About My Headaches

I’ve always had headaches.  As a child in school, I always picked the last desk in the room because that enabled me to bang my head gently against the back wall without disturbing anyone or anyone noticing.

As I grew older, the headaches became a regular part of my life, and I just stopped thinking about them.  I was raised in an environment in which if a shoe was too tight and didn’t fit, as a pair my grandfather bought me once did, I was told I would get used to them, and so it was.  And so it was also with the headaches.  I just grew used to them.  As I grew older and read more, I found out that all sorts of historical celebrities had suffered from headaches, Julius Caesar and Dostoyevsky among them, and that in turn somewhat reconciled me to my headaches.  Obviously, I was destined for fame.  That it never happened didn’t trouble me.

Sometimes these headaches were fierce and struck suddenly.  They could come about when too long in the sun, or if there was too much noise.  They also became a sort of warning signal that I was about to become sick with something like tonsillitis or influenza.

One summer, when I was about sixteen, while I was working at a summer camp operated by Henry Street Settlement, the headaches became so fierce as to completely incapacitate me.  I met with no sympathy from my co-workers, boys and girls my own age, or by the adult staff.  As far as they were concerned, I was simply shirking, and became the butt of much teasing.  I packed my clothes and returned home, to spend the next two or three weeks in bed with the flu.  In the course of my life, headaches have often come as precursors to something else, painful signals of worse to come.  I just assumed that everyone else had headaches, and that they were a normal part of life for everyone.  I guess I was wrong.

It was Linda, my wife, who pointed out that, no, everyone one else did not get headaches almost every day, that as a matter of fact, most people suffered from them rarely or not at all.  And so, off I went to Dr. Michael Scrimenti, a fun neurologist, if there is such a thing.  He told me that I was suffering from migraine headaches and that I would probably keep on getting them until I was sixty or so.  I think I became a source of pride for him when I exceeded his expectations by getting headaches until I was 75.  Of course, he prescribed some daily pills and some others for when the headaches struck.

The sad part of his prescription was that he also told me to avoid many foods that were triggers for the headaches, among them some of my favorites such as aged cheeses (Brie among them!), chocolate, all kinds of nuts (particularly coconuts, that I loved), as well as beverages such as  red wines and many beers.  Only the most delicious foods triggered headaches!

Although I don’t get random headaches any more, I’ve experimented with these foods, and they do still give me headaches.  Nevertheless, I’m evaluating whether an occasional headache might not be worth the price to pay for a delicious piece of brie (with some grapes on the side of course) and a glass of good red wine.

Brie and grapes


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Ping-pong or Table Tennis

In 1972, President Nixon visited China, and suddenly table tennis was in the news.  I was working at George Washington High School at the time, and decided, in my capacity of drug abuse prevention specialist, to set up a ping-pong table just outside the cafeteria, as a healthy alternative to drugs during lunch hours.  It immediately attracted the Asian students in the school who ate their lunches while waiting for their turn.    I played against these students, but didn’t stand a chance.  I didn’t know whether it was lack of practice or declining reflexes caused by advancing age.   Obviously I needed practice.  I would show these kids what a thirty-six-year-old codger could do.

Marty Riesman displaying his famous chopslam.

The only place to practice and to play ping-pong any time of day or night in New York City was at a well-lit basement with five tables known as Marty Riesman’s, on 96th Street, just West of Broadway.  However, the game had changed since my youth.  For one, it was now called, “table tennis.”  The real major change was that sandpaper and pimpled rubber bats were no longer used.  The bats or paddles now came from exotic places such as Sweden, Japan, and China, and were covered with thin layers of sponge and rubber, and required an entirely different approach to the game.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience.

Marty Riesman was an interesting man.  He was about six feet tall, hatchet-faced, thin, and he wore glasses.  On his head he wore a small newsboy cap at all times that he referred to as his “lid.”  He smoked incessantly.  He had been United States table tennis champion three times, and during those glory days traveled with the Harlem Globe Trotters, giving exhibitions during half time.  This involved cutting cigarettes in half with a slammed ball from the other end of the table and challenging audience members to games in which he was only allowed to score if his ball hit a paddle resting on his opponent’s side.   He lost very seldom.  However, when the paddles changed, he was out of it.  He didn’t like the game as it had evolved, and truth be told, could no longer compete against the young Chinese and Japanese men who now dominated table tennis.

Marty was about fifteen years older than I, but he also had grown up on the Lower East Side and like myself, had spent evenings at the Edgies (the Educational Alliance) playing ping-pong, although he reached a level I couldn’t approach.  He had also attended Seward Park High School, and it was remarkable how much poetry he still carried in his memory from those days and would recite upon request.  He was unmarried and spent his waking hours managing his table tennis emporium, which even with all its lights on was still a rather dingy green and yellow place with slightly sweaty walls.  I played during the day, usually after work.  However, the place  came alive at night, around midnight, when the experts took over, playing and betting to their hearts’ content until dawn.  Cigarette smoke was thick, all the tables in action.  A hundred dollars might be wagered on the outcome of a single point, with all the yelling that accompanied such a bet.  Damon Runyon would have felt at home here.

Sadly, Marty Riesman’s no longer exists.  It was replaced by a huge, modern apartment building called the Columbia, and New York lost one of its grittier institutions.  Marty wrote books about his game and became president the United States Table Tennis Nation.



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Becoming An American Suburban

It is much more difficult to write about a more-or-less normal life, one lived without major stress and trauma, than it is to write about personal unhappiness.  Happiness makes for boring reading, which is why Satan is such an interesting figure in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Satan is unhappy in a big way. Romances, on the other hand, are interesting because of the obstacles in the paths of the lovers.  Once those are overcome, there is only the prospect of wedded bliss, shitty diapers, gain of weight, loss of hair, not the kind of stuff that makes for happy, or even interesting reading, which is probably the reason War and Peace ends with the marriage of Natasha and Pierre.  Oops!  Did I just give something away?  Truly great love stories end in the death of one or both of the protagonists (think Anna Karenin—a much better book than War and Peace— or Heathcliff and Cathy, in Wuthering Heights).  Nothing we can do about that; it is just the way things are when they’re going well, not too exciting in the retelling and possibly somewhat soporific.

Back of the house. There was more perfect lawn on the other side

So, for life in Ridgewood.  The children grew up.  They went to school uneventfully, being driven to this or that after school activity, Linda went to school for her Ph.D., and I tried to be a normal, American, suburban father and husband.  No one suffered from neglect or abuse; no one did drugs or alcohol in a major way, channels of communication in the family were kept open, mostly by Linda, which is not to say there were no major disagreements or crises, but they were generally resolved.

I really worked at being a normal suburban father and husband, which is probably how I wound up first as vice-president, then as president of the local equivalent of the PTA, in Ridgewood called the Home and School Association. Yes, I was vice president and president of the Orchard School Home and School Association for several years. There may be some who question how normal a thing this was for a man to do, but this was the era of women’s liberation, so why not?  During my stint in those positions we organized the parents into assembling a playground made entirely of tires, and later, provided the school with BetaMax TV recorders.  Dr. Abate, the principal, didn’t want them, but admitted cheerfully enough later that he had been wrong on that matter and had found them useful, particularly on rainy days when the kids couldn’t play outdoors.

I should also mention that I loved mowing grass in the summer and shoveling snow out of the driveway in the winter, mostly because I could see the result of my work.  This was in sharp contrast to teaching, where I never saw any results of my efforts, an experience probably common to many teachers.  In the classroom, you just did your stuff, but you didn’t actually see any changes in your students.  Those might come later, long after your students had left you and become adults in their own right, but you would never see them.   I became so good at organic lawn maintenance that I became the neighborhood guru on the subject, and neighbors asked me for advice about growing grass; something I found passing strange in view of being a transplanted New Yorker who knew next to nothing about the subject.  All of that, in addition to high school football on Saturdays, finally made me a real American, suburban father and husband.  Or at least, I think so. . .


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Marching to Pretoria?

Contrary to current popular belief, teacher salaries have always been rather modest, requiring adjustments of lifestyle not required of billionaires.  Camping was an affordable and enjoyable vacation for the whole family.  Many other teachers and their families camped in Acadia.  In one case, we even met a superintendent of schools, who offered me an administrative position in his school district.  I didn’t take him up on it because I couldn’t even think about leaving the New York Metropolitan area.  New York was the only city in the country where I could pick up a chess game, day or night, the center of the chess world in the United States.  Leaving it was unthinkable.  But it is pleasant to remember that the offer was made while we were camping across the road from one another in the “A” loop of Seawall Campground.  However, there was more to tenting than the money considerations.

You didn't actually see the names of the constellations 🙂

I loved the tenting because it was a complete change from our lives at home.  Not that our lives at home were unpleasant.  On the contrary.  The time we spent camping led to a new appreciation of what we did have back home, while at the same time providing us with experiences simply unavailable back home, or in a rented cottage.  For one thing, there were the stars.  A starry sky in its full splendor is something that has disappeared from the East Coast of the United States, sucked up, destroyed by ambient light.  But in Maine in those days, when you looked up, at night, you could almost hear the music of the spheres.  It was an incredible show, and it was available to us almost every evening as we left our campfire to take a short walk to the beach, where we could see the dark, shimmering ocean, and listen to its restless waves as they struck the everlasting rocks under that vast, starry sky and its comforting constellations.

I’ve already alluded to some of the discomforts of camping.  Walking to the bathrooms in the middle of the night, particularly when it was raining, was not exactly fun.  The mattresses of various types that we tried but that wouldn’t remain inflated also led to some discomfort, while coin operated showers are not to everyone’s taste, but we enjoyed almost every moment of camping.  On second thought, having to find things to do with the kids when it was rainy and cold, wasn’t all that pleasant, but the local libraries provided pleasant shelter, as did some of the rather weird museums.  Come to think of it, shopping in some of the discount stores on rainy days was also fun.

During the day, when the weather was beautiful, we hiked.  One of those early hikes is still known as the March to Pretoria.  Linda (my wife) was our planner.  She planned a beautiful hike around Eagle Lake, which today is used mostly by bikers, but at the time there were fewer bikes.  It was supposed to be a short walk, one or two miles, because our youngest was only about four at the time.  Somehow, we hiked around that damn lake for hours.  It turned out that a small boo-boo had been made.  The walk was really six miles long.  Two of the kids were extremely grumpy and unhappy.  Linda and I were exhausted. After all, we were city people! The only one who had a good time was our four-year old, Melissa.  Later in her life, for one summer, she became a park ranger on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor.

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Cod Fishing in Maine

There used to be plenty of cod

No retelling of the early years of camping in Acadia would be complete without mention of Captain Blanchard and his boat, “The Seal”.  Captain Blanchard, like many “Mainards” in the tourist industry, spent summers in Maine, and his winters in Florida doing more or less the same thing he did in Maine, which was to take parties of tourists on fishing expeditions lasting several hours.  During those early years, we were regular customers of his whenever we went to Maine.  Need I say that outsmarting a poor lump of a fish is one of the great thrills of life?  Sad to say, it is.


I had been introduced to fishing by my friend Howard Levenberg, who it seems, knew all about that stuff, much as he knew a lot about so many other things.  During the skunking weekend on the New Jersey shore, he had shown me how to tie a hook to a line, how to cast, and even how to fish for crabs.  I don’t think I ever went after crabs, but after that weekend I did fish whenever I had an opportunity and never went on vacation without my fishing gear.  Even when back home and not on vacation, I went fishing for fluke or bluefish off the New Jersey shore, and after a while thought myself pretty good at it until that fateful day I went out fishing for blues with my friend, Debbie Taffet, fisherwoman supreme, although she looked just like a normal human being.  Blues taste terrible, unless you like the taste of fish oil, but they fight, and are therefore fun to catch.  Debbie was incredible.  Fish just seemed to jump on her hook.  Every time she lowered her line she caught another fish, while I stood next to her in sad and hopeful silence,  and spent the day waiting for a nibble.   That day, I didn’t catch a single fish.  It was a truly humbling experience.

In Maine, however, in those early 70’s, the sea was still teeming with cod.  Cod didn’t fight.  They lived way deep, down at the bottom, and it took forever to lower the hook to where they lived.  It also took an eternity to raise the hook to check on the bait every now and then, but fortunately that didn’t have to get done too often.  When a cod was hooked, it felt somewhat like your hook had caught an abandoned car tire at the bottom, and dragging the heavy fish up took a long time.

Of course, there were also stretches when we didn’t catch a thing, or we caught inedible sea robins or sand sharks.  Captain Blanchard broke their necks and threw them back into the ocean. The shrieking seagulls followed us wherever we went, and every now and then we’d be surrounded by breaching whales.  The huge whales, as they encircled and followed our little boat for a while were an unexpected and thrilling spectacle.

Later stage of codfish development

Once ashore, on our rocky beach at Seawall, it was my job to clean, gut and fillet the fish.  The children took the guts and fed them to the waiting gulls.  Once cleaned and gutted, we ate cod in all its permutations for several days, and it was always delicious.  We felt like we were living off the plenty of the sea, and it felt good.

Each summer we’d schedule a trip with Captain Blanchard, but each year the cod catch was smaller, until one year it was completely gone.  The sea was dead, over-fished by trawlers and factory ships.

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Of Showers and a Restaurant

Ship's Harbor, near Seawall

Neither Blackwoods nor Seawall campgrounds had showers.  Toilets and cold water sinks, yes, but no showers.  This resulted one summer in free tent sites because Congress, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that showerless national park campgrounds should be free.  The previous year the price of a tent site had gone up from 50 cents to 75 cents a night.  We had reason to love our government in those bygone years!  Prices now are $20 a night.

Because there were no showers in the campgrounds we were introduced to the miracle of the coin-operated showers at the nearby camping and general store.  These showers were fun in the early days because there were only two of them, the third stall being taken up by a toilet.   A later store owner, a rabid Red Sox fan, removed the toilet and installed a third shower.  This had both the drawback and advantage of accelerating the whole shower process, by reducing the amount of time for socializing in the dressing rooms and by getting people out of there faster when they had other things to do.  I always enjoyed meeting people from distant places and chatting up strangers in the nude.  It reminded me somewhat of my days in the military, although the younger men, who had never been soldiers, were somewhat more self-conscious about being naked among other men.

It was even possible to involve the women in the conversations.  The women had their own dressing room on the other side of a wooden partition which didn’t quite reach the ceiling.  The shower itself was a somewhat hurried process.  You slipped a quarter into a slider, much like it was done at the Laundromat, and this purchased you three minutes of hot water, but some of that time was wasted trying to adjust the water temperature.  If you were a hardy soul, you could risk rinsing off with cold water, but I was a wimp.  I developed real skill at taking these three-minute showers, and to this day, I don’t think a shower at home takes me longer than that.

Another treat of those early days at Seawall was Annabelle’s, just outside of the campground.  Its real name was Seawall Restaurant, but Annabelle’s was its owner, and the place really went by her name.  It was a rowdy place, frequented by lobster fishermen, who lived a rather rugged life and who, when they relaxed, with the help of alcohol, got somewhat rambunctuous.  The police had tried to shut the place down.  The mayor of Southwest Harbor had driven up in his beautiful, pink Cadillac and tried to urge more restraint and better behavior, but his beautiful,  pink Cadillac wound up in the middle of a gun battle, and its beautiful, pink body was shot full of holes.  That didn’t happen while we were there.  We just heard about it later.

On Saturday evenings, Annabelle’s had a sing along.  The long tables were arranged in rows, facing a diminutive platform on which performed a small group of local musicians.  The place was usually packed with men and women of all ages, the room heavy with cigarette smoke. Everyone seemed to know the songs the musicians played, and they all joined in and sang along with the performers while downing beer in tall glasses.  A good time was certainly had by all, but Annabelle and her restaurant are gone now, replaced by an artists’ cooperative and a soup kitchen.  It could be progress, but progress may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The remains of Annabelle's Seawall Restaurant




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Life at Seawall


Sometimes it rains in Maine, and it is possible to get rain and fog and cold and damp for a couple of weeks at a time.  That’s just Maine for you, and you also have to learn to enjoy the bad weather.  In a way, I enjoyed being closer to nature when the weather was bad, possibly a result of too much Byron and the other Romantics while in college.  At home it didn’t matter much, but when tenting, it does make a difference.  I loved the drumming of the rain against the roof of the tent, particularly when the roof was watertight, but I had to learn to make it so, and a can of waterproofing spray usually took care of that problem.  I also didn’t love waking up in a pool of water, and at first this happened quite often, both in Linda and my tent, and in the kids’, and I couldn’t figure out why.  I was always careful to stretch a plastic ground cloth under the tents, and that should have taken care of the problem I thought, but it didn’t.  Each rainy morning we woke up in a pool of water, resulting in a trip to the Laundromat in Southwest Harbor with our sleeping bags to get them washed and dried.  For me the Laundromat was also an opportunity to catch up on some reading, and I must confess that the Laundromat became one of my favorite hangouts.  It had chairs, lights, warmth, who needed anything more?

Eventually I solved the problem of the water in the tents.  It seems that it is a very good thing to extend a ground cloth under a tent, but you need to be very careful not to extend it beyond the area of the tent itself.  If it goes beyond that, the rain that spills from the roof and sides of the tent is simply gathered by the ground cloth, and pools inside the tent.  The only remaining problem was what to do with three children when it rained, but fortunately there were all sorts of things you could do with kids on Mount Desert Island when it rained. Most of the time it didn’t rain, although a couple of friends, on our recommendation, came to Maine, and it rained every day of the two weeks they were there.  It can happen.  But most of the time the weather was perfect.  The tide pools held a variety of mysterious life for the children to find and examine, and the trails and mountains with their incredible panoramic views were all accessible, even to very young children, although at first, Melissa, our one year old, had to be carried. Evenings we made campfires and told stories, and waited for the visits of the raccoons, who were generally just on the edge of our campsite, waiting for handouts.  Of course, they were also quite capable of opening our cooler chest and raiding that if we didn’t seal it carefully.  Often we also attended evening ranger talks about Acadia at the campground’s amphitheater, after which we walked to our rocky, Seawall beach under a glorious starlit sky.  We checked the tide, checked the rocks to make sure they had not walked away, and tried to identify the constellations.   It didn’t take long for the mosquitoes in their multitude to find us and chase us back to our campsite.  After the children were asleep, Linda and I sat in front of our campfire, looking up, searching the skies for Perseid meteors.  They were wonderful times.


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Seawall Campground, Mount Desert Island


The first year we visited Acadia National Park, Melissa was one year old, or at least she had her first birthday in Acadia.  Packing for five people for two weeks of camping, one of them a baby, into one station wagon was somewhat of a challenge, but I managed.  After that came the ten hour drive to Seawall Campground, on Mount Desert Island, on which is located Acadia.  The driving had to be done at night, because we knew the waiting line at the entrance to Seawall could get quite long, stretching sometimes to a hundred yards.  The park rangers began admitting people and their vehicles at about 7:30, and the only way available to get at the head of the line, which was necessary if we were to get a campsite sufficiently large for our two tents, was to get there before anyone else.  If we left at 6 PM, we stood a good chance of getting to Seawall by 4 AM, possibly not early enough to be first in line, but giving us a shot at second or third.  Driving all night also had the advantage of having the kids sleep throughout the entire trip.

Just before getting to Mount Desert Island, I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts (it was open 24 hours a day, and over the years it became a habit) in Ellsworth, one of the many American cities and towns named after heroic but nearly forgotten Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, to pick up a delicious but unhealthy sugary breakfast made up entirely of fat calories, which we ate happily in the car while standing on line at the entrance to Seawall Campground.

At sunrise we walked to the picnic ground, from which we could watch the sun rise out of the waves over a magnificent, rocky beach framed by Douglas firs.  Although the mosquitoes began their bloodsucking attack as soon as we got to the beach, they didn’t spoil the spectacle.  They just abbreviated it somewhat as we dashed  back to our car while we had some blood left.  It didn’t take long to meet the people in the car in front of us, or those behind, and for their children to begin playing with ours.

Our first campsite in Seawall was the remnant of an apple orchard.  There were no apples, and just three or four trees.  They gave little shade but provided wonderful climbing equipment for our kids.  Mostly, the site was large and private, although there were other campers in the vicinity.  It held a picnic table and a fire pit.  A few steps away, there was also a small, overgrown, family graveyard with headstone markers with the name “Higgins” inscribed on them and blurred dates.  This really fascinated the kids, and gave rise to discussions about the former inhabitants of what was now our campsite.  In the evening, before “Quiet Hours,” (the time designated by park authorities for quiet, after 10 PM) there were other families nearby who had brought guitars and sang songs we knew, and so we joined them, and sat around their campfire, under unbelievably  bright stars in their uncountable multitude.

For the kids, there was an additional treat.  Just after 10 PM, Park Ranger Bob Foster  showed up in full uniform and on his bicycle at our campsite to make sure we observed “Quiet Hours”.  While in our campsite, Bob tucked Josh and Jennie into their sleeping bags.  Goodnight, park ranger!

Higgins Family Tombstones




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Ridgewood Sports

After my mother’s death, life settled down for me to a quiet routine of work, raising kids and mowing the lawn, punctuated by occasional chess tournaments.  The children were all involved in a variety of sports, the two girls as well as Josh, and I spent my time at home attending a variety of meetings and sporting events.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sporting events because they were a chance to watch kids play.  My girls especially enjoyed playing softball, alas, without much success; but they remained undeterred.  They were enthusiastic and just enjoyed playing the game.

My son, Josh, however, was a different story.  He was a natural athlete.  I had been his manager during his Little League period, and had seen him in action.  He was impressive.  Baseball was not his only sport.  For a while, on Saturday mornings, he played street hockey, and that was fun to watch.  Then for a couple of years he was involved in Biddy Basketball, at which he was terrible.  He enjoyed the game but couldn’t score, no matter what.  He was also what is sometimes euphemistically described as a very “physical player,” which resulted in ejection from the games for excessive fouls.  It was almost embarrassing, but he was enjoying himself.

The game at which he excelled was football.  In Ridgewood, little boys who wanted to play football had to join the Jets; so he did that.  The little boys looked liked small extra terrestrials in their uniforms and big helmets.  Later, the following year (or the year after) he became a Rocket.  And then there were a couple of years on the middle school team, on which he played both offense and defense.  The highpoint of the football program was the high school football team.   Josh played noseguard, a position for which he was much too small, but he played it well, although he suffered at times when matched against bigger players who would go on to become professionals.  On offense, he was a marvelous receiving tight end.  I don’t think I ever saw him drop a pass, although we also spent parts of many Saturday afternoons in the Valley Hospital Emergency Room.

Every Saturday afternoon, my neighbor from across the street and I would go watch the football game, whether at home or away.  This neighbor loved high school sports, particularly track and field events.  His son became one of the outstanding track athletes in New Jersey.  His family also hosted one of those magical long distance runners from Kenya for a couple of years.  Anyway, my buddy from across the street and I never missed a game.  Oddly enough I don’t remember it ever raining on a Saturday.  I felt I was participating in a wonderful rite taking place on the greenest grass, watching the oversized boys in the protective gear under their maroon uniforms.  Theirwhite helmets turned them into gladiators, and transformed them into temporary heroes for an afternoon. It was a wonderful spectacle.

Josh, about to catch a ball visit the ER at Valley Hospital

This is all somewhat maudlin.  With what is known about the dangers of contact sports today, I would not, should not have encouraged this passion for football.  But at the time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.  Oddly enough, when it came time to apply for college, it wasn’t his football that helped.  It was the way Josh threw the javelin in the off season that secured him a spot on the Franklin and Marshall College track and field team.


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My Mother Dies

When my mother left the hospital, the doctor in charge of her case, had told us that they had done whatever could be done, but that now there was no point to any further treatment.  She could be discharged, but the end was inevitable.  So we went home, to Ridgewood, and as has been mentioned earlier, installed my mother in the dining room, from where she could visit the kitchen and the bathroom on her own.  But that was only at first.  As time passed she weakened visibly, and the walks to the kitchen, the bathroom, and the front porch ceased.  Nursing aides were installed to take care of her, and the death watch began.

It was at this time that my mother told me the story of the crossing of the German border into Belgium.  I recorded it on one of those tiny tape recorders, and I think I still have the tape, but the device on which it was supposed to be played has long been lost.  We had other talks, but I don’t remember about what, possibly just small talk to make the time pass.  There were no revelations or words of wisdom.

The nursing aides were specialists.  They had done this innumerable times.  They usually brought their own food and sat quietly.  One of them spent most of her time solving the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.  She worked at these puzzles a long time, but eventually got the solutions, which was considerably better than my feeble attempts.    There wasn’t much that I could do for my mother.  I made sure that she had ginger ale whenever she wanted it, and Linda prepared whatever food she wanted, which really wasn’t much and consisted mostly of chicken soup. On that last day, I brought her some chicken soup from the kitchen, and she complained about it not being salty enough.  I went back into the kitchen and sprinkled in a bit more salt.  When she tasted it, she said, “You’ve put too much salt in the soup.”  Those were my mother’s last word to me, and I’ve always felt slightly guilty about that.  Could that last bit of salt have killed my mother?

My mother’s death was uneventful.  During the night Linda and I were called down from our bedroom by the nursing aide.  She thought my mother’s end was near, and that we’d want to be there when it came, which we did.  When we entered the dining room, my mother was still breathing.  She looked quiet, asleep.  However, almost overnight, she had turned into a very old woman, her body thin, wasted, her face mask-like.  I looked at her, remembering what we had gone through together, and what she had gone through alone. There was nothing to be done now, just watch.   After a surprisingly short time her breathing stopped, and then came a final gasp.  Gerda Levy, my mother, born in Berlin in 1910, who had led such a difficult life, had died quietly at home on April 15th, 1980.



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