Sunday, August 20, 2017

Racism and Other Prejudices - Forgive Us our Trespasses # 2

I guess it is not surprising that I had some tendencies to be prejudiced.   I went to Public School 76 through 4th grade and then to St. Michael the Archangel’s school until the 8th grade.  Both schools were in the East New York section of Brooklyn.  For my 4 years of high school I attended Our Lady of Wisdom Academy in Ozone Park, Queens, NY and then graduated from St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in New York City.  In all those many years of schooling, there was not one single black person in any of my classes.  Not a one!!!  Let me remind you, I was not living south of the Mason-Dixon Line rather; I was living in Brooklyn and attending schools in 3 of the 5 boroughs of metropolitan New York City-the largest city in the world.   I was a little white girl, living in a lily white world.   I was never exposed to people of color except for what I saw on the television and that was not always a positive exposure.   I heard people say that “Black Bastard” when Martin Luther King appeared on the TV screen.   I saw people in power and people in governing positions treating people of color as if they were subhuman or at least not as important as us white people.    I doubt whether my experience was unique. I don’t think I was the only one to observe and encounter such things. 

Racism and Other Prejudices – Forgive Us Our Trespasses

There are some things I observed in myself and others throughout my 72 years on this planet.   First of all there was, and probably still is, some type of hierarchy to prejudice.   Not ever one will view my observations and experiences in the same way and that’s OK.  I can only share what I encountered first hand.
Race was at the pinnacle; i.e., it seemed to be the strongest prejudice of all.  Even among the races there was another hierarchy – certain races were more acceptable than others.  Bringing a Black guy home to meet Mom and Dad was a big “no-no”.   By the way, “Black” was the socially acceptable word after “Negro” was deemed unacceptable and before “African-American” came into vogue.  Currently, I wonder if ever dark skinned individual has ancestors that come for Africa.  What about a dark-skinned person from Haiti?  Is that person an African- American?  I guess I don’t categorize every white person I meet as an Irish-American or a German-American, or Italian-American etc, so why, in everyday descriptions of a person, does that distinction even has to be made?  Back in the 50’s and 60’s even having Black friends of the same sex (and I don’t mean a lesbian friendship - just a regular friendship) was a bit of an oddity and looked upon as a curiosity or something to be noted. 
 In 1966-67 I met another young nurse on the American Red Cross Blood Mobile in NYC.  She was assigned to teach me how to perform the basic duties of my position, including venipuntures – a skill I did not learn in nursing school.    She was a young black girl, about my own age.  My initial, gut reaction -which was spoken only in my head, thank God-, was, “How the hell is she going to teach me anything, she’s Black!” These feelings of superiority surfaced immediately, surprisingly and embarrassingly and they made me realize that I was indeed “prejudice”.  I guess I might have denied being prejudice, if someone had bothered to ask me.  She was a fantastic Registered Nurse, an amazing woman and a most excellent teacher.   After my shameful initial prejudice feelings subsided, we became the best of friends.   I can truly say Connie Thomas, R.N., taught me lessons about myself and life that I never would have known had I not met her.   I quickly grew to love and respect Connie, and one thing I regret in life, is losing touch with her.  She was the type of individual I would have wanted in my life forever.  Connie Thomas, is not an easily- Googled name and believe me I have tried.   Once, when the American Red Cross Blood Mobile went up to West Point for a blood drive, we stayed a couple of nights at the Thayer Hotel on the West Point property.  When Connie and I signed up as roommates for this little excursion (an aside: this was a fantastic assignment for young, single women), the Black fellows that handled the trucks and set up the blood mobile equipment jokingly commented (many serious things are said in jest), that it was not acceptable for a white girl and a black girl to room together.  We laughed and ignored them.  Honestly, given the era in our history, this was NO joke.  On another occasion, I invited Connie to go to a Friday night party with me and she said, “Will there be any Black guys there?” and I said, “Geez, Connie, I never even thought about that, but probably not.”  I didn’t think about her “color” anymore, she was a friend and color was inconsequential.   She said, “Sure I’d love to go to the party with you” and she went.   One of the white guys at the party took her home, but ended up putting the moves on her in a rather rude way.  I was embarrassed when I heard about her experience and we both wondered aloud together if he thought because she was black, she might be “easy”.
To be continued or I've only just begun.......

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hannah Byrne and Frank B. Coleman's Wedding Tuesday, April 27, 1886 at 11AM at St. Francis Church in Friendsville, Pa.

Interesting observation for me, was the fact that I always saw her name written as "Hannah" but on her wedding invitation it is written, "Hanna"

Margaret Coleman and TJ O'Donnell's Wedding

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Missing You, Charlie

Remembering My Brother
We stood around Charlie’s bed in the Surgical ICU looking down at the face of this man we knew and loved so well for so many years.  We held onto his arms and legs, his face and shoulders, even his knees and toes.  It was as if we were desperately trying to hold him to this earth.  Somewhere deep inside me I thought if we held on tight enough he wouldn’t leave us.  One thing I knew for sure was that not one of us was ready to lose this guy.  This certainly was no ordinary man.  The earth would not be the same without him.

Charles A. Fries, Sr. was the first born of his generation.   He was the first grandchild born to Joseph & Elizabeth Fries on the Fries side of the family as well as the first grandchild born to TJ & Margaret O’Donnell on the O’Donnell side.  As such he was greeted with much jubilation.  My father, Charles A. Fries, Sr. jumped for joy and almost hit the ceiling, when he first laid eyes on his beautiful newborn son.   Prophetically, he was an easy, calm and peaceful baby and he was lovingly oiled each and every day during his infancy.  
Charlie was ever the obedient son.  When I was a teenager myself, two years his junior, I watched him in amazement as he did what he was told and even more than what he was told without ever complaining.    He accidentally dropped a glass jar of instant coffee and it smashed into a thousand pieces.  He was reprimanded but rather than yell back or defend himself, he went into the house and got the broom, cleaned up the mess, quietly continued to carry the groceries up the steep stairway into our house. When he was done, without any explanation he walked a great distance to the grocery store and using his own money replaced the jar of Instant coffee.
 My entire life was graced by Charlie’s presence; I am lucky enough to have known Charlie for over 66 years.   I could share hours and volumes of stories from all these years together as siblings, but today I will simply touch on a few.

In an effort to be concise, I looked for some words to help me to describe my brother.

The first word to come to mind is generous.  Charlie was generous to a fault; he tried to give everyone exactly what they wanted.   He would search high and low for that hard to find item, he would research and investigate from every single angle and when he presented you with the one thing your heart most desired, he would smile sheepishly as you opened your gift and reacted with utter surprise and pure joy.

Charlie was creative and playful.  As a child, Charlie imagined and created ingenious playlands in our backyard in the East New York section of Brooklyn.  One time I attempted to compete with a playland of my own, but all the kids in the neighborhood flocked to Charlie’s wonderland instead of mine.   I finally conceded, and Charlie smiled gently when I gave in and become his assistant.   I couldn’t top the master.   Then there were those times that Charlie and another kid in our neighborhood named Kurt, produced and directed elaborate shows in the backyard garage.   
Charlie also organized the rest of us kids in our endeavors to build an in-ground pool in the dirt behind our house.  It seemed we dug halfway to China but the massive muddy puddle just wouldn’t hold water.  

We built boats and houses and even our own backyard toilet.  Charlie was the architect and the quiet, unassuming chief engineer.    And in spite of his mild-mannered ways, we all responded promptly and with precision when the alarm was sounded by Charlie, the Fire Chief of 10 Engine 10.

As he got older on several occasions Charlie spoke to me about his dream of one day creating an amusement park when he reached retirement age.   He never lost his creative, playful ways.   If it wasn’t for all the pain- in- the- neck logistics, I’m sure he could have created the best Amusement Park in all of NY State. 

 In a way he was always creating amusement parks, always wanting to share fun and games with children.   Christmas lights transformed his Gun Lane Home into a magical cottage at the North Pole where even Santa came to visit personally on Christmas Eve.   He loved sharing the beautifully decorated Christmas tree, the trains and quaint little village and gifts that crowded around the bottom of the tree.    No matter how chaotic it got, Charlie truly seemed to enjoy the pandemonium of all the Santa festivities with his children, grandkids and grand nieces and nephews.   Christmas in heaven should be very special this year.

Another word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is “humor”.   Charlie had his own unique, intelligent brand of humor.  He could be really hysterical without being the least bit raunchy or boisterous.  And, he never, ever put anyone down.  He was way too kind for that and people were always more important to him than a laugh or two.    At our mother’s 80th birthday celebration, Charlie stood up to say a few words in her honor and he began by saying, “I met my mother at an early age”.
Charlie was recently made the Chaplain at his local American Legion.  He was truly honored by this appointment but shared with me -with a bit of humor- that he was wondering when exactly he had gotten ordained.   He expressed some concerns about his ability to meet the requirements, but knowing Charlie as I do, I was certain they couldn’t have picked a better guy.   Still his humor shone through when got up to offer an opening prayer and started off by asking if the parking spot marked with the C meant it was reserved for the Chaplain.    I’m sorry I never got to see him perform his duties at the Legion.

When Charlie met Ellen he transformed into a guy named Chuck.   I find it difficult to call Charlie, Chuck because he has always been Charlie to me but sometimes I would get caught up in the moment and call him Chuck.  It was obvious he liked being Chuck.
Charlie was a happy guy.  
He was filled with love. 
His love overflowed onto everyone. 
He loved unconditionally and without reservation. 
He was not pompous or showy. 
He never said a bad word about anyone.
He was a relatively quiet man.  He was a gentle man. He wasn’t boastful or conceited or unkind. 
He was a wise man, a rational man, a thoughtful man.
He was very much in control of his emotions, except possibly when someone cut him off.
And even then, he didn’t act foolish or stupid.  Can you imagine, he simply pulled the driver over, wagged his finger at her as  
he reprimanded her sternly for cutting him off.
Some might say that in spite of his laid back nature, but I say precisely because of his laid back nature,
 he was a marvelous police officer reaching the rank of Police Captain on the NYPD.
He was never trigger-happy, his gun remained in the holster as he used his peaceful, calm nature to diffuse anger, comfort the distraught and calm the aggressor.
He forgave instantaneously and never held a grudge.  
He loved people and they loved him back. 
If there is a heaven, and I hope there is, I can assure you without doubt or hesitation that as I speak, this good man is already there.
I would like to conclude with the words that Chuck shared with his wife Ellen on July 16, 2011 less than 2 weeks before his death. 
Dear Ellen, Know that I’ll love you forever….
Even though it is hard for me to describe how much you mean to me,
Know that I love you more than any man has loved a woman before
Know that I love you with all my heart….
Your smile, your touch, your caring nature…
Everything that combine to make you a one- of- a- kind person,
A once-in-a-lifetime love,
Know that I’ll love you forever…
Because the best part of my life began the moment I fell in love with you.
Love, Chuck

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Memorial Day is Much More than a Day for Some People

War brings death to young men in the prime of their lives.  It leaves a heartache that never really heals and a colossal void that is never really filled.  The sadness is immeasurable.     Memorial Day is a nice idea but how can it do justice to a loss so immense? 

"At Headquarters First Army, Fory Jay, Governor's Island, New York, on 5 Aug 52, Lt. Gen. Willis D. Grittenberger, Commanding General, Fisrt Army, Presented Mrs. Marie M. O'Donnell, wife of the late 1st Lt. Joseph T. O'Donnell, with posthumous distinguished service cross which was awarded her husband for his extraordinary heroism on 13 Oct 51, on which date he was fatally wounded in the vicinity of Mun-Dung-Ni, Korea, while a member of Co. A. 58th Inf. Regt., 2nd Inf. Div.
Standing on the left and right of Mrs. O'Donnell are her two daughters, Sharon and Diane. The parents of both Lt. O'Donnell and his wife were present at the ceremony. "

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Flipping a Coin for Dr. Coyne ( Part 8) and it's over

Flipping a Coin for Dr. Coyne (Part 8)

What happens next is a real “let-down” – totally anti-climactic and disappointing.  If you like happy endings, maybe you should stop reading right now, this part of the story is not for you!
A few days after the dance, I saw J.J. again for the first time in the back corner of a crowded elevator at the hospital.  I was in my awkward, old-fashioned student nurse’s uniform, tucking in the clumsy starched bib and adjusting the straight pin through the tissue under the legendary St. Vincent’s Nursing Cap.  I was running late for my shift – punctuality was never one of my strong points – and hadn’t had much time to apply my usual makeup.   I was late and flustered and was literally still “dressing myself” when I spotted J. J. standing along the back wall of the elevator.  I avoided eye contact and quickly turned to face the front of the elevator.  I stood there paralyzed with disappointment when I realized he was seeing me in such disarray and without my typical face paint (I always felt naked without my makeup).  If I had any inkling that I might see him that day, I would have prepared myself physically and mentally; I would have had my witty remarks on the tip of my tongue and I would have applied my makeup with artistry and precision. No, I wasn’t ready; I wasn’t that confident woman that I had become by the end of my fantasy date; the magic of that night in December had transformed me.   But now, sadly, Cinderella had turned back into a poor house servant again.  I quickly exited the elevator at the very next floor and walked the stairs to the ward. 
After acting so foolishly at this first post-dance encounter, I never quite recovered.  I avoided Dr. Coyne – no longer J.J. – as if he had the plague. In fact I elevated avoidance to an art form! If I saw him in the hallway on one of the hospital units, I would duck into a doorway or quickly find an excuse to enter the nearest patient’s room.  I lived with a certain degree of fear wondering where or when I might see him and what I would say or do should we inadvertently come face to face.
The only time I came close to seeing him again face to face was near the end of my junior year, shortly before the seasoned Interns left and the new guys arrived.  I was given an appointment to appear in the 8th floor Student Nurses’ Infirmary (under the stern yet competent direction of Agatha Boyce, R. N.) for my annual physical exam.   My classmates and I stood in two lines waiting to be examined by one of the two doctors behind the privacy the two privacy screens.   It was surprising to me - at least at this time in my life – that the young, robust Interns were assigned to this task.   Did I mention that the physical included a breast exam?  Tough duty for these guys, wouldn’t you say? As I slowly inched my way closer to the white screen on my side of the room, someone happened to mention that it was none other than J.J. Coyne behind that particular privacy sheet.   “Oh my God!”,  I shout out loud even though I don’t usually say “Oh my God” in anything other than a prayer.  In a way it was a prayer; I’m praying please, get me out of here as soon as possible.  Never in a million years will I be able to sit exposed naked before him.  Wasn’t it enough that, even fully clothed, I felt so naked and exposed before him ever since the magic of a mystical December night dissipated and that confident young woman disappeared.   
The sad fact of the matter was I never once spoke to this wonderful man again.  Not one word.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I was realistic enough to know not to expect a marriage proposal.  I didn’t want a marriage proposal.  I was only 18 years old, I was rather immature and naive and we had only one date – a date that I initiated – and that he probably accepted as a bit of a lark.  But, that is not the point. The point for me is that I find it terribly sad that I was so lacking in confidence, social graces, and self –esteem that I couldn’t even face him, or look him in the eye, or say a single word to him.  I couldn’t just open my mouth and say, “Hi, how are you doing?”
When I was 18, I thought I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough or worthy enough.  From the vantage point of having lived 70 decades, I now see some of the whys and wherefores of my feelings and behaviors.  For sure I didn’t know then, what I know now.    I know now that I was brought up in an era when men were even more powerful than they are now, and at the top of this hierarchy of power stood the doctors ( mostly male )  and the Catholic priests (still officially all male but the women are rising, praise God). This was the early 1960’s and we were on the cusp of Vatican II.  Things were different, very different, and even today, we continue to struggle to bring to fruition the wonderful spiritual renewal and positive energy of Vatican II.  
I married Robert W. Buchner on September 18, 1971 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Brooklyn, NY.  I have two children and one grandson.  I enjoy writing and have a million stories swimming around in my head.  Many of my memories surround St. Vincent’s Hospital and the wonders of life I experienced because of my connections to some of the most marvelous women on earth – the women of St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing, and especially the women of the Class of 1965 (The Vatican II Class- 1962 -1965).  Sometimes I get in trouble for being “too truthful”, but at 72, I doubt I will change.  Thank you for reading my story.  Now, I have to mail the rest of the story to Dr. J.J. Coyne.