By Florence Sandler (1923 – 2008); Edited by Charles Levin
[Author’s Note: this is the second guest post by a relatively unknown, but talented writer. In this emotional true story, she manages to capture a time, a place, and several kinds of love. This personal story along with a few other moving memoirs were recently found among Florence’s papers. Several readers requested more after I posted her first story in March. I am delighted to oblige. At the bottom of this post, read more about this unique writer and how this story landed up here.]
She’s just arrived and stacks her belongings on the kitchen table. The instant blood sugar machine. Her canvas carrier filled with food she can eat. It’s long since she trusted anyone else’s refrigerator. She hauls a bulky icepack carrier from her shoulder and dumps that, too, on the table. A white shirt spills out from among the tennis clothes she’s brought in case we luck out and find a pair for doubles. Talking fast as she settles in, Amy says “I’ll give you a word, just one word that will call up grandfather, so you’ll think he’s here in the kitchen with us.” She’s determined to distract me. Her head tips back a bit. Her eyes twinkle so, my jitters disappear. I see my mother in those eyes. ‘Charming Ethel’, men called her, and I think how immensely proud she would be to know her granddaughter is ‘charming Amy’ in spite of, or is it, I sometimes wonder, because of, the load she bears. “One word sizes him up, ” laughs Amy, “and it’s walk! Think about it.”
“Yes, yes, yes. I will.” That awful day after Sandy’s funeral! Where did my competence and energy go after I managed him so well through three years of Altzheimer’s? In just a day, how did I become so old? How did Amy change into my mother? Amy, rewarded for every delicious, thoughtful, useful thing she ever did by being slapped down at the age of 29 by the family curse, juvenile diabetes.
“Not diabetes,” mom used to say. “I call it goddamn diabetes,” and I’m sure she hated herself, just as I hate myself, for being the carrier of that goddamn disease.
“You’re right, Amy,” I say because I must let her do what she thinks is her job. Distraction. “The word that sums up grandfather is walking, but you don’t know the half of it. What you remember is that he phoned grandmother from South Orange center after he left the office, took a bus to the City Line, and walked from there to our town. But he was in his late seventies then.”
A Seven Mile Walk
“In the old days, he did the whole bit. During those depression years, people worked for so little we had two in help. Nobody ever has a tooth extracted unless he has no choice. So dad’s office was as full as it had ever been. His fees were small. I remember him holding a mirror and stuttering into it, ‘F-f-f-five dollars, please.’ And his office was wall to-wall people, for a reason you’d never guess. When dad opened his practice in Newark, he sent a card to every dentist in the county that said ‘Limited to oral surgery’ because it was the only work in the dental field he loved. To his surprise, dentists all over Essex county sent him patients galore. Actually, by and large dentists didn’t like surgery, but they didn’t like to send a patient elsewhere either. Dad’s card inspired a sigh of relief. Now, they had a colleague who would treat their patients and send them back for all the other work they needed. So, we lived rather well during the depression. Our chauffeur left the house about half an hour after dad had set out for his office on foot and followed him, honking the automobile horn at 8:45. Then your grandfather hopped into the car, and Robert dropped him at his office door just before 9:00.”
“Never thought walking was so expensive,” says Amy.
Meanwhile, my mind has jumped to the end. I’m seeing dad at age 91 in bed in my old bedroom, and mom at 87 in their own. For both of them, there are lady sitters ’round the clock. But what a modest end compared to the hospital accommodations I found when I visited an old family friend, Emil Oxfeld, this afternoon. He was asleep after a stroke and heart attack, but Nancy, his wife, told me that before he drifted off, he complained bitterly because it was Saturday and he wouldn’t hear the opera. Sharp as he ever was, he reeled off the evening programs he was going to miss. I thought of Sandy at the end in a room for two at Barnabas Hospital. Both of them, Alzheimer’s patients.
A New Personality
When Amy came with Dan, her young son, to visit Sandy. Danielle, my granddaughter who’s driving now, brought Billy, her brother too. It horrified me that the children would see him as he was. But I found them joking and teasing on the bed. Sandy, always the loveliest of men, wore his new Alzheimer’s personality. Himself enlarged! Strangely courtly, he lifted Danielle’s hand and kissed it as if they both were royalty. In the eulogy at Sandy’s funeral, my son, David, told how Sandy’s hospital roommate, a curmudgeon and violent, too, softened less than a day after Sandy was moved in with him. Gone September 21, ’02.
And now, on the 17th of July, I have the nerve to think I’m lucky that Bill walked into my life. Not our kind of people, but lonesome and forgetful as I am. We’re a comfortable pair. I loved our drive to the Jersey shore last week. “Where do you want me to take you?” he asked, and I laughed thinking he was joking.
“Naturally,” I said, “If I had my choice of anywhere in the world, I’d want to go to the Jersey shore. To Elberon, where my folks rented a house every summer so that dad could get his swim every morning and evening and commute to his doctor’s office by train. ”
“Get your bathing suit,” Bill said and what a day we had! Mother claimed you could travel all over the world — and she did — and never find better swimming than Phillips Ave. beach. We went to the shore again and again. Came to know each other better, and now I’m beginning to like having him in my bed, even if he’s not Sandy.
There was my lover! May all my granddaughters have a man exactly like him!
Day’s end. Time to turn in with Enemies, A Love Story by Singer.
If you would like to read another story By Florence Sandler, please leave a Comment below and I will be happy to post another favorite in the future.
More About Florence Sandler…
Florence was an unusually gifted and creative woman in all her endeavors. After raising four children (including my wife, Amy, for whom I will forever be in her debt), Florence earned her Ph.D. from Drew University at age 65, proving it’s never too late. After receiving her degree, she taught writing at Seton Hall University for several years. In addition to being fluent in French and German, her specialty and expertise were Arthurian Legend. In 1987, a highlight was her keynote speech, given at an international conference of Arthurian Scholars held in the Netherlands. Amy recently found this personal story along with a few other moving memoirs among Florence’s papers.
I loved Florence from the first day I met her in 1968, invited to dinner as Amy’s serious boyfriend. I’m not sure whether it was the first or second sentence out of my mouth when she corrected my grammar. Needless to say, her grammar was always flawless, and her lifelong love of learning and literature was an inspiration to me and her students. The story above, and the others Amy found, have never been published. I felt that they deserved an audience. I hope you agree.
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Thank you for sharing this short story. It has inspired me to go dig out some old photos I have of my parents and grandparents long gone. How lucky and blessed Amy was to find this.
Thanks, Cheryl. I’m glad you enjoyed it! It’s gratifying to give Florence an audience that she deserves.
A view into earlier years. Thanks.
For sure. I love those old photos too (when the world was black and white:).
A lovely memory. Thank you for sharing g. Please post additional.
Good luck with your upcoming writing workshop. “See you” there!
Best wishes to a talented writer and insightful reader. Lynn Vergano
Thank you, Lynn, for your kind words. Look forward to seeing you at the workshop.
What a beautiful story. I hope you will share more from this found treasure.
Brings my own memories.
Thank you for sharing
Looking forward to the next one
Thank you, Lida. I’m delighted you enjoyed the story. There’s something there that resonates with all of us and she writes so beautifully.
Loved the story and the bio that went with it.
Thank you, Cecil. She was a remarkable woman.
Such a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. You were a fortunate man to have Florence for a mother-in-law.