Monday, November 30, 2009

Thing that go bump in the night

This is everyone's favorite Dr. Mary story. After reading about the bear attacking poor Doris I know some of my friends are going to say "You can't expect us to believe a story like this!" I can only rely on my reputation for veracity.
To say my mother had an open mind doesn't quite explain how open. You could drive a tractor trailer through a mind this open which made her tremendous search for meaning beyond the mundane a real adventure. Her search began a with fortune teller in her hometown of Beacon, N.Y. when she was young. The fortune teller told her that she would not find what she was looking for there, but would find her heart's desire far away. My being born legally blind was the impetus for her moving us to Davenport, Iowa and you would think going to college on a GED with two young boys would be enough to occupy her mind and time. We were always going to strange meetings-hushed gatherings listening to Martians speaking on reel-to-reel tape recorders. I must admit that was quite a thrill for a kid who loved to watch Captain Midnight on Saturday mornings. I delighted in having an avowed vegetarian buy me a hamburger after a Theosophist meeting. The humdinger of humdingers was Saturday nights at Edith Ewing's in Rock Island Ill. which was on the other side of the Mississippi River. I remember walking down a dark alley with my mother and brother and knocking on the door of a poor but clean apartment. About a dozen people and one Irish Setter named Rusty sat on overstuffed chairs and a sofa, My spot was a chair by the window where I could marvel at the slivers of light that would come and go past my face. She was an elderly, warm woman who lived since childhood surrounded by about six Native Americans who walked this land over a hundred years ago. They were her friends who vowed to stay with her until she passed. Did I think this was scary or odd?-no not at all which probably explains why I have never felt that comfortable in this world. Edith would sit with her eyes closed for a few minutes in this darkened living room and at some point different voices would emerge from her body. People went around the room asking questions. My mother wanted to know what her father did in the next world. One of the Native Americans would send a runner and a minute later my mother was told that her father helped children who had died a violent death transition to a purely spiritual world. My mother derived great comfort by this answer. It was something she could imagine her father doing. White Owl was a medicine man and he would answer medical questions. My mother bonded with him and all the decades of her chiropractic career he would place a light over an area that required attention on a patient. I wonder how many of thousands of people she worked on new that. I will save the most incredible part of this story for tomorrow as I need to fill out work reports.

Friday, November 27, 2009

for Brian

My friend Brian emailed wanting to know the link for the radio show and this blog so I'm going to surprise him by writing a story about his mother and my mother.
Doris Kurzius, like my mother, is impossible to explain to anyone who has not met her. Tthe opportunity to meet both of those wonderful quirky souls has vanished along with their outer form of dust. Let's just go with quirky and leave it at that. Brian's father was non-quirky. He was the total opposite of what that word embodies. Why a quirk and a non-quirk end up together is a mystery but I can think of a lot of couples who fall into that category.
Anyway, after Charlie passed away Doris traveled like a feather taken by the winds and we never knew where or why she landed where she did, but we knew in her heart she was trying in her own pure way to serve humanity and spread the Baha'i Faith.
My equally quirky mother was holding forth in her office in Beacon, N.Y. when the phone rang. My mother did not have a receptionist or an answering machine so phone calls were answered in a terse manner. She gave her full concentration to who she was working with and had little time for small talk.
Here is my recreation of the phone call: "Mary, help!!! I'm in a cabin in the wilderness of Alaska and a bear is beating down the walls and the door. He wants to eat me!!!
"Doris!! Calm down!! You know what to do. Walk all around and shout Ya Allah El Mustaga(I'm sure I'm misspelling, but Baha'is say this in times of dire trouble). The bear will run away. Now stop bothering me!. I'm working on a patient!"
So Doris did walk around shouting this Arabic call for divine assistance and the bear did run away. The local inhabitants came the next day and were taken aback by the mauled cabin walls and wondered why she was still alive. I know people are going to suspect the veracity of this story, but that is how it happened.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

up on the roof part two

I'm laughing because I meant to write about one memory and it came out totally different hence the title "Up on the roof" made no sense! The moral is embrace your dementia-don't be afraid of it!
Anyway, eventually my mother through sheer force of will over powered all obstacles and established a successful home practice. My grandmother moved next door to her other house and lived in the second floor apartment. The houses were close together separated by a driveway. I think mother and daughter liked that because they could spy on one another. A patient comes into the office and calmly says to Dr. Mary, "Hey isn't that your eighty year old mother up on the roof (now it makes sense) washing the windows?" I really would have liked to have been there for this incident because I think I would have been filled with admiration for my grandmother's ability to maintain her balance on a sloping roof because my mother opened her office window screaming "what the hell are you doing!!! get off that roof now!!!" A lesser mortal would have lost their balance and plummeted to their death, but Ma (what we all called her) told her to mind her own business and finished the job. Ma would also walk over, if she had a pressing question on her mind, to my mother's office and walk right in her adjusting room where Dr. Mary would be working on someone dressed in one of those gowns where your backside was exposed. "Mary, you work on customer? get me some milk when you go shopping." My mother would go nuts, "How many times do I have to tell you to knock! I'm working on naked people here!" To which Ma would say, "I seen all dat lots before." Escorting Ma out the door she would yell "And don't say customer! they are patients."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

up on the roof

My Grandmother took the big boat from Poland to the United States right before World War One or the Great War as it was called back then. Her plan was to make some money in the land where the streets were paved in gold and then return home. The war, meeting my grandfather and eight children changed that plan forever. America could claim my grandmother's feet but her heart and mind never left Poland. In Poland there are Catholics, Jews and medical doctors and my mother was a Baha'i and a chiropractor which explains the constant perplexed look on Ma's (that is what everyone called her) face. Never becoming fluent didn't help matters-"what" was how she always answered the phone, but still there was an almost supernatural bond between mother and daughter. Whenever we did not know where are next meal would come from when my mother was struggling to work her way through chiropractic school in Davenport, Iowa an envelope would arrive with ten dollars(a small fortune back then) and a couple of words for "my Mary". The words were never "I love you". Ma would have thought that telling a family member that you loved them was craziness. They were your family, even if they were going to hell and practicing some kind of most likely illegal medicine they were still your family. My mother returned home in the dead of winter sleeping in her car on the way. Late at night she knocked on the one door that would open. She had two pennies in her purse and one mother.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day and Night

My mother and father-could two people be more different or have anything less in common? Yes they were both oxygen breathers and drank water but can that be a basis for a happy marriage. My God, my mother would get sick eating Italian food! I think of them and I shake my head. But in their own way they were hilarious. Speaking of water (go back two sentences and pay closer attention). My mother was sitting in the living room eating her supper and watching tv when she asked my brother Richie for "a nice cold glass of water". Big mistake mom. Richie scooped out some stagnant dishwater in a dirty glass and gave it to my mother. She reacted with a display of horrific shock. That's why she was so funny. She had a vast assortment of shocked expressions. There was embarrassed shock when Dr. Mary was driving down main street in Beacon and Richie would hang out the back window trying to grab people on the sidewalk pretending to be severely retarded. She would yell "What are you doing. I'm a respected doctor in this town!" There was "I'm afraid for my life shock" when she decided to give Richie his first driving lesson. She was scared to death in the back seat (back seat?) as we barely moved down South Chestnut street. She screamed, "Help! I'm being bounced around like a ball back here!" I still picture this 250 pound woman holding on to the door handle for dear life contemplating bailing out if the speedometer hit twenty. My personal favorite was angry shock and I had just the right touch to bring this on. If mom asked for a spoon or a napkin I would bring it and hand it to her but only close enough to brush her fingertips. She would grab and lean and at first she would not realize that I was pulling that awful trick again. Maybe you had to be there or know this woman.

My father was just funny-all kinds of funny. He told me my first joke while holding his hand walking to church. "Later on I have to cut our toilet seat in half" dad said. I was stunned. "Why you doing that dad?" and he answered "Because my half ass brother is coming to town." Years later I would love to observe his interactions with the regular customers who frequented his 24 hour restaurant in downtown Danbury, Cn. This massive man would come out of the kitchen to socialize. An old customer totally disgusted with his dripping wet smelly, gross apron the size of a bed sheet said "Sam, why don't you change that apron? and my father answered with a serious face "How am I suppose to keep the soup pot full if I do that?" My favorite was this guy at the counter who was bending his ear to the floor going on and on about ground hogs chewing up his lawn. I kept thinking why was this man bothering my father-the guy is a cook not a landscaper. Dad leaned over and said to him "Why, I can help with that. Get a sign and write on it "No ground hogs allowed" and pound it into the ground. The guy did not know what to think, but I bet he never asked him pest control questions again. I have one memory that stands out-it was our wedding day and sitting side by side at the head table were my parents looking terribly uncomfortable. The death blow was administered by my Aunt Fran, who my mother couldn't stand until she was dying of Alzheimers. She walked by with a sly smile and said, "Look at the two little love birds" . My parents are gone to that promised mansion in heaven and I am sure that their rooms are as far apart as possible, but they left behind a bunch of brothers and sisters and I thank them for that. We are going to have a reunion in the spring and my parents and step mother will be there in the smiles, sarcastic remarks, the shocked expressions, the laughter and the tears. We will sit at the long dining room table and share a bowl of soup along with a nice cold glass of water.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blue Wind

My end of working life old man's job is helping individuals with disabilities. A few years ago I accompanied a young man to a privately run excellent program for those individuals who have experienced a brain injury. It was created by an extraordinary man who while on his honeymoon was waiting to pay the toll on the interstate in Maine when a tractor trailer hit the rear of his car at high speed killing his wife and causing multiple severe injuries including brain damage to my friend. He recovered and if you met him now you might notice a limp, but probably would not notice his brain injury. He had his own struggles with the government fighting for disability money and was reduced to living off of crackers and cereal when he won a nine million dollar settlement from the State of Maine. He used the money to create a foundation to help others suffering brain injuries-an astounding gentleman. I have never heard him utter a mean word against anyone as he cheerfully spends his days trying to help others get their life back.
Anyway, I was working with a brain injured client during their day program which offered a variety of classes for the members and on this day my client and friend chose a writing class. The instructor asked the group for any two random words which he wrote on the blackboard. One was "blue' and the other was "wind" and the assignment for both staff and members was to write a poem using those two words in a minute or two. Here is what I wrote:

Blue Wind

A blue wind blew through his life
The calm never came
Each morning it howled and he howled back
But no one heard
Not even the people who had surrounded him all his life
In the end there were four silent walls
It could have been blue

I knew immediately the "he" was my older brother who had taken his life a few years before and what I know now is that not all internal damage is caused by speeding tractor trailers. Some can be caused by a blue wind.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Again my selfish purpose in writing down these family stories is to make the first step in preserving them for my grand children before I enter that twilight of the mind where the memories have gone back to dust.
I have started out with the more humorous stories because they are less emotional to relate, but my mother was way more than a constant source of amusement. I should say that what made her so funny to me was that she did not have a traditional sense of humor. I mean the exploding bed story would not be nearly so funny if she was in the corner of the bedroom covered in splintered wood and bedding and she she found it funny. I would tell her the same Polish joke (we are Polish on my mother's side) every year. I would say "Mom, did you hear about the Polish man who almost beat the train to the railroad crossing?" And she would say "Why no son I haven't." and I would answer "He almost made it, he hit the fifty second car." and she would say with a serious demeanor. "How can you say he almost made it. He was not even close?"
But I want my grand kids to know also the enormity of her compassion because it is what made her so special.
After we moved to Maine where my mother had opened up her second chiropractic practice and where we had joined her the last few years of her life I began to have a new appreciation of her. She worked for the love of helping others and gradually became more informal in her dress and really did not care about sticking to a prescribed length of time for a treatment. She had a beautifully old waiting room right off the kitchen that contained some comfortable chairs and a Steinway player piano. One day I came home from my wood shop and saw my pre teen daughter and my mother scrubbing the rust off of an old bike. They were laughing and having a grand time oblivious to the disaster of a mess they were creating in what was supposed to be a professional waiting room. I asked them what they were doing and mother replied. "We are fixing up this bike to give to Linda (not her real name)" I was surprised. Linda was a young girl in the terminal stage of what I think was cancer. Her blue collar father accompanied by the mother would carry her swollen body in for her weekly treatment. There is something so awful about a whimpering child in pain. Neither the parents or my mother had any illusions about a cure, but my mother was able to give her pain relief. I know also that my mother never charged this family. If a child was involved my mother was simply one of thsose rare angels. She could be abrasive with adults at times and had a fierce temper but little kids never saw those human failings. They saw a loving smile and heard a gentle voice and felt her love. Anyway, I said "Mom, I don't understand why you are doing this. Linda is never going to ride this bike." Dr. Mary looked at me and said. "Ronnie, Julia and I know that but Linda thinks she will ride this bike someday and that is all that matters." Linda passed away a short time later but she had many moments of priceless happiness thinking about riding the bike her Dr. Mary had given her.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

books can be dangerous

My mother was a huge woman and if she got moving with a head of steam it was best to cover your self with plywood until the storm passed. My brother and I were sitting in the living room before a Baha'i meeting or in my brother's case the pool hall or Off Track Betting. I was trying to follow the evening news and Dr. Mary was storming around the house looking for a book which she was sure I had given away. Her face was red and she was shooting me death looks. I suggested she look again in her bedroom where there was a beautiful antique bookcase next to her bed. She rushed into her room and plopped down full force on the edge of her bed. I heard a gunshot or a thunderbolt-some type of explosion and carefully looked through the door. Her wooden bed had exploded-shards of wood, box spring and mattress thrown in the corner, but no mother. She had to be there-even Dr. Mary had to obey the laws of physics. And there she was!-feet in the air-shocked exspression-covered in blankets and pillows. Miraculously she was ok although a little shocky. Then the laughter began-I laughed but my brother cried with laughter that was out of control. I will think of that episode and smile. Maybe you had to be there but even God would wet His pants. With the help of glue, clamps and some skill I put together the bed but my mother's pride took a ding that made her distrust beds and books and her son who probably did give that book away. I hope that they let you read blogs in heaven because my brother would really appreciate this one.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I mentioned in my last entry that after attending a wedding in my old home town of Beacon, N.Y. with Karen we made a point of touring the city which has really transformed itself from a gritty factory town to bedroom community for New York City. Fear and faster trains since 9/11 have tipped the balance in the minds of commuters who are more willing to put up with a longer trip to work. There is actually a store that just sells home made pies. Thirty years ago the newspaper headline would have been "Insane Pastry Chefs Threaten Townspeople" I had once fantasized as a Beacon merchant what kind of store I would open if I was fabulously wealthy. I envisioned a moose store on main street nestled between the "We Sell Beer to Minors" bar and my other fantasy store-"Rent-a-Nun". The moose store would have a simple concept. There would be a row of moose in stalls with price tags-some with inexplicable "Half off As Is" tags and "Buy One, Get One Free". A salesman dressed in an elegant suit would wait on phony customers who are paid to shop. A couple of times a day a moose, with a large "sold sticker" on his rear end would leave the store with a typical looking Beaconite (someone down on his luck with no hope of a decent life). The reason for all this is to create unending gossip and hair pulling consternation among the townspeople who simply could not accept the idea that in a town where the typical business was on the verge of bankruptcy, a store selling new and used moose would be prospering. Others would like to use their fortune to book passage on the space shuttle, but this is what I would do. The "Rent-a Nun" store is a more practical concept. I read once that there are more nuns over ninety than under thirty because they refuse to die. They know a wrathful God with a giant ruler is waiting to rap their knuckles. I see them sitting in nice easy chairs in my store sipping tea and eating cookies bent over with wisps of gray hair trying to escape their habits. Now suppose you lived in Beacon and were being threatened with eviction-which is almost a given. For a modest sum you rent one of these ninety year old nuns and park her in your living room. The sheriff comes with some burly deputies ready to throw you and your belongings out to the curb, but you have a nun ensconced on your sofa-a maiden great aunt visiting for a month perhaps. The perplexed officials leave with their tails between their legs because their is no way they can throw a ninety year old nun out the door-well worth the ten bucks an hour.
Anyway back to reality or close to it. We drove by our old family home where my brother lived on the second floor in bachelor squalor all alone after my mother moved to Maine to open up a chiropractic office. I had a hard time recognizing the place where I grew up. There was a white picket fence with a small manicured lawn and a new porch. It was like Anne of Green Gables had moved to Beacon to escape the tourists on Prince Edward Island. I did recognize the roof over the porch and the bedroom window right above. My brother, God rest his soul, treasured his privacy and his freedom to have piles of underwear and socks heaped on a broken recliner. Our two daughters and especially our older daughter loved him and he was devoted to them often babysitting if we went to the movies. They didn't see the mess, the grime on the stove, floor, chairs, windows and cat. They just saw Uncle Bingo who loved them and did Elmer Fudd impersonations. The only intrusion into his idyllic world was the late night phone calls from my mother that drove him crazy. Finally, he got rid of his phone-money better spent at Off Track Betting anyway. The problem was the doorbell did not work and he locked the front door from the inside and there was only one way to get his attention. I would stand in front of the house and throw pennies at his bedroom window and over the years the roof was covered in pennies. My daughter wrote this poem looking back at those odd times.

Pennies on the roof

littered from Daddy’s overall pockets in winter,
the ones aimed at Uncle Richie’s storm window one
cent, a nickel, at a time
until he heard their staccatos breaking
up the television into Morse code.
Pockets empty,
we waited outside in the cold for the click of the lock
and a middle-aged, overweight bachelor who had
clam sauce and spaghetti on the stove
and his nieces on the fridge
and a picture of the child Andalib in
the school uniform paid with pennies
sifted from the sawdust and
paneling nails of his pockets.

The day there was only one left, enough to buy
a peppermint or a soul,
he called us up on the phone.
I cried afterwards, mistaking
the distance in his voice for sadness
But it was only the distance of a man,
turned alchemist.

The next morning, the pennies on the roof
were circles of gold . They glistened
in the morning
while we mourned the loss and gain of wealth.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Karen and I went back to my hometown of Beacon, N.Y. for the wedding of Anna Ruhe-Shoen who is the daughter of old friends Chris and Janet. The whole family and their friends are singers, writers, musicians, poets and last but not least dancers. The bride is a passionate dancer and this is how she says what is in her heart. She entered like a whirling dervish and proceeded down the aisle to waiting assortment of African drummers and a tall elegant-I want to say white dashiki wearing groom but I'm not sure if a dashiki is still a dashiki if it is asked to entirely cover a 6'5" black groom. Maybe it was a mega dashiki-but that sounds like a bad Japanese horror movie. "Help! Mega Dashiki has consumed my family!"
The wedding took place in what was the town library when I was growing up. It was built through the generosity of General Howland and it is a grand ornate brick structure that has had a rebirth like the rest of the Beacon. As I entered the building I noticed the row of beautifully restored brick buildings across the street. Twenty years ago a tree had grown through the open roof of one of the buildings. Another building once housed a seedy bar that sold beer to minors for which I will always be grateful. It was easy to tell that they did because their sign said "We sell beer to minors". Another building stood right across the street from what was the police station and during the depression was the home of the legendary Toots Adams. One time Toots was standing on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the three story apartment house talking to a policeman. Here you need to know that this happened during the prohibition years when it was against the law to drink alcohol. Anyway, there was a large explosion on the third floor where Toots had his apartment and literally a river of beer cascaded three flights down the stairs to the sidewalk below. Toots and the angry policeman were ankle deep in foam and roly poly Toots seemed to be oblivious of the environment which was not that unusual. The furious officer said, "Toots! where did this beer come from?"
And Toots uttered the famous words that until this very day every school child in Beacon knows "What beer?"
Legend has it the officer could not stop laughing and simply walked away without arresting the immortal Toots.
This is the problem with going home-every square inch is the site of a memory. The wedding was even for a Baha'i wedding unique. Besides the dancing bride, there was poetry by the groom, piano playing and singing by the father of the bride, Persian prayers chanted, passages from Rumi (Rumi most be amazed at his popularity and is probably wandering the halls of heaven yelling "Where the xxx are my royalties" Finally, the bride and groom in front of two designated witnesses said the words that make a Baha'i wedding official "We all verily abide by the will of God" I smoozed with old friends , talked to Pete Seeger who sat next to me and ate finger food(Not food from Pete's fingers-just tiny meatballs). The sun was going down as we left the wedding and Karen and I completed our tour of Beacon. We drove by my old house and the house that my mother and brother lived in separated by a common driveway, but those memories I'll share in the future if you all promise to eat your vegetables.