the boat and the bilge also. It was wet standing in that cold bilge water and he did it all the while I acted as sidewalk superintendent. I kept varying my comments about this spot here and so on. After several hours of this he finished and climbed up onto the dock. He then made the comment that I didn't realize how close I came to being pushed over the side of the pier.
In short, I've seen days I thought would never end as James Taylor sings but I wouldn't have traded them for anything. They were times of good friends, good weather and just good old enjoying life. You can't ask for much more than that. I finally sold the Belly Dancer in about 1991 although I hated to. However, life must go on.
Probably one of the most traumatic events in my life was the death of my Mother on January 14, 1985. I was completely dependent on her and there was an incredible bond between us. The last words I heard from her were "It's my heart." It was in the morning as I was in bed that I heard strange voices in the living room. I yelled to see what's happening. She made them let her off of the stretcher and she walked into my room and kissed me on the forehead saying, "It's my heart." That's the last I ever saw of her alive. My whole insides screamed silently for weeks. I still miss her so much. The only thing that helps is knowing that she's watching over me somewhere and that she's in a beautiful place.
Something one of my friends told about his Mother's death helped me immensely. He told her she was still right here in his head. He could call her back whenever he wanted. I've never forgotten that. Thank God I had some wonderful friends who were there when I need them. My friends at work were always there for me to cry on their shoulders. They were incredibly supportive.
Coming home from work was never quite the same after that. There was no more yelling "Hey Mom, what's for dinner?" My dad took over the chore and I really loved him for it. Mostly, it was a menu of TV dinners but a steak every now and then. He took my Mom's death awfully hard and I never gave him a hard time again about anything. I felt spoiled and guilty about the demands that I put on my Mother and was determined to never act that way again to help repay her. I now never forget to tell people I love them.
Because of my Mom not being around to take care of me during the evenings and on weekends, I had to get people to help out through agencies. That was a nightmare. The agency would come out and promise that someone would always be there if someone else couldn't make it. They were supposed to be there at 8:30 a.m. In the morning and no one would show up. I'd call the agency and they'd say that they'd see what had happened and have someone out right away. I'd call at 1:30 in the afternoon, and they would tell me that they were still trying to get someone. They would send out totally incompetent people who didn't know a urinal from a bedpan. I'm not kidding! I won't go into details, but some of them were totally off of the wall and could be injurious to your health at that.
Once they sent out a woman who told me that I would have to wear pajamas. I refused as they would cause wrinkles and add to the chance of bedsore. She later told the agency that I wanted to lie around naked at night. This I found out after a question from the rehabilitation nurse at the insurance company. She had an inquiry from the supervisory nurse at the agency who stated that one of the attendants complained about my not wearing pajamas and that I made her watch dirty movies. The movie she was referring to was on broadcast TV and was "Blame it on Rio," that I watched with my father one night. No one even asked that she stay in the living room and watch. She was a Jehovah Witness and I'd hate to judge others by her. These kinds of things were unending until I finally cracked.
One night an ignorant attendant told me that I was going to have to have a draw sheet on my bed and that was that. I told her it wasn't good to have wrinkles under me and I wasn't going to have it. She told me I had nothing to say about it. The next morning, I called my cousin Anne (a social worker) and she came right over. She took one look at me and asked if I was going to have a seizure because I was shaking so severely. I said no and she said we're going for a ride. She shoved me in my van and we just drove around as I wound down.
Finally, I had recovered and put an ad in the paper for an evening attendant. I went to work and during the day received a call over my speaker phone. It was one of the sweetest voices I had ever had and I couldn't wait to get home that night. Her name was Wanda. In the evening she stuck her head around the corner of the hallway and with a beautiful smile, said "Hi!" Then I knew everything was going to be better. We hit it off wonderfully. She did take advantage of my kindness, however, and borrowed some money many years later which hasn't been fully returned yet. However, I really haven't had problems (knock on wood) getting people through ads yet and she came into my life when I really needed her most so who cares about the monetary aspect when you look at it that way.
The best example of this was Emilia who had been in this country for 16 years. She started helping me out about a month after Wanda came out. Originally from Portugal, she has made quite a life for herself and is the little Mother. She had seen me go through an awful lot of pain and has there to help me. She is part of the family to my Father and me.
Norman finally left upon receiving an offer he couldn't refuse. He had been offered the job as the manager and artistic director at a large dinner theater in Manassas, Virginia. I really hated to see him leave as did my friends at work. He was so well thought of that everyone at work threw him a retirement luncheon at a restaurant in Arlington. He did well there except the owner became ill and had to sell. That left Norman without a job. He still works directing and, I guess, acting. I rarely see him, however. He has been on a number of TV shows and in some well-known movies in smaller parts. He even gave Hollywood the good old college try, but he finally saw the futility in competing with the would-be stars that arrive there daily by the hordes.
I put an ad in the newspaper to find someone to replace Norman. A fellow named Evan called. He came out to the house for an interview. He was 6 foot 7 inches in height! He had gone to the Chicago Art School and was brilliant. He could paint, sculpt, write poetry, cook and even build a house. He had an offbeat sense of humor and fun to be around most of the time. However, he was frustrated because he wasn't doing his painting. That caused a lot of hostility. Once as he went on and on during our drive to work, I told him I was going to buy him a sweatshirt reading "Shut up and paint!" He cracked up. We finally had a parting of the ways after several years, however. It wasn't what I had wanted, but I guess it had to be.
It was about this time that I started having abdominal problems. I'm not quite sure why except that I had gone through an awful lot of surgeries that cause adhesions. It got so bad that I would double up on my desk at work and often had to go down to the health unit to lie down for an hour or so. I would only eat part of an egg in the morning and only about a third of my dinner. I was constantly in pain. I went to a gastro (whatever) doctor and pleaded with him to do an exploratory. No luck, he wouldn't do anything because he said it would just cause more adhesions for a partial blockage. Another surgeon told me just about the same thing.
I suffered through this for three years. I would wind up in excruciating pain and would have to be taken to the hospital and go through decompression (having a nasal gastric tube). That would keep me in the hospital for four or five days. That must have been the routine about once a month. In the meantime, I had lost so much weight that you could play the xylophone on my ribs. My face looked terrible. I called New York to Dr. Morales and told him that I couldn't live like that any more. He said that I should come up for a general checkup and he would have the general surgeon of New York University Hospital go over my case. They removed the adhesions and I've been able to eat just about anything since.
A serious problem arose during that last stay, however, when I had a ruptured artery in my stomach. It is called a Mallory-Weiss tear I believe. It probably arose from having that decompression tube so frequently. I required 22 pints of blood over a relatively short period and almost didn't make it. I won't go into the painful things that happened except to say it wasn't fun. There was a nurse at the foot of the bed hand pumping blood into me and I then told her, "Now I'm scared." She later told me that she was more scared than she had ever been while working in intensive care. I spent a month lying in bed after that. I was sent home in an ambulance and was just skin and bones. I saw the look on my brother Jim's face and felt for him. It must have been rough for him seeing me like that. I was home though and that was a great feeling.
It took a couple of months before I could return to work. My workmates surprised me one day by sending out a belly dancer. My father really got a kick out of that one when she sat in his lap. Some embarrassment occurred when the parish priest knocked on our front door with the sounds of Arab music filtering through the door. It was opened and he walked in as the belly dancer hurriedly packed up her gear and exited gracefully. The good Father stated that he should come over more often. That eased things quite a bit.
Slowly I healed and got back in my usual swing of things at work. It was good to be back with all of my friends--abuse and all. I say that because there is one particular fellow who has always come up with a great put-down. Once I asked him how to do something on the PC just for the sake of knowing how. He asked why I wanted to know and I responded that "I want to be all that I can be." He replied by asking "Why set your sights so low?" Another time, he referred to the as a "great residue of knowledge." Good old Douglas Leroy never missed a chance but I love him anyway. I should add that he has always been one hell of a friend. He picked me up once to watch a fencing class he attended and took me to other places too. Those are the things that one doesn't forget.
I probably owe him one of the more hilarious events in my life. He was instrumental in getting me to a nightclub in Virginia where we met some coworkers. We went there to hear the "Seldom Seen." We were seated at one particular table and during our stay the waitress told us that James Brady often sat at this table on Thursday nights. The musical group arrived and walked behind me. During their performance, one of them started talking and said that "I want you all to give a good friend of ours who comes here a lot a big hand. Let's give a the hand to James Brady." My friends all started trying to waive them off frantically to know avail. The patrons stood up and applauded me. We all cracked up. The waitress came running out and asked what happened because everyone was laughing so hard in the kitchen. I told her that I was sitting in for James Brady.
Another time, I was at the Hot Tin Roof, on Martha's Vineyard. the guy was taking care of me and his girlfriend were dancing as I sat alone sipping my Bourbon and Coke. All of the sudden someone grabbed me from behind and put his face around and said, "Hi, I'm Ted Kennedy and I'd like to get to know you." We chatted for about five minutes or so and he stated that he had to get back to his group. A couple of hours later, the same happened as he left and he said that he hoped I had a good time. I always thought that was nice of him.
Another evening I spent at the Crossroads that was a country music place--the former home of Roy Buchanan. I sat there enjoying myself with my friends, a D.C. detective and his girlfriend. An overweight individual walked up to me and asked me to dance. I thought it a nice gesture considering I was in a wheelchair. However, she then asked if I ever went backpacking! I always met someone interesting in that place. Once a fellow who was inebriated asked if he could sit at my table as my friends danced. I said sure. Then he proceeded to make statements like, "You sure bring a pain to my heart. It must really be hard. I've really got a lot of respect for you." It's a nice gesture but I've always wondered what a drunk thinks when he says things like that. Is he sincere or is it just the liquor talking for him. I guess I'll always wonder about things like that.
A childhood friend from a couple of houses down the street (the proverbial girl next door) went on to bigger and better things. Her name was Becky Beers (professionally Rebecca Street) and she was absolutely exquisite in every way. Her golden hair was as golden as "the wheat fields" mentioned in 'The Little Prince.' When I first knew her I thought that she was too young for me. In later years, I saw her as more than that. I was in New York for a checkup at New York University Hospital while she was working as a model in New York. I'm not sure how we got together but we did and spent a marvelous evening at Brews on 34th Street. We talked for hours and hours and I remember having 13 bourbon and Cokes. I remember that she said she was tired of the city, after being there for two years. I replied by saying, "Why don't you come home." She did and we visited and went out to local nightclubs and once drove to Rehoboth Beach during the off season for a drive.
She later married a nice fellow and moved to France. She then moved to California and I imagine that's where she started acting. She divorced and later married a psychiatrist. That's after she made a name for herself by becoming a big hit on the 'Young and the Restless' and was a regular for two years until they killed her off with AIDS. I've seen her in several movies and in numerous advertisements since. It's amazing to think of that beautiful little girl next door becoming so grand. She wrote the most beautiful letter I've ever received when my Mother passed away. I'll always miss her but doubt that I'll ever hear from her again.
Probably the most impressive person I've met was David McCullough (next to my Mom and Dad, of course). He wrote "Path Between the Seas" and "Teddy Roosevelt on Horseback." You'd probably notice him by his series on PBS, "Smithsonian World." I met him on Martha's Vineyard when my cousin introduced me to him. My cousin's daughter lived with them for a year while going to a Catholic school in Georgetown. David McCullough has met just about every "great" in the world while doing Smithsonian World. It's just amazing to me to imagine his meeting so many incredible people in every field of endeavor and be able to pick their brains.
Another memorable time in my life was getting an electric wheelchair again. That was in 1989. The old one had worn out years ago and I had to be pushed everywhere I went. You can't imagine the independence that gives you. On one beautiful sunny day I took off down a back road and felt just like a little kid exploring the world for the first time. I just couldn't get over how much I had missed by not having such a chair. Now I'm dangerous.
That's about enough of my story of beautiful memories and of my tale of "sorrow and woe.". It is a never-ending battle to maintain my health but I'm determined. Currently, the shop where I've worked for 28 years is being axed. I've been selected by another group that I consider to be a real complement. It would mean learning several new programs all at once. I'm not sure that's the process I want to follow. I feel obligated to them, however, as they have put their faith in me. The new group is full of really nice people. I've always considered the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be my extended family.
One of my best friends, Bill Davis had just retired. I've known him for 28 years and I'll miss him dearly. With all of this going on, I started thinking about retiring. Probably the biggest incentive was, that if I decided to retire, I could spend more time with my Dad and enjoy the warmth of the summer sun. Those are things I haven't been able to do for most all of those many years because my leave was always spent in the hospital. I've always felt like I owed the Bureau something (and I do, immensely) but maybe it's time for me to be good to myself.
I finally made my decision. I decided to retire effective June 3rd of this year on an early retirement. I'm happy and my father is happy about it. Now, I can enjoy the summertime and maybe even take a computer course at Maryland. I'd love to learn more about this medium. There is so much to learn, however, but anything is on the plus side.
June 3rd arrived before I knew it. My coworkers gave me a number of beautiful farewell speeches (unfortunately extemporaneously so I don't have a record of them) but they were beautifully said.. Mike Cimini (my former supervisor and always a friend) spoke some really complimentary words and then Ken Hoffmann who has been an incredible friend over the years, also spoke incredibly beautiful sentiments which brought tears to my eyes. However, another speech was prepared by John Steinmeyer. Fortunately, I still have these beautiful sentiments to treasure. A number of gifts were presented to me and a plaque which reads as follows:
I was left looking forward to my retirement luncheon as it had to be postponed. I wasn't feeling well that day. My retirement was more traumatic than I realized. I was leaving my extended family--I had and still have so many wonderful friends there.
I planned a visit with my cousin and her husband and my good friends in Martha's Vineyard in mid-August which gave me something to really look forward to. Next to being home with my father, it's my next favorite place and I longed for the day when my departure for the Vineyard arrives.
My ferry tickets arrived July 9 and I got more excited about my visit to the Island as each day passed. I started to feel like a kid again getting ready for camp.
My second retirement luncheon (I missed the first) was held July 26, 1996. If was held at the D.C. Brewery located in the Postal Square Building where I worked. The camaraderie was great as was the food (although I didn't try the beer--$4.74 per!). I guess that more or less ends my Federal career.
I went to Martha's Vineyard but it has changed so much in 10 years. Several factors changed the way I looked at the Island. My family and friends had started their own businesses and were tired by the end of the day not to mention that they were older. The publicity the Island received from Presidential vacations has brought too many visitors to the Island. Too many people and too many cars to keep the mystical quality that the Island used to have. Its landscape is beautiful but it is being destroyed slowly but surely. It's too bad. I understand Nantucket has kept its identity and I believe that would have been the wiser course for Martha's Vineyard to follow. There's still St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It's reminiscent of Martha's Vineyard in the earlier days. Please don't tell anyone about it though.
Now, I can sit back and enjoy receiving my retirement checks every month the government will send me. I also plan to do some writing, HTML and fantasize about taking a trip to Tahiti and Bora Bora. I'd also like to do some volunteer work teaching kids how to write web pages and handicapped people how to use voice recognition with their PC's to enhance their lives. I love this web page design--almost to the point of an obsession which isn't uncommon. If anyone cares for me to do a commercial job, my rates are cheap!
Although the above indicates I was ready for a life of leisure, retirement was a big shock to me for some time. I became depressed without my extended family at work. It had given me a purpose in life although it took me some time to realize it. I imagine it's the same with anyone who has worked many years in any capacity. Others may have the luxury of taking trips around the world but, because of my handicap, I'm a captive of my keepers so to speak. I just can't pick up and go off somewhere without considering the people who help me out.
I started recovering from my jolt from leaving the working world in the summer of 1997. I took quite a few trips to the Eastern Shore to a restaurant called Annies with a friend Eugene. My lunch would usually be a bowl of soup and excellent Blue Point oysters on the half shell. Several times I went to Sandy Point State Park beach where I had gone as a child. I even went flying a couple of times during the late summer.
I found my father to be an inspiration as did many others. We had a mutual need for each other and I always worried about him as he did me. I'd always managed to bring him home some barbecued ribs or some other treat when I went shopping and he relished them and even came to expect them. He had his "Meals on Wheels" to look forward to. I recommend the program to those in their older years. I managed to get him to go somewhere with me once in a while. One event I remember was the Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C. I had gone there one day and there was an Akwasasne speaker who described Native American life. This was my big chance to get him out. I came home and told him that we should go the next day and he was eager for it. I still have a picture of him standing with the Akwasasne speaker from Malone, New York. Another time I talked him into a brunch at an Eastern Shore restaurant that he went crazy over. He just couldn't put away enough food. Just the week before he passed, some friends had come over to shoot pool with him and have lunch beforehand. We wound up at an all you can eat buffet and again he loaded up his plate with an unbelievable amount of food. It's the first time I had seen him refuse dessert because he had eaten so much. God how I loved the man. He was such an intelligent, loving, and humorous guy.
I always worried that something would happen to him sooner or later because of his age. He wanted to live to the year 2000 but unfortunately that wouldn't come to pass. On the night of October 22nd, 1997, he woke up at midnight with pains in his abdomen and took a couple of Tylenol but they didn't help. I was sleeping at the time. He called Emilia who was taking care of me that night and told her he needed an ambulance to go to the hospital because of the pain. She awakened me at 4:30 a.m. to tell me the ambulance had taken him away.
I figured that he had an upset stomach. I brought home about a half gallon of oyster stew and some oyster fritters for him from the Tilghman Island Day Oyster Festival on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He pretty much finished off everything with relish. The next day I brought him home a gallon of apple cider from the mountains after visiting my brother and he drank that heartily. I naturally figured it was a digestive problem at worst. I called my brother Jim and told him about Dad going to the hospital and he ran up here from Chesapeake Beach.
I really feel for what Jim must have felt like after arriving at the hospital to find him in his last moments of life on this level. Thank God, however, someone was there with him. I managed to see him also before he passed away. Just two weeks earlier Jim had taken Dad for a canoe trip up Fishermens Creek which is a marsh near the Chesapeake. Dad had really enjoyed that day. In late August, Jim had also accompanied him to his family reunion which was held in Fort Covington--the town where he was born and raised.
I rushed over after the doctor told me we were losing him due to a slow leakage from an aneurysm. The doctor was a woman he really liked and I'm glad she was there. I called my brother Tom before I left who had a two hour ride in the best of conditions. He wouldn't make it in time though.
He was surrounded by two of his sons, Emilia, Jean and her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Naomi and Eugene. They were all loved by him and it was surely returned by them. Nancy, another friend, was upset that she didn't understand his true condition so she wasn't there.
I saw he was suffering and asked Jenny to kiss him on the cheek (she looks like an angel) and tell him that everything was O.K. and we're all here and Marian is waiting for you. She said at first, in tears, that she couldn't do that but I told her he'd like that. She did and with that he closed his eyes and passed away on October 22nd, 1997. I lost my best friend.
I miss his corny expressions so much. When asked how he was he'd reply, "I'm pretty and I'm good and that makes me pretty good!" When referring to a young lass's apparel, he'd remark "could that be cotton or could that be silk or could that be felt!" Emilia later told me that as she put her arm around him on the way to the ambulance, he said "And now you try to make a pass at me!" He never let up even when he was hurting so badly. He always wrote little notes to people and loved sending little funny notes-especially to the ladies. At the funeral home, an older gentleman came up to me and told me he really enjoyed my father. The fellow had been our plumber until his son took over. He reached underneath his coat and pulled out a yellow sheet of notebook paper wrapped carefully in plastic for me to read. It read, "I wish you a happy birthday and many more of them. I hope you grow to be 100 and the last voice you hear is mine"
A Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard came to the funeral home in the evening and had a beautiful ceremony he would have been so proud of. Each of the men read something pertinent to the occasion. One of them stepped beside my father and sang "Soldier Boy" to the tempo of taps and it was truly beautiful. Then each of the men walked up to my father one at a time and placed a token beside him and saluted him lowering their hands slowly in respect. I can't begin to express my thanks for their beautiful expression.
I can take comfort in knowing that he is now in a better place with my mother whom he loved dearly. He would look off into the distance at times and I know that he was thinking of her. He once wrote on a photo he gave to her of himself before their marriage this expression:
Today I'm still in awe of the love and strengths of my mother and father. I still feel their presence watching over me. I was and am very blessed and only hope that I can live up to their memories.
I think back to all of the grief I brought to their lives and am amazed that people can deal with such pain. Human beings can be remarkable creatures worthy of the gifts God endowed them with.
As I continue my journey through life, I'm even more amazed at my parents' work raising three children of which one surely broke their hearts. The most I can do is to be worthy of them.
Following my father's passing, I had to start arranging for his estate to be divided equitably. I was the survivor in a joint account at a brokerage but knew he'd want his holdings divided. That involves finding out stock prices at the close of the day he died for capital gains purposes and for sharing the stocks with my two brothers. I had to sign papers at the brokerage setting up accounts for my brothers and transferring their shares over. All in all, the process is tedious at best.
The next thing I had to contend with was a structural problem with the house involving the foundation. I had a structural engineer check the problem out and write up plans for the remedy. I asked the engineer to send out the plans to several contractors he trusted and I received two proposals. Everyone who has ever commented to me on contractors was right. They promise you everything but delay and delay while they complete other projects. A beautiful proposal means absolutely nothing. However, the work is completed and the house looks beautiful.
I've spent the summer of 98 taking trips to the Eastern Shore. Annie's has been one of my luncheon haunts with blue points on the half shell. Lately, however, I've become fond of the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels. The hospitality and meals are absolutely beyond words! I plan on more frequent trips there--sure does make for a beautiful day.
My next big adventure will be to buy a new van. The one I have is in great shape but I need it as a backup. Yesterday, my wheelchair lift on the van died on me and I'm temporarily grounded. Now, I know why they hanged horse thieves in the old West--you ain't much without your horse.
Oh, one of my beautiful Koi died. It was a beautiful large golden fish I loved to watch. Broke my heart. I've spent so much time and money tried to keep those fish happy and healthy in my Dad's pond.
On Saturday, August 29th, I attended a lawn party for Governor Parris Glendening and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by invitation. I had a conversation with both of them and found them to be extremely personable. It was a beautiful sunny day at the get together and was delighted with the graciousness of my hosts, Mary and Peter Esseff. Their home was absolutely beautiful as was the landscape.
I've received some very nice letters from incredible people who have gone through many of the same trials and tribulations I've experienced. My story surely isn't the only one that deserves understanding and respect. Others have and are going through much worse than I have gone through. I can't imagine anything sadder than having people you thought love you turn their backs on you in times of need and that's exactly what some of these letters have reflected--so sad. In one case, the writer mentioned that her husband had informed her in the hospital that he couldn't stand being with a cripple. What a poor excuse for a human being. There was a three-month-old baby involved in this situation.
Interesting politics for some people nowadays but it just gets weirder and weirder. One wonders what will happen next. It's nice to get away from it by going down to the Chesapeake. Today, I had a great day there and made friends with a beautiful Budweiser Clydesdale. It's amazing how gentle these huge animals are!
I found that the pond was leaking to the point I needed to add about six inches of water a day. My brother Jim came to the rescue and put in a pool liner which has saved the day. Now, there is ice on the pond and it's amazing to see these huge Koi lumbering beneath the ice slowly drifting forward.
I wound in the hospital again the week of Christmas for an infection caused by kidney stones. My Christmas present this year was in the form of a marvelous individual named Dr. Pahira at Georgetown who spent part of his Christmas Eve removing some of the stones. I was let out Christmas Day but will have to return in a couple of weeks to complete the procedure. I called my Aunt Mary to tell her the good news and was greeted with tears--my Uncle Pierre had died on Christmas Day. He was a man of honor and devoutly religious. It was appropriate as it was said at his funeral that "he went home for Christmas."
Tomorrow will be another year and I'm looking forward to making the most of it and doing some good works for others. Lord knows I should give back some of the kindness I've received.
I had to take my little buddy (a beautiful orange Himalayan Persian) to the veterinarian and I really didn't want Jacque (without the s) to think I was deserting him. It's amazing how a little friend can enhance ones life. He was having trouble breathing.
He stayed at the vet's for a week and they tried everything. His heart was enlarged and he was 14. He no doubt added years to my father's life and much enjoyment to mine. On January 15th, they brought him home so I could hold him and talk to him before they put him to sleep. He was happy to the home and it went easily.
Just got out of Georgetown University Medical Center yesterday (the 26th). It's good to be home minus a mess of kidney stones. They're just something I'll have to contend with because of my condition. I received excellent care from Dr. Pahira and his staff which included Drs. Losee and Sajadi.
Those problems have been resolved for now and I have the Spring and Summer to look forward to--"Lord willing and the creek don't rise."
Well it's May now and the weather is beautiful. I've been across the Chesapeake a number of times. A fellow who read this story and wrote me has become a very good friend. He's a retired air controller. He advised me to go out and buy some ladies nylons. Why you ask? To store Vidalia onions in naturally! You put one in the toe, tie a knot, drop another in and repeat the process until there's no room left. Then you hang them in a dark, dry and cool area and I should have Vidalia onions for months now. He even sent me a ten pound sack of them via UPS for my birthday. Not very cost efficient but very kind of him.
I also found myself a new little buddy who is the sweetest little guy around and doesn't have any bad habits. I named him Geronimo (my Dad would have liked that name). He's a 4-year-old Blue Point Himalayan Persian and I had called the fellow I bought my Dad's cat from over 13 years earlier. He said he had been looking for a good home for him. In our discussion, he mentioned that he had paid $2,500 for him as a kitten and that he had been a grand champion. He only charged me $75--I think they were concentrating on Flame Points now but that's only a thought.
Today I discovered that some little critter (most likely a raccoon) has been eating the Koi in my pond. Tonight I'm setting out a live trap and hopefully will be able to transport the little bugger elsewhere. I have to admit it has excellent taste in fish as it has left the goldfish alone and gone for the more expensive Koi.
Tomorrow I should receive my new electric wheelchair. It's about time as my current one is ten years old. I also need to order a new van to replace my 1987 Ram van.
On June 27th, I was supposed to go to lunch with my former boss. He e-mailed me saying he wasn't feeling well and as a result I went looking for vans (something that I had already been doing for about a year). It's a real dream machine and I bought it. It just jumped out and said take me home. I e-mailed my former boss and told him that he owed me a lot of money. He reminded me that I had canceled out on him last year and he was forced by his wife to go shopping for a new leather sofa so I guess I can't complain.
It's in the shop being modified for a wheelchair lift and so that I can roll straight in rather than have to be tilted back as I enter. It should be completed in about three weeks because the rear doors have to be modified and repainted and some interior work needs to be done. I'm keeping my old van as a backup.
They finished work on the van and it's beautiful. One problem though--every time I purchase a new van, I lose a little in visibility. Probably because of the luxury features included. Solution: I'm putting a television camera up over the dash and will view the road from the built-in television! Don't worry, I don't drive. One other problem was a leak around the side window in the back. I was worried that the leak was in the conversion top seal. The window was treated for leaks and Hurricane Floyd will be the ultimate test.
I was contacted by Court TV and asked if I'd consider collaborating with them in their new most wanted section of their web site. I had created a site U.S. Most Wanted Criminals in late 1996 and it fit in perfectly with their concept. I must add that my site is the most comprehensive and up-to-date such site on the Internet. It's an awful lot of work maintaining links which often change and find new ones featuring most wanted fugitive photos by law enforcement agencies. Being retired, I felt the need to do something meaningful for the community. I often get letters from people asking me to find out about a person they suspect of a crime. At any rate, I accepted Court TV's offer (no compensation) and you can also get to my site from the Court TV site.
I went to a University of Maryland versus Western Carolina game last Saturday. My uncle-in-law Varick (if there is such a designation) provided the tickets and my friends paid for the food. Maryland won, the marching band was great and there were fireworks after the game. Can't beat a deal like that!
Today I went shopping and wound up passing a sweet little older lady and she remarked that she wished "...I had a chair like that." Then she commented that we're about the same age. I said that I was 59 and she said that she was 87 and born in 1912 when the Titanic sank. I said that must have been a terrible year with her being born and the Titanic sinking. She laughed and patted me on the shoulder. What a sweet lady.
Out of the blue this morning, I received a telephone call from an old friend of mine--Melvin Thiel. I haven't heard from him for over 30 years. He was looking through a list of old friends and tried looking me up on the net. He was the same great guy I remembered and talking to him really made my day. We naturally discussed old times and friends and now he has my email address so we can stay in touch. What a way to start off the weekend. I also have a wedding to go to this afternoon and a performance by my nephew in the James Madison University Marching Band to see this evening. The next day, my cousin's husband from Martha's Vineyard stopped here overnight with his mother as he was driving her down to Florida and we went out and had a substantial dinner. I had been looking forward to seeing him again and repaying some of his hospitality on the Island.
I received a beautiful letter about this story in which the person quoted a phrase from an Native American song--"I have heard the sound of my fathers drums and it will live in my heart for a thousand years." That's such a meaningful sentiment! That's exactly how I feel about my father and mother as well.
Guess what? More kidney stones--big surprise eh? Had all but one removed in early December (Pearl Harbor Day). Left the hospital the next Monday and went to the Christmas Party at work Friday and then to a club in Bethesda for another Christmas Party Saturday night. Yesterday, my friend from Georgia sent me a bottle of Jim Beam Steak Sauce! Don has to be one of the nicest people around.
On December 22nd of 1999, the full moon fell on the winter solstice. Although not the rarest astronomical event, the night was extremely bright and weather conditions were perfect for using a telescope. My great friend Frank Bauer who works at Goddard Space Flight Center came over and set up a telescope I had purchased for my father. Viewing the moon under these conditions was incredible as was looking at the Orion nebula. Thank you Frank! It's an experience I won't soon forget.
Tonight is the Eve of the 21st Century and I think it's appropriate to reflect on what I've seen in my life. I was born just before World War II and understand the changes in life that war caused. A new world was reborn in its ashes, for better or worse, and human relations have changed so much. Prior to that war nations were parochial in their thinking and prejudices abounded. Following that war, such things didn't mean quite so much anymore as nations had to cooperate to fight a common foe. Today, our enemies are some of our best friends. Who would have conceived of the technological dominance of Japan following the war. Check the back of your TV, VCR or CD player to find a parent company that isn't Japanese. Check out the nearest shopping mall parking lot and see how many cars are made by a Japanese parent company or if not, how many of the parts in other cars are of Japanese origin. Nothing ever stays the same thank God! Hopefully, peace will dominate in this century and everyone will learn to be tolerant of others.
I started off the year looking for ways to improve my home. I soon found out that ordering new furniture was a time-consuming business. Every decent furniture store had a ten to twelve week waiting period and that's only an estimate. I settled on Ethan Allen for a sofa and matching coffee and end tables and carpeting. It was the same proposition with getting the dining room table refinished. While waiting for pieces to come in, I had a friend build a beautiful sunroom on the side of the house with ceramic tiles, skylights and picture windows all around. I ordered sheers and drapes to match the furniture and it took about four months for them to receive the material from Japan but they should be up soon.
I took trips to the Eastern Shore to a couple of restaurants most notably Annies and the Inn at Perry Cabin. I took a friend (she cleans the house once a week) only to find she didn't like seafood--$17.95 for a hamburger! I've been to the Inn about seven times now and am about ready to go back.
I've visited Delaware Park and played the slots and also did the same at Dover Downs. My attendant played one machine and stopped whereupon another fellow stepped up and deposited a dollar and first time off won $1,200 (ouch). Another machine he stopped playing paid $600 to the next player. Just wasn't his day. The lady who cleans went to Dover Downs and said we might run into her aunt and cousin. We did and I later found out they thought I was Sue's husband and had deteriorated to a wheelchair.
Now I'm in the process of having the kitchen remodeled. So far the cabinets and cupboards have been installed and now I need tile laid and repainting.
On October 21st, I went with my brother and attendant to Tilghman Island Day and had some fantastic oyster fritters. I'm sure they're made elsewhere but to date I've only been able to get them on Tilghman Island Day. Oh, I've found a Cajun group that plays locally once a month and they are great--love Cajun music.
I've also been reaquainted with my old childhood friends. They play golf at a local Country Club and meet Wednesday evenings. A lot of old friends were at a Golf Tournament and a picnic was held afterwards. They even had a Mighty Mo reunion and a dance at which my brother's band played at. If you're my age you'll remember the Mighty Mo hamburger and its super-secret sauce. Friday and Saturday nights was where you'd drive around the Mighty Mo and be cool. One of my friends said she used to drive there around 2:30 a.m. during the week so she could practice parking without hitting anything.
One night my old buddy Norman called. Really love the guy. He told me he had about five lines in the movie 'Species II" and plays the guy dissecting an alien. It's funny about how we used to argue about politics etc. Now, I've pretty much changed my mind about a lot of things. I used to be conservative and have changed to liberal in most things. I also used to be a hawk and am now what would be considered a dove. I think a lot of us have changed our minds about things as the world has changed mostly for the better.
Time does go on and I remember a college professor saying that "The only thing that remains the same is change itself." I've pretty much finished with the house although I need some windows replaced.
Yesterday, March 20th, I picked up a finished model of a two-masted schooner I had ordered from a craftsman about six months earlier. It's now sitting in a case in my dining room. I named it the Marian Alice after my mother. I felt like a kid again after hearing my model was finished. My brother Jim just left the stone age with the purchase of a computer.
Last night I received and email from Clarence Perry who was in the first rock and roll band in Prince George's County Maryland. He's mentioned in a book titled 'Capitol Rock." He went on to play guitar for Roy Orbison.
Now, I'm looking forward to warm days and sunny climes. As the monkey said when the train ran over his tail--"It won't be long now."
I had a really nice telephone conversation with my Uncle Tom who lives in upstate New York. It covered a wide variety of subjects. The most interesting to me was about my Dad. He said they had both sat back at night. He said my Dad looked up at the stars and said he was curious about what was at the end of all of this. My uncle replied "Stick around long enough and you'll find out." It fascinated me hearing that my Dad thought of his mortality. I'm reminded of a quotation I heard which is that "When an old person dies it is as if a library has burned to the ground." Older people should be thought of as treasures to be protected and revered.
Revised May 30, 2001
Copyright © 1996
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