12. Stranger in the Mind. Chapter 12.

August 5

“I’m glad that you’re home a little early,” says Karen, “so that we don’t have to rush.  We may run into traffic at the Sumner Tunnel heading out north to Revere Beach and Nahant this afternoon, since it’s such a hot and sunny day.  Mom’s plane is due in at three.”

We bump over cobblestones as the traffic squeezes down at the tollbooths fronting the tunnel entrance.  I always feel a little claustrophobic as we drive under the harbor.  Then we’re at Logan.  The plane is on time.  It’s one of those new Boeing 707’s. 

“Look, there she is!”  Karen waves excitedly as she sees her mother descend the gangway from the plane and walk across the tarmac.

We meet her in the waiting area and Karen rushes to her mother and they exchange a long, close hug.  I follow and wait while her mother holds Karen at arms’ length, takes a long up and down look at her, then hugs and kisses her again. 

“How are you feeling, Karen?”  she says.  “You look wonderful.”

“I’m just fine, Mom.  It’s so good to have you here at last.” 

“Welcome to Boston, Mother,” I say, and give her a hug and a kiss on her cheek.  “Let me take your flight bag.”   Karen’s mother is shorter than Karen, but she has the same eyes, cheeks, brown hair–although hers is lightly touched by gray, and slim frame–barely stooped.  Karen’s lips are fuller.  Karen will still look good when she gets older if she takes after her mom.

“Hello, Bob, it’s nice to see you again.  Doesn’t Karen look wonderful?  Hardly showing.”

“I agree with you, but then, Karen always looks terrific.”

“Oh, Mom,” says Karen.  “I’m wearing a pretty loose-fitting dress after all.  How was your flight?”

“Oh it was wonderful.  The new jet is so quiet and smooth.  And fast.  I wouldn’t want to fly those old propeller planes after this experience.” 

“How many bags did you check, Mother?”  I ask. 

“Just one.  But there’s also a box of food.  I brought you some jams and almonds, and also some crab on ice.  I know you have lobster here, but I’ll bet you miss Dungeness crab.  I’ll point my things out to you, as they bring out the luggage.”

“Bob has to work next week,” says Karen, “but then he took vacation for the last two weeks of your visit.  He only gets two weeks of vacation a year.”

“Oh Bob, you should have saved some time for the baby,” says Mother.

“At the time I put in for vacation, we didn’t know that Karen would be getting pregnant,” I reply.  “And then it was too late to change.”

“Well, thank you for taking vacation for me.”

The baggage handlers begin to unload the luggage from the carts onto a long, low counter and Mother points out her two pieces.

“I’ll take your things out to the curb where you and Karen can wait with them while I go get the car,” I say.

“We were planning to take you out to eat tonight,” says Karen, “but since you brought crab, why don’t we eat at home and you can also rest from the trip.  They don’t make sour dough bread here, but we can get a crusty Italian loaf on the way home.”

August 11.

I’m making afternoon work rounds with Kathy and Marcello and the two fourth year students.  Allie, the SR on Seven, who will be sharing supervision of my floor with Dave Siegal our Chief Resident while I’m on vacation, is also with us to familiarize herself with the patients on the floor. 

“Okay, that’s it, Allie.  Any final questions?”

“Nothing else that you want me to take care of while you’re gone?”

  “Well, you could get Rider off the floor for me.  Or heal up her head.  I don’t know when Lexington State will finally take her.  But seriously, thanks for covering my vacation.  Kathy and Marcello know the patients well so I don’t think you’ll have a lot of work.  Still, I know that you’ll be juggling your own rounds in order to cover both floors and that’s going to be a hassle.  I’ll do tomorrow morning’s work rounds, and then you can take over on Monday.”

We head for the elevator to the basement conference room.  “It’s nice getting your vacation in the summer, but it’ll be a long year without a break afterwards,” says Allie.  “Your mother-in-law is here too, right?  Not sure that’s a real vacation.  Is she staying with you?  How’s it going?”

“So far, so good.  Yes, she’s staying with us, but I’ve been at work all week so I’ve only seen her at night.  Karen is so happy to have her here that even if we didn’t get along, it’d be worth it.  She and Karen have already visited the Museum of Fine Arts and the Gardner Museum as well as Filene’s Basement.  And she’s been a good sport about sleeping on a roll-away in the living room.”

“Sounds like real togetherness.  What’s she do?”

“She’s a librarian.  She was a single parent, so she had to work.”

We take our seats in the conference room.  One more on-call tonight, then vacation tomorrow at noon. 

August 12.

“Hello Mother,” I say as I enter our apartment.  She and Karen are sitting in the living room.  I walk over to give her a kiss on the cheek.  Then I give Karen a hug and a kiss.

“I’m officially on vacation now, and my time is your time.”  Karen has lunch ready, and as we eat we again go over the itinerary for the next two weeks that Karen and I had planned before Mother’s arrival.

“So would you like to start by going over to Harvard this afternoon and looking around the campus?” I ask.  “Actually there’s not that much campus to see and it’s quiet without the students.  But the Yard is quite historic, and we’ll have to get a picture of you next to John Harvard’s statue.  We can see the glass flowers too.  Everything’s very compact.  And of course, as a librarian, you’ll want to visit Widener Library.  It has one of the largest book collections of any university, maybe second only to the Library of Congress.”

“And as the high light of the Yard tour, Bob will point out his freshman dorm,” says Karen with a smile.

“Built in 1790.”

“Harvard sounds like a good place to start,” Mother says.  “And I’ve heard so much about the glass flowers, but I can’t imagine what they look like.”

“You will not be able to tell them from the real thing.”

“And of course, all librarians know the reputation of Widener Library,” she says.

“Tomorrow we can drive out of the city to Lexington and Concord and Walden Pond for a picnic and change of pace.”

August 17.

We’re having breakfast in Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod.  Karen’s appetite is excellent again, and she happily polishes off her seafood omelet with Cape fries. 

“Thank you for offering to pay for the motel room,” says Karen to Mother.  “I hope that you didn’t feel too cramped with all of us sharing the room, but accommodations are tight this time of year.” 

“Well, it was my idea to turn a day trip into an overnighter,” says Mother.  “I think that it would have been a little hard to do Provincetown in one day from Boston.  This also gave us a chance to see that glorious sunrise this morning.  I hope that your pictures come out.  You’ll send me copies, won’t you?”

“Of course.  But breakfast is on us,” I say and quickly take the bill that the waitress puts on the table.

“We don’t see the sun rising out of the sea in California as you well know, so that was quite a treat.” 

“The galleries and craft places don’t open for another couple of hours,” says Karen.  “Want to just walk around after we have refills of coffee, or drive around?”

We drive back to the beach and walk barefooted along the sand.  Karen and her mother seem to have a lot to talk about, so I give them some privacy by going on ahead to beach comb and watch the surfcasters.  We return to town to browse the galleries after they open, but find nothing in our price range.  Some of the new copper weather vanes are nice, but what would we do with one in an apartment?   Then it’s time to check out of our motel, and head back up the Cape towards Boston, with a detour to visit Plymouth Rock. 

“That’s it?” says Mother.  I was expecting something grander, more significant-looking.”

“The Mayflower wasn’t a very large ship.”

It’s late when we reach Boston, and we stop off in Chinatown for dinner, feeling sunburned and sandy.  Fortunately service is fast and the food hot and tasty.  “Sorry it’s not the same as in San Francisco,” I say.

I manage to check in with Sal as we walk to the car, past the trash and boxes set out at the curb.  Karen and Mother are ahead, side-by-side, still talking.  “Come in Sal.  We just got back to town.”

“Hello Robert.  Looks like you had a good trip.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell you that we changed our plans and stayed overnight instead of returning yesterday as we had planned.  Still, it was a treat to stay over and walk the beach at dawn.  Anything happening with you?”

“No—-not really.  Nothing much happening.”

“What do you mean ‘not really?’  Is something going on in your life?”

“No.  Things are fine.”

“We’re at the car.  Look, I’ll give you a call tomorrow, okay?  Or you call me any time, and if I’m tied up, I’ll definitely get back to you later.” 

“All right.  Good night Robert.”

“Good night Sal.”

After we return to the apartment, Mother showers first, and then goes right to bed.  Karen goes next.  Then it’s my turn and the shower feels very soothing after all the driving, and I feel my shoulder muscles loosen.   

Karen seems to already be asleep, with her back to me, when I ease into bed.  But as I prepare to turn off the light, Karen rolls towards me and says, “Do you know what Mom said to me as we walked along the beach this morning?  She said, ‘I think that you and Bob are really coming together as a couple.  I had concerns when you were first married, but staying with you this time has dispelled my worries.  I think that having a baby will only draw you closer.’”

“What a nice endorsement, from my mother-in-law,” I say.  “I didn’t have any doubts about us, but I’m really glad that she feels the same way.”  Especially after her own experience.  I give Karen a tender kiss, then turn off the light. “Goodnight, honey, I love you.”

“Good night Bob, I do love you too.”

August 24.

Today has again been a scorcher, and even at seven-thirty the city’s residents bake inside their brick buildings.  We’ve taken our coffee and dessert to the living room, happy to leave the warmer kitchen where we dined.  The fan oscillates with a whir and a click, stirring the air. 

“Thank you for cooking dinner, Mother,” I say. “But it was such a hot day for you to be in the kitchen.  Maybe we should have gone out to an air conditioned restaurant,”

“I wanted to fix dinner again for both of you,” says Mother.  “Since I leave in two days, there isn’t much time left.  And I wanted to do some of Karen’s favorite dishes.”

“Thank you, Mom,” Karen says.  “But you really didn’t have to use the oven, even though you did bake my favorite pie.”

“And I also wanted to talk to both of you,” Mother says, “It’s easier to do at home than at a restaurant.  I’ve been trying to come to a decision, and I needed to spend some time visiting with you to help me make up my mind.  And I have at last.”

“Oh, Mom, you’re all right, aren’t you?” says Karen with concern.  “You don’t have a health problem?”

“No, I’m as healthy as a horse.”

“Thank God,” says Karen.

“I’m sure that Karen has told you, Bob,” Mother says, turning towards me, “that her father and I were divorced when she was two.”

I nod in agreement.

“It was a terribly traumatic period for me.  Now, with the perspective of time, I can see that it really wasn’t my fault.  Jim was an enormously charming man when he came into my life and swept me off my feet.  And after we married, I think that he sincerely did try to settle down and become a husband–and a father after Karen arrived.  But it just wasn’t in him.  He was born to be a traveling man.  Do you know the Meredith Wilson musical, The Music Man?”

I nod again and she goes on.

“When I saw it, I wondered how long Harold Hill would stay domesticated.  I felt myself flushing as I watched, since that was the story of Jim and me.  The librarian and the traveling man.  Except that the musical ended before real life began.  I felt so betrayed, angry, and inadequate when he told me that he was leaving.  At the time I was sure it was another woman.  I just could not believe that he would leave Karen and me if there wasn’t one.”

“Was there one, Mom?” asks Karen in a tiny voice.

“Now I don’t think so.  It was just time for him to be moving on.”

“Oh Mom, I feel so badly for you.  How terrible to be left like that, and with a small baby too.”  Karen moves closer to her mother on the couch and, despite the summer heat, places her left arm protectively across her shoulders.

Mother continues, “Can you believe that he had the gall to tell me that he still loved me, but that he couldn’t stay?  After he went out that door, he never once looked back.  He just closed the book on us.  I could probably try to understand if it were only me, but he abandoned you too, Karen.  And that was unforgivable.  You were only twenty-two months old and just adorable.  Learning to speak in sentences and beginning to run.  You were such a happy baby.” 

“Anyway, somehow I managed to pick up the pieces.  And I vowed that I would raise you so that you would not be scarred by what happened.  That’s why I told you that your father had died.  Other children can be cruel.  I waited until you were older, when I thought that you could stand the truth.  But I know that you were angry with me for lying to you.”

“That was only at first,” says Karen.  “I’ve understood for a long time that you did what you thought was right for me.”

“So when you told me that you had met the man that you wanted to marry,” Mother says, “all the way over here in Boston, and after only four months, I was so afraid that you were going to repeat my mistake all over again.  I’m sorry Bob, it’s just that I hadn’t met you.”  She smiles and reaches over to pat my hand.

“It’s all right, Mother,” I say.

“But what could I do?” she says to Karen.  “I raised you to be independent, to think for yourself, and to be strong.  In the end, despite my misgivings, I had to trust your judgment, and I guess, if I do say so myself, your upbringing.  I know that it sounds Machiavellian, but I had to come and live with you, to see for myself how you got along.  To get an idea of how sound your marriage is, and likely will be, after the baby comes.”

Pretty sneaky.  We’ve been tested this whole visit.  And we didn’t suspect.  Must have passed or she wouldn’t be telling us this.  Wonder what she would have done if she didn’t like what she saw?  Sal was right about her.

“Well, I hope you’ve liked what you’ve seen,” I say a little stiffly.

“Yes I do.  I feel reassured that my girl is in good hands.  Thanks to you, Bob.”

“Oh Mom,” says Karen, wiping her eyes.

“No Mother, thank you for raising Karen to be the woman that she is,” I say.  I cross over and bend down to give her a hug.  “You know that I’m always going to be there for Karen and our baby.”

“I believe you.  And I’m glad that you had sound judgment, Karen.  I guess I did a pretty good job of raising you after all.”

“Of course you did Mom, and I’ll always be your girl,” says Karen.  “But what about the decision that you mentioned?”

“Well.”  Mother pauses to gather herself.  “I met a man at the library, a little over three years ago.  And gradually we became friends.  He’s a widower, a little older than I am.  He comes in on Saturdays, and on his days off, to read.”  She smiles gently as she talks about him, blushing a little, her eyes looking past us. 

She’s in love!

“He didn’t have much formal schooling, but he’s educated himself through his curiosity and his reading.  We’ve enjoyed each other’s company.  About a year ago, he asked me to marry him.  I asked him to give me some time; that I wanted to be sure that you were secure, that your marriage was going to work out, before I considered it for myself again.  And he’s been waiting patiently.”

“Oh Mom,” says Karen.  “What’s his name?  What does he do?  Are you sure that he loves you?”

“His name is David Hofer, and he’s a longshoreman.  David is such a good man, quiet and thoughtful and kind, with a great interest in life.  And he has an inner strength that matches his physical strength.  He’s a very different man from your father, but then, I’m a different woman from that librarian in her twenties who gave birth to you so many years ago.”  She smiles fondly at Karen.  “And yes, I know that he loves me.  I think that you’ll approve of him when you finally meet him.  Just as I did with Bob.”

Karen is speechless.

“I’m glad that we passed inspection, Mother,” I finally say, “so that you can go on with your own life.  You delayed your own happiness until you were sure about Karen’s.”

“And you love him too?” asks Karen at last.  “Do you have his picture with you?”

“Oh yes indeed.  You’ll have to trust me Karen, just as I had to trust you.”  Her smile is radiant as she goes to her purse to get David’s picture. 

Karen is still in a state of disbelief as we pull the spread off our bed later.  “I can’t believe it.  Mom’s in love!  After all these years.  And he’s a stevedore!”

“And my father is a mechanic.  She put your future ahead of her own.  All these years–afraid of making a mistake with another man–until you had your own life, secure and separate from hers.”

“Do you think so?  Mom is still an attractive woman.  I guess I did wonder a little when I was a teen about why she didn’t date.  Maybe she did.  Kids don’t think about things like love and sex when it comes to their parents.”

“Mother looked very happy tonight when she talked about David,” I say as I bring Karen close for a kiss.  “If mother takes after daughter, David is a very lucky man.  I know I am.”

“Make sure the door is shut,” says Karen.  “We’ll need to be quiet.”

August 26.

“Mom,  do you have everything packed?”

“Yes, Karen.”

“It would have been nice if you could have stayed longer.”

“Unfortunately I have to go back to work, just as you two do.  Anyway, before you know it your baby will be here.”

“I wish that you could come back when our baby is born,” says Karen wistfully.

“It’s only fair that Bob’s mother have a chance to come then, if she’s able to.”

“And Mom, let me know as soon as you decide about the wedding.  I just wish that I could meet David first.  You do feel really sure about him, don’t you?”

“Goodness, Karen, I didn’t realize you’re such a worrywart,” her mother laughs.  “Yes, we’re very sure about each other.  Really.  I just know that you’ll like David when you meet him.  Now remember, if you need a little help financially after you stop working, let me know.”

“Thanks Mom, but we have enough saved up.  Besides, Bob did get a raise in July.”

“I hate to say it, but it’s time to go to the airport,” I interject.  “I’ll get your bags.” 

It seems to take no time at all to drive to Logan.  Mother checks in, and then we sit, trying to make small talk as she waits for her boarding call.  When it comes, she and Karen kiss and hug for a long time.  And then it’s my turn.  “Take good care of my girl,” she whispers in my ear.

 She walks down the stairs to runway level, and we go up to the open deck above the waiting room, to watch her cross the tarmac with the other passengers.  Mother waves from the top of the gangway, before disappearing into the plane.

We wave back until she’s gone from view.

“Want to wait till the plane takes off?”  I ask.

“Yes, if you don’t mind.  I can’t believe that Mom’s visit is over already.”

“She has to get back to work,” I say, “and next week you’ll have meetings and preparations for school too, even though classes don’t start till after Labor Day.  I’m sure that she already feels the same mood of let-down that we do.”

“She didn’t set a wedding date.  Said that she needs to talk with David first.  I guess that he has to talk to his children too.”

The gangway is rolled back, then the jet engines start one by one with belches of black smoke.  We wave again as the plane begins to taxi away from us.

“It’s a shame you most likely won’t be able to attend the wedding,” I say, “since you probably won’t be allowed to fly during the last two months of your pregnancy.”

“I just hope that David is as fine a person as she thinks he is.  I wish that I could meet him first.”

I laugh.  “I’ll bet that Mother said exactly the same thing when you first wrote her that you were in love and wanted to get married.”  I put my arm around her waist and we stand side by side, closely touching.  Both of us realize that Karen’s relationship to her mother will be forever changed by her mother’s marriage, just as it was first changed by ours, over two years ago.  First Mother lost your exclusive love, and now you’ve lost hers.

“I’m glad that. . ., ” I begin and then think the better of finishing my thought. . . . your mom is going to have a chance for her own happiness.  Karen may not be ready to hear that.

“What did you say?”  asks Karen.

“I’m glad you two had such a good visit, and that she feels confident about us.”   

There’s a loud roar from the end of the runway where Mother’s plane has turned around.  It begins to roll faster, speeds past the terminal, and lifts off.  We watch it gain altitude, bank to the left, then straighten out and head west, becoming smaller and smaller.  I kiss Karen’s forehead and hold her close to me.  Then hand in hand we descend the outside stairs and walk to the parking lot without saying anything.

August 28.

“Hey Bob, you sure look rested and tanned,” says Kathy as I walk into the resident office before morning rounds.  “Must have had a good vacation.  Your mother-in-law leave?”

“Yeah, vacation was very nice, and my mother-in-law left on Saturday.  How’s it been on the ward?  Place full?”

“We’ll get you caught up during work rounds.  Oh, and Marcello’s been sick.  Got a fever, headache, and exanthem the end of last week.  Don’t know if he’ll be in today.  They were even thinking of tapping him, but he didn’t have meningial signs.”

“Welcome back, Bob,” says Allie, walking in.  “I’m glad to see you.”

“Thanks for covering me.  I really owe you one.  Not too hectic, I hope.”

“Not till Marcello got his rash on Thursday.”

“Kathy was telling me about that.  What happened?”

“Well, he started to have a headache and low grade fever on Tuesday,” says Allie, “and then broke out with a macular-papular rash on Thursday with a higher fever and worse headache behind his eyeballs.  You know Wayne Jordan, one of Saul Norman’s fellows?  He’s an internist.  Well he’s doing research on Coxsackie virus, and he got wind of Marcello, and wanted to do a spinal tap.  Ended up taking stool and blood samples instead.  Marcello had to talk pretty fast to dissuade him.”

“Let’s go round,” says Kathy, “and we’ll show you what’s been happening.”

“Anybody talk to Marcello over the weekend?”  I ask.  “If not I’ll give him a call today.  It seems funny that I’ll be back only four days, and then we all switch rotations.”

“You didn’t have to take a vacation,” says Kathy.  “You could have stayed with us and worked the whole month.”

“Oh, and the Chief is on vacation too,” says Allie, “So Ol’ VD has been presiding at rounds.” 

“Oh,” I say unenthusiastically.  Then, “Good morning Miss Kennedy,” as we walk past her desk in the hall and she rises to join us on rounds.

After rounds I call Marcello’s apartment and I’m relieved learn that his fever is down, rash is fading, and his headache is gone.  He thinks that he can be back at work tomorrow, and has an appointment with an internist today to get clearance.  Then I spend time going over the patients on the ward, checking the progress notes and orders. 

Marcello and Kathy really have good handle on things.  Hard to admit, but think they’re further along than I was at this time last year.  Of course, Marcello’s already had a residency in the Philippines.  Not exactly green.

This afternoon I contact Sal as I walk to my car after Rounds.  “Hello Sal.  Sorry that we didn’t get to talk that much for the past two weeks, but it was been very busy with Mother’s visit, and many of the trips that we took were out of our range.  How are things?”

“Hello Robert.  I’m glad that you’re back and have more time to talk again.  I’ve missed you.”

“And I you.  Those short conversations squeezed in on the fly weren’t the same thing as our usual visits.  Vacation is nice, but it’s also good to get back to the County.  But I found Marcello out sick; he’ll be back tomorrow though.”

“Is Karen getting used to the idea of her mother being in love?”

“She hasn’t said that much more about it.  I guess it’s going to take a little time to absorb.  Then too, she’s been having meetings at school to prepare for the new school year, so that has occupied her.”

“Just continue to show understanding and sensitivity.  As she said herself, it’s not easy for even adult children to recognize that parents have emotional and sexual needs.”

“Don’t worry, I will try to.”

“Bob,” says Sal.  “To change the subject.  If it doesn’t bother you, do you think that I could stay with you a little more during the day?  Really, I won’t say anything, and you’ll forget that I’m there, I’ll be so quiet.”


“I’ve done it before when you’ve invited me to go along with you.  It’s always been enjoyable for me to share a little more of your life.  You’ve never minded my presence, and I’ll make sure that you won’t have a reason to mind this time.  And I’ll always let you know at the start that I’m there, and I’ll let you know when I leave.  I’ll be sure to stay in the background.”

“Sure.  Why not.  As long as you have the time.  I’ll let you know if you become a pest before I kick you out.”

No use asking questions about reasons.  Must not have anything else to do now.  Never find out what’s on his mind anyway.

August 31.

“Thank you, Bob,” says Marcello.  “I’ve enjoyed working with you the past two months.  I mean it.”

“Yes,” says Kathy.  “I feel that I learned a lot during the rotation.  It wasn’t that busy, but we made good use of what we got.”

“We did get off to a little rough start,” I say.  “But I also learned something from you two about being a SR.  I’m glad that we came through okay in the end.  Where do you go next?”

“I’ll be Night Float,” Kathy says.

“And I’ll be out at the Kennedy,” says Marcello.  “What’s the word on that?”

“You’ll have a lot of time to read and Alan Ahearn, the med director, is a good teacher and all-around nice guy.  Your wife and children should enjoy the month too, since there’s no night calls, and you’re off every weekend.  The only disadvantage is that you’ll feel out of contact the whole month.  And Kathy, I guess if you’re the Float, you will be in the thick of things.   I’ll be seeing you every fourth night.  I was the Float in September too and I was busy.  Good luck.”

“Where are you going?” asks Marcello.

“I’ll be the supervising SR in the Outpatient Clinic.”

“Lots of administrative stuff, eh?” says Kathy.

“Yeah, and also acting as primary consultant to the JR’s.  Well, it’s time to head down to the basement for rounds.”

“I think they’re sincere in what they said about their two months with you,” says Sal.  “You should take it as a real compliment.”

“Yes, considering how things were going during the first two weeks,” I reply.  “Thank you for bringing Kathy and Marcello’s feelings to my attention.”

The elevator arrives and Peg O’Hare slides the door open.  “Good afternoon doctors.  It’s to the basement, eh?”

“You got our routine down pat, Peg,” I say.  “But this will be our last run with you as a team.  Tomorrow, we all go to different rotations.”

“May the wind be always at your back,” says Peg.

“And may the road rise to meet you, and God hold you safe in the hollow of His Hand,” says Sal.

“And God hold you safe in the hollow of His Hand, ” I repeat aloud.

“That’s nice.  Is that an Irish saying?” asks Marcello.

“Yes,” says Kathy.  “My father likes to say that.”