Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dinner for a Hungry Baby

When we left Storm King and Councilor Tom Tam, the councilor-cook had just made a gift of the three eggs he had set aside for his king's dinner so that the very hungry baby phoenix would have something to eat. Lady Phoenix pounced on the offering of eggs mixed with rice as soon as the councilor and king had backed away. She picked up bits of the meal in her beak and put them directly into the beak of her infant. Soon the crying of the baby bird turned to cooing as it fed.

Hungry though Storm King was, since his dinner had been interrupted by the hatchling, he was also fascinated to be in the presence of the mother phoenix and to have witnessed such a rare event, the birth of a new phoenix. Legend tells us that a new phoenix is born only when it is nearing the time for an elder phoenix to die and rise no more from the ashes.

Linda asked Nancy, "Do phoenixes have expiration dates," and her mother laughed.

"No," said Nancy, "they don't exactly have expiration dates, but it is told that there is a limit to the number of times that a phoenix can fly through the hot flames of the underworld known as Hell and rise from the ashes."

Lady Phoenix's under feathers were brilliantly colored like the rainbows of the sky after a torrential rain, which indicated that her life was yet to be long. But the under feathers of a phoenix that has grown dull means that the life of that elder phoenix is nearing its final end. The mighty mythical birds yearn for life just as humans yearn for long life. Nancy said to her attentive children, "It is a likely possibility that Lady Phoenix had hidden her egg in the desert sands to hide it from the elder phoenixes.

Gus, ever the boy and fascinated by stories of fighting and death, chimed, "I bet she was protecting the egg and the baby inside from those elder phoenixes. I bet they would have stolen the egg and made sure the baby didn't hatch, so that they could live longer."

When the rice mixture was completely fed to the hatchling, the baby bird stretched and flapped its black wings and struggled to stand up on its two scrawny feet. The mother phoenix cooed to her infant a melodic song that was beautiful in a strange, eerie way, and the hatchling cooed a response. Storm King and his councilor watched with wide eyes, because something very strange was happening before them, and they doubted what they saw.

As the melodic song grew longer and stranger, the baby phoenix seemed to be growing larger in size. First its head would double in size, and then its right wing and left wing, and then its feet would catch up so that it looked the right size all over again, only much larger than a moment before. The hatchling stretched its newly larger wings and flapped them experimentally, hopping a few steps on the desert sand. It stopped when its head doubled in size again, followed by its wings and feet. Then more stretching and flapping for the new infant was trying to fly.

The once black feathers all over the little bird, who was quickly becoming a much larger bird, began to take on the colors of the rainbow on the underside of its wings. There was a shimmering all over the baby bird, like the wavy, visible air one notices on a very hot summer day in the dry desert, as its feathers grew longer and they changed from black to rainbow colors. The transformation of the newborn hatchling to an almost fully grown phoenix happened in a very short time.

The councilor and king barely had time to adjust to what they had seen before they found themselves in the presence of two black phoenixes that towered over them. Lady Phoenix was only slightly taller and fatter than her hatchling, who certainly did not look like a hatchling any longer. The mother bird turned to Storm King and Councilor Tam and said, "I am glad that you did not eat my egg so that my young could be hatched. I believed that I had hidden the egg well enough that no one would find it here in the Western desert where hardly anyone travels.

"I could not sit on the egg myself, but the hot desert sand kept the egg warm and safe while I was away. How was I to anticipate that Storm King would leap from mountain to mountain to soothe his boredom and end up in this desert? For your sacrifice of your eggs and rice for my young one's dinner, so that he could grow into a true phoenix, I will grant you each a wish."

Lady Phoenix turned her beak to her left wing and pulled out a bright red feather. She beckoned to her son, and he came near her. She reached under his left wing with her beak and pulled out a blue feather. She said to the king and his councilor, "When you are ready for your wish, you have only to burn one of these feathers, and one of us will come to you as soon as we can. Burn the red feather to call me, and burn the blue feather to call my son."

Then, with a great flapping of two sets of black wings, the mother and son lifted into the air, circling around the king and his councilor, swirling the sand all over and stinging their eyes. When Storm King and Tom Tam opened their eyes as the wind died down from the draft caused by the beating of the phoenixes' strong wings, the birds were gone, and they couldn't tell the direction they had taken.

"We shall continue the story of Storm King and Councilor Tam at another telling. Good night, children," said Nancy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Teachers

In sixth grade, Linda's favorite teacher was the math teacher, Mrs. Laney, and her favorite class was math class. Mrs. Laney had the class do magic squares occasionally as a way to challenge the students to think of math as fun. The reward was a chocolate candy bar for the student who finished the magic square first and got it right. In the beginning, it took Linda a little while to figure out how to solve the magic squares, but once she got the hang of it, Linda finished the magic squares first every time. Eventually, Mrs. Laney had to ask Linda not to do the magic squares so that other students got a chance to win. Because Mrs. Laney was her favorite teacher and Linda recognized that she had won every day in a row for several weeks, she agreed that it would be fair to drop out of the game voluntarily. But Linda always regretted missing out on having that chocolate candy bar.

The junior high social studies teacher was married to the science teacher, and Linda was in both their classes in both the years she attended that school. Mr. Berringer, the social studies teacher, had a habit of giving the kids in the class new nicknames. Sometimes the nicknames were just making their names shorter, like calling Jameson "Jim" for short and Penelope "Penny." But other times it was a descriptive nickname, like calling the fastest runner on the school's track team "Flash" and the girl who liked to bake and bring decorated cupcakes to class to share "Betty," short for Betty Crocker, the name of the character found on boxes of cake and pancake mix, even though the student's name was Catherine.

The nicknames made the kids feel like they were part of the in-group. They took the nicknames in stride, because they felt accepted and liked by Mr. Berringer. He made social studies fun and personal, telling stories about the trips that he and Mrs. Berringer took to countries they were studying in their textbook and talking about their college days where they had met and married. The kids were fascinated to hear about their teachers' lives outside of school, because the teachers seemed so different from their own parents who worked in factories and other blue collar and service jobs.

Mrs. Berringer was very young for a teacher who was not a student teacher. She had graduated from college at age eighteen, an age when most students were graduating from high school. Mrs. Berringer was very informal in her teaching style, because she was not only younger than the other teachers who had been around for a long time, but friendlier and more comfortable with the slang words that the kids used all the time. She would often sit with the students when they watched a film about some scientific experiment and worked hands-on in helping them with their projects like building models of the molecules.

One day in class they were talking about race and the different skin tones that people have. Mrs. Berringer sat next to Linda and compared the color of her very tan Caucasian arm with Linda's tan Asian arm and said, "I don't know why they call your skin tone 'yellow' since my skin tone is almost darker than yours." Linda liked Mrs. Berringer for her honesty and informality. It was nice to have an adult, and especially a teacher, with whom she could talk openly about things. At home, talking with Mom was more about observing the boundaries that come from respecting authority. Mom did not think it was dignified to talk about certain topics with her children.

Mr. and Mrs. Berringer weren't the only married couple in Linda's junior high. Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek were the shop and home economics teachers. The boys took shop with Mr. Dubcek and learned how to use tools. They built things like wooden tool boxes and welded metal fruit bowls out of thin strips of dark flexible metal. The girls took home ec with Mrs. Dubcek and learned how to sew and cook. Sewing included making an apron and a gathered skirt as semester projects. Mrs. Dubcek encouraged each girl to bring ingredients from home to cook one meal during the semester to show how different ethnic groups ate. Linda's school had kids who were African American, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Polish, Irish and Lebanese. Eating what they cooked was the best part of home ec, especially when the projects were desserts like cakes, cookies and pies. Washing dishes and measuring ingredients were Linda's least favorite parts of home ec.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek were very tall and on the heavy side, and they seemed much older to the kids in their junior high classes. Linda and Marcy, her French horn playing friend with whom she walked to school most days, used to gossip about Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek and how fat they were. Marcy was braver than Linda about poking fun at the teachers. Linda was much shyer about doing that, because she knew that Nancy wouldn't approve if she found out. Because Mr. and Mrs. Dubcek were not hip and good looking the way that Mr. and Mrs. Berringer were, the junior high girls were unkind in their comments about the Dubceks. Imagine their surprise when it was announced during the second year that Linda and Marcy were at that junior high that Mrs. Dubcek was pregnant. That just gave the girls more material to gossip about. Pre-teens can be very unkind while they're learning how to grow up and become good citizens.

Later, Linda would become an outstanding citizen, which we will learn about when we tell stories from her high school years.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thanksgiving

The one day a year that Dad was guaranteed a day off from work was Thanksgiving Day. Even restaurants closed on Thanksgiving, and restaurant workers got to spend the day with their families. Linda, Gus and Tim especially liked Thanksgiving, because it meant that they were entering the season before Christmas when stores would decorate their windows and presents were in the offing.

In their hometown, there was a Thanksgiving Day parade to rival the New York City Macy's parade. One year, Dad shepherded his family downtown to view the parade in person. Everyone went to the parade except Mom, who stayed home to cook the traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner, so that it would be ready mid-afternoon when everyone got home.

Like the Macy's parade, this one was sponsored by the town's big department store. It was difficult to get close enough to the edge of the sidewalk to see the parade coming down the street, and it got awfully cold by the time the parade was over. There were vendors on the street who sold cotton candy and roasted chestnuts, and Dad bought each of his children a treat of their choice. Linda really liked the smell of the roasted chestnuts, and they were warm in her hands even if she did have to remove her wool gloves to peel the skin off each chestnut before eating it. From the gang of three's point of view, the best part of attending the parade occurred near the end when the candy-striped girl elves and the green-clad boy elves tossed hard candies to the parade-goers as they skipped down the street doing somersaults and cartwheels in front of Santa's float.

The gang of three visited Santa Claus at the big department store only once when Linda was nine years old and sporting a nasty scab across her nose and cheek. Although Nancy bought the photographs sold by Santa's girl elves of each of her three children sitting on Santa's lap, Linda's photo was spoiled by the scab on her face which she had received in a fight. Grandmother criticized her son's wife, Nancy, for allowing Linda to have her photograph taken with the very noticeable blemish on her face. Grandmother thought it was unseemly.

The family had moved to the new neighborhood just as winter break was starting, and the gang of three were the new kids on the block. Little Tim was only six and didn't know what to do when the kids on the new block taunted him for being a kid from an ethnicity that didn't live in the neighborhood. However, when one of the boys decided to push and then punch Tim, he spoke up and said, "You better watch out or my big sister will beat you up."

Children can sometimes be very cruel to other children, picking on them for no better reason than because they're bigger and they can. One day when Linda was outside playing with Gus and Tim and the bully picked on Tim again, Linda let him have it. She hit him really hard, and the boy hit her back. Linda ended up with a cut on her face where her eyeglasses got smashed into her face, but she was pleased to have landed some good punches that left sizable black and blue welts on the boy. Linda was only doing what she had taken as her responsibility - to look after her little brothers when Mom and Dad weren't around. None of the three siblings ever got picked on again on the block after that first and last fight.

After the parade Dad took Linda, Gus and Tim to look at the window displays at the big department store. Each window had a winter wonderland scene with animated characters and animals, and music was piped from speakers under the awnings protecting the people on the sidewalk from the snow and rain. The big department store took up a whole city block, and there were twelve scenes depicting the twelve nights of Christmas to delight everyone who passed by. Later when Linda went to the magnet high school downtown, she would spend the time between transferring buses visiting each display window until she knew them by heart.

Thanksgiving Day was special because of the time and attention that Dad was able to pay to his children since he got to stay home from work. Thanksgiving dinner was the one meal a year when the entire family, Mom, Dad, Linda, Gus and Tim all sat down and ate together. Nancy always served roast turkey with cranberry sauce out of a can and homemade stuffing at Ted's insistence.

When Ted's sisters were still in school, his youngest sister, Merry, came home very upset from the first school day after Thanksgiving. Her teacher had asked the class how they enjoyed their "turkey day." Merry had burst into tears, because Grandmother had prepared goose for Thanksgiving dinner and not turkey. Grandmother and Grandfather preferred goose and duck with their rich dark meats, which they were used to eating in their home country, to the white turkey meat that Americans ate to celebrate Thanksgiving. Ted was just a teenager himself, but he had vowed then and there that when he had a family of his own, his children would eat turkey on "turkey day" and not goose or duck.

The food choices and meals that Nancy prepared reflected her ethnic background and what she was used to eating. You'll have to wait until another night to hear about those dishes and their unusual ingredients.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Most Stubborn One of All

Over the years, it was always a contest between Linda and Gus, one year younger than his sister, as to which child was the most stubborn. The youngest, Tim, wasn't in the running, compared to his brother and sister. When Linda and Gus refused to budge in an argument, Tim would often wind up being the peacemaker. Poor Tim usually got stuck washing the dishes that were supposed to be done before Nancy came home from work, because Linda and Gus couldn't agree on whose turn it was. They were frequently still yelling at each other when Mom walked in the door.

Linda's stubbornness could be traced back to first grade. One day when Linda returned home from school at lunchtime and sat down to eat with the boys in front of the Howdy Doody Show on the television, she pitched a fit. The nerve of her brother! Gus was drinking from the glass that she wanted. The drinking glasses were jelly jars, and they were each decorated with different cartoon characters. Porky Pig was playing the trumpet on Linda's favorite glass. She had helped Mom pick out the jar of jelly at the market, caring much more about the pig on the outside of the jar than the flavor of the jelly inside.

"Ma-om," Linda whined, "I want to drink out of the Porky Pig glass," as she stomped into the bathroom. Behind the closed door, Nancy could hear Linda sobbing loudly. Linda screamed, "Nooooo" when offered another cartoon character glass, her voice full of anger and frustration. By the time Linda had to walk back to school for the afternoon session, Tim had finished his lunch. He ate extra slow, because Linda couldn't have the glass as long as he was still drinking from it. Nancy patiently washed and filled the glass with milk, and brought it to her daughter who was seated on the toilet. After finishing the milk, Linda rushed back to school, leaving her uneaten lunch and the boys in front of the television set.

Later that night, Gus got sick and threw up. Linda thought that it served him right for drinking out of her favorite glass when she wanted it. Gus was still sick the next morning when Linda left for school. Mom held Gus and felt his forehead with the palm of her cool hand, noticing how hot Gus was. He had thrown up several more times, and Mom asked Dad to call the doctor before he left for work that afternoon. After dinner, Dr. Weinstein came over to the tenement apartment to check on Gus. Those were the days when doctors still made house calls, which was a good thing, since Nancy would have had to take two buses with a sick child plus her two other children to get to the doctor's office.

Dr. Weinstein took out his stethoscope and listened to Gus' chest as he breathed big breaths and then normal breaths. The doctor put a thermometer into Gus' mouth and waited to check it. Then he told Nancy and Gus that he would need to give Gus a shot. "Ouch, a shot," thought Gus. "No, I don't want a shot," he announced to Nancy and Dr. Weinstein. As the doctor took the medicine out of his black bag to prepare to give Gus the shot, Gus wriggled out of bed and crawled under the bed. There, Gus clung to the wire underframe of the bed with both his hands and feet and refused to come out no matter how much his mother demanded it. Nancy and Dr. Weinstein tried together to pull Gus out, from one side of the bed, and then the other, and Gus just held on even tighter. Finally, Dr. Weinstein gave up and left the little apartment, and Gus climbed back into bed. Nancy was exhausted from fighting with her son.

Nancy sure had a story to tell Dad when he came home from work the next morning. Gus was someone whose stubbornness couldn't be overcome even by two grown-ups tugging at his four-year old body. Gus' stubbornness would make his school years challenging for Mom and Dad as he grew older, which we'll save for another storytime.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shoes

Birthdays and Christmas always meant new shoes for Linda, Gus and Tim. For as long as Linda could remember, twice a year Great Uncle Eugene would show up just before their birthdays in early March and just before Thanksgiving to take the children and Nancy for an outing.

Eugene was an older gentleman who knew Nancy’s family in the old country, a distant relative who lived in the same village of Nancy’s ancestors and family. Because so many families had been separated by war and the vast miles across the globe, even distant relatives were held in high esteem in America. Great Uncle Eugene had been in America for many years before Nancy married Ted and came to America herself. Meanwhile, Eugene’s own wife and children were still living in the old country, and Eugene treated Nancy’s children as his own.

The birthday and Christmas outings were as predictable as a visit to Santa Claus at the department store in December. They always included a visit to the Galaxy Bakery downtown for a treat at the store’s soda fountain. Galaxy made its own hot fudge and caramel fudge toppings for ice cream sundaes and was justifiably famous for its dessert sensation, the hot fudge cream puff. What a calorie rich confection - a large cream puff pastry filled with two scoops of ice cream, topped with a generous portion of hot fudge. The hot fudge cream puff was a more expensive choice than a single scoop sundae. It was rare that Nancy would approve of Linda's choosing such an expensive treat, and Linda would eat her single scoop hot fudge sundae while yearning for the hot fudge cream puff.

The next stop on the outings was the basement shoe department of the large eight-story department store. There were men’s, women’s and children’s shoe departments on the upper floors of the department store, but the basement shoe department was where the discount shoes were sold and where Nancy and her family shopped. There were still many shoes from which to choose, and it was still hard to decide what pair to buy, but the d├ęcor of the basement departments was not as fancy as the upstairs departments. For the different seasons, the upstairs departments would be decorated with whole scenes depicting the theme for each season, but the basement had only the most basic decorations.

Mom very sensibly would instruct the children to choose a pair of dress shoes as their Christmas present from Great Uncle Eugene and a pair of school shoes for their birthday present. One year when Linda felt especially brave, she asked if she could choose white lace-up ice skates, and to her surprise and delight, both Eugene and Nancy said “Yes.” Of course, if Nancy chose ice skates, then her brothers wanted skates, too, and theirs were black ones like hockey players wore. Later that winter, Nancy and her brothers would spend many hours on the great lake east of the city teaching themselves to ice skate while Mom watched from the shore. The boys quickly mastered skating backwards, but Nancy could only skate forward.

In junior high all the girls wore nylon stockings, but Linda was only allowed to wear tights in the wintertime and white bobby socks in the warmer months. Nylons, as nylon stockings were called, were expensive, developed snags and runs easily, and exposed the girls’ legs. Runs, or ladders as they were sometimes called, would require the application of clear nail polish at their ends to stop them from running further up or down the stocking. Nylons had dark seams up their backs, which were replaced by seamless nylons by the time Linda entered high school two years later.

Mom, whose favorite word was “dignity” and whose prized attitude for anyone, but especially for women and girls, was dignified, thought that at ten years old, Linda was too young to be exposing her legs for everyone to see. That would not have been dignified. One year very pointed shoes were in fashion, and Linda wore those pointed flat shoes with bobby socks, which made her deeply self-conscious. It just seemed to Linda that was a very unfashionable way to wear those pretty shoes.

Linda thought it was unfair that she wasn’t allowed to wear nylons, but she mostly didn’t mind wearing the more sensible tights that kept her legs warmer than nylons on the long winter walks to the bus stop. What was really unfair was when the party invitations began in high school, but that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cake and Comics

The end of winter melting into the beginning of spring was always a time of anticipation in Linda’s family. Tim’s and Dad Ted’s birthdays were still officially in winter, occurring before the spring equinox, March 21, and Linda’s and Gus’ birthdays followed near the start of April. Mom Nancy was born at an altogether different time of year, in the fall, and her temperament reflected the difference of her birth month from that of the rest of her family.


As special as receiving birthday presents was, nothing compared to the birthday cakes with sliced almonds on the sides and soft pink and yellow buttercream flowers winding around the cake tops on green frosting vines. The cake was always a yellow cake, and it came from the Galaxy bakery chain where Mom occasionally bought an almond coffee ring with caramel streusel. The ladies who worked at the bakery wore lacy hair nets that smashed their permed hair close to their heads, making them all look like their hair had been styled by the same hairdresser from the same salon.


Linda had a sweet tooth and craved chocolate from an early age. By the time Linda and her brothers had reached double digits, they had at least as many cavities in their mouths as they had years in their ages. A favorite snack after school was a 16-ounce bottle of cola and frosted chocolate cupcakes with a sweet white cream filling that surely contributed to the gang of three’s metal-filled smiles. One school year it seemed to Linda that she spent every Saturday in the dentist’s chair. How she hated the sound of the drill and the smell of tooth enamel being ground away.


On Sundays after church, Nancy and the three children would take two different buses to the West side where Dad was working as a restaurant cook to pick up the family car for their regular summer outing to Ford Island to meet Mom's ethnic lady friends and their children. The Ford Island picnics were the only opportunity for the women and children to gather to catch up on gossip and games, because everyone lived in different parts of the city, on the East side and the West side, on the South side and the North side. Mom often made fried chicken for their picnic basket, and the boys would bring their baseball bats and mitts to play with the other boys. The girls sometimes brought their dolls, but more often just brought themselves and their ability to make up and tell stories to one another. The mothers played Mahjong on card tables brought from home.


At the downtown block where they transferred buses after church, Linda, Gus and Tim were each allowed to spend one dime on comic books at the corner newsstand. The boys invariably chose superhero comics, while Linda’s choices reflected no single interest, although Wonder Woman comics were definitely a favorite, followed by comic books about Katy Keene, a triple threat model, actress and singer billed as "America's Queen of Pin-Ups and Fashions" by Archie comics. The occasional odd choice for Linda would be the comic books that contained two or three horror stories in one issue, and she would remain scared from those stories for months after reading them.


Linda liked to dream about how an ordinary career woman like Army Lieutenant, Diana Prince, hid a secret identity as princess of the Amazons and Wonder Woman. As a superhero, Wonder Woman belonged to the Justice League of America, fighting in the company of Superman, Batman, Aquaman and the Green Lantern, to name just a few. The comic book covers described Wonder Woman as “beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules,” which whetted Linda’s appetite for stories about the Greek gods and goddesses. Linda’s new favorite book would soon become Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.


Nancy and the children always stopped at a nearby donut shop to have a snack after they got off the second bus, near the restaurant where her husband, Ted, worked. Those were the days when donut shops and bakeries typically had lunch counters that served great American sandwiches such as egg salad, ham and cheese, and hot turkey and hot roast beef sandwiches for not much money, and lunch counter waitresses wore white uniforms and hair nets topped with white half caps. For the children, eating such American food represented a treat and a departure from their usual fare of ethnic food prepared by their mom at home.


The glass case at the donut shop held the specialty donuts, the ones covered with chocolate, white and pink frosting and different colors of sprinkles and shreds of white sugared coconut. Mom always chose a French crueller donut with its eggy taste and holey insides like a cream puff pastry. Gus and Tim favored the no-hole donuts filled with cream and covered with frosting and rainbow sprinkles, because you got more donut than the ones with holes. Linda’s choice was chocolate through and through with chocolate filling and chocolate frosting. The family would sit at the lunch counter to eat their donuts and drink hot chocolate for the children and coffee with cream and sugar for Nancy. Most Sundays were spent this way.


There are more stories about Linda’s family’s sugar-filled appetites, which we’ll have to save to sweeten another night of storytelling.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Girl with a Hole in Her Heart

Linda was reading the newspaper with Dad one morning, as she did almost every morning, when a story about a little girl, who had come from China to her Midwestern city for an operation, grabbed her attention. The little girl’s picture in the newspaper showed a very tiny five-year old. The reporter said that the little girl had been born with a hole in her heart that would kill her before she had the chance to grow up unless the hole was repaired. She needed a special operation. Such surgeries were very expensive, and the little girl’s family lived in a poor Chinese farming village that didn’t have a modern hospital or any doctors who knew how to perform such an operation. The doctors at Linda's city hospital had volunteered to do the surgery for free, and a church had raised the money to bring the little girl and her mother to the city for the operation.


Moved by the story of the little girl, which the reporter wrote about everyday that week, Linda decided to visit the little girl in the hospital. Linda didn’t know what she would say to the little girl or even if the little girl would understand her, since the little girl spoke Chinese and Linda spoke English. Linda had never been to a hospital before, and she couldn’t have explained to anyone why she wanted to visit this little girl.


At ten years old, Linda didn't have the words to say what filled her heart so fully, but her passion was strong. This would not be the last time that Linda would read something in the newspaper that would cause her to take action. Linda, it would turn out, had the ability to read stories that many people read and find in them a call to action, as if the writers were talking directly to her.


Perhaps Linda was influenced by the books she had read about famous nurses like Florence Nightingale, the English nurse who took care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Or maybe it was the stories of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, in a series of mystery books that Aunt Blossom, Linda’s favorite aunt, sent for her birthday and at Christmas. There was a whole set of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, books, and Linda collected, read and loved them all.


It also could have been the lessons learned at home that motivated Linda to want to visit the little girl with the hole in her heart. Mom had taught Linda that she had a duty to be responsible, and Linda had observed the way that Dad helped people with translations and filling out official forms. Linda, as the eldest sister who was entrusted with the care of her little brothers, believed that she was also supposed to help other people.


Linda’s mom, Nancy, in her quiet way, understood her daughter’s tender heart and knew that this was something that Linda was determined to do. So, one night after work, Nancy and Linda went all the way downtown, taking two buses, and walking several blocks after they got off the second bus, to visit the girl with the hole in her heart. Linda brought a treasured doll of her own to give to the little Chinese girl.


The girl’s mother and Linda’s mother visited with each other, even though they did not speak the same language either, while Linda took the little girl for a walk down the hospital hall. The little girl let Linda hold her hand. She liked having someone who wasn’t an adult visiting her, because a hospital is a scary place with machines that beep and people in white uniforms rushing around. Linda couldn’t really communicate with the girl, but she could play with her like a big sister. Even with different languages, girls know how to play pretend games with dolls, and that is what Linda and the little Chinese girl did together. Linda made funny faces and made the little girl laugh and giggle. The little girl's happiness at her visit made Linda smile.


The hospital visit reminded Nancy of her own situation. Mom’s sisters and brothers still lived in the old country. Although Mom was very busy with her job ironing shirts in a laundry and taking care of Tim, Gus and Linda, she still missed the siblings with whom she had grown up. Linda once overheard Nancy say to another grown-up that she would feel like crying when a letter arrived in the mail and she could read about what her parents and sisters and brothers were doing in the old country. She would feel happy reading of their daily lives, but she would also feel sad, because their lives were so difficult in the old country. Then when Mom did not receive a letter in the mail for a few weeks, she would feel like crying, because she worried that things were not going well in the old country for her sisters and brothers, and she would feel sad that she wasn't there to help them.


The fact is, that Linda’s mother felt sad a lot when Linda was growing up, but those stories are ones we’ll save for another time.