Letter from America.
Who hasn’t had a day when nothing went right? You know what kind of day I mean. You wake up and brush your teeth with 2% hydrocortisone cream instead of toothpaste. Oh, you’ve never done that? Well, I have. The aftertaste in my mouth was most unpleasant, but I can honestly say that my pearly whites haven’t itched for so much as a single minute since that unintended application.
I don’t suppose you have ever worn a tan shoe on one foot and a red shoe on the other, either. If not, then bully for you. I have. Fortunately, this didn’t happen on the same day that I failed Elementary Tooth brushing, or I would have felt like a complete and utter dunce. It did occur, however, on the very day that I left my wallet on the kitchen counter, leaving me without the cash or credit card necessary to put gas in the nearly empty tank of my car. Pulling into the gas station on fumes, I asked the attendant to fill ‘er up. What seemed like several million dollars later, he pulled out the hose, whereupon I discovered that I was flat broke. I jumped out of the car, unstrapped my baby from his car seat, and went into the office to explain my plight to the station owner. I was afraid the guy would ask me to leave my fourth-born as collateral while I went home to fetch my wallet. Fortunately for me, he didn’t much care to babysit for a wet and cranky six-month-old, but I’m pretty sure he might have considered calling Child Protection Services on me when he noticed my mismatched shoes and state of agitation.
One bad day doesn’t a bad life make, but a string of them can certainly put a damper on one’s spirits. The summer of 1981 was, for me, filled with a huge blessing followed by such a string of misfortunes that I’ll never forget it. On July 24, our third child, Devon, was born. She was a beauty, if I do say so myself, and a good baby, to boot. Two days before she was born, my then-husband called me with “good news” and “bad news.” “Which would you like to hear first,” he asked me. “The bad,” I replied. He informed me that his employer was closing its New York office and was firing all but two of its 200+ employees. The good news was that he was one of the two who would stay to attend to the closing of the office, a job that might take as much as three months—time enough for him to secure another job.
Three weeks after Devon was born, while we left her and our two toddlers very briefly in the care of a sitter, my husband and I crossed the street to attend the second wedding and backyard reception of a neighbor. Some days later, my neighbor called to inform me that we had been exposed to infectious hepatitis at the reception. One of the caterers had a rip-roaring case and everyone at the wedding had to be informed. We got the message a little later than desirable: The bride’s son came down with it and so did my husband. Because he couldn’t go to work, we decided to have him recuperate at a remote New England summer cottage we had bought on our honeymoon, years before, as an investment. The house had paid for itself from day one with rental income, but we had an unexpected cancellation by the last renters of the season. When we arrived, my husband’s jaundice was somewhat improved, but he was still rather sallow.
A few days passed rather peacefully but, after returning from the beach one afternoon, we realized that the water heater was off. On lighting the pilot, there was a loud “poof” and an even louder scream…from the only adult male in the vicinity. A so-called “puff-back” had burned off both of my husband’s eyebrows. He also sustained small patches of first- and second-degree burns to his cheeks and chin, and burns from his hands to his elbows. Our house was on an island some eleven miles from the nearest mainland hospital, but the island did boast an island clinic, complete with a doctor who had received his medical degree approximately three minutes before he treated my husband. He bandaged hubby up about as well as Devon might have done, then called the airport to have him transported to the mainland. My brother flew over the following day to help me get home with the three kids.
About 10 days later, the hubster had landed a new job, secured through his professional network and with only a perfunctory telephone interview. He reported on the first day without any eyebrows and with gauze bandages on his arms. His jaundice was, by then, barely noticeable, but he had been unable to shave portions of his face, so he presented quite a picture. Makes my bad day look tame by comparison, doesn’t it?
Years later we were able to look back on that summer and laugh about it, much like we laughed about our fun-filled move from New York to Georgia, during which someone flushed the car keys down a toilet midway into our trip. “Where are the spare keys?” I was asked. “In a spare handbag packed in a box headed to Georgia in a great big moving van,” I replied. After an expensive emergency call to a locksmith, we, with three of our four children, a large dog named Jack, a tranquilized male cat, and a mama gerbil with about a dozen brand-new pink babies—not to mention a station-wagon load of luggage—headed farther south. Somewhere along Interstate 85, the cat awoke from his tranked stupor and sprayed the entire car with an unmistakable feline stench. We were not happy campers, to say the least, for the remainder of the trip.
Like any semi-normal human being, I consider all of the above to be minor catastrophes, irritating (and even worrisome) as all H-E-double chopsticks when they occur but amusing—even laugh-out-loud funny—when recalled. May all of your catastrophes this day and in the coming days be minor ones. Keep them in the recesses of your mind, but do trot them out when a genuine calamity takes place. You’ll feel much better; that’s a promise.
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