The home above is not the actual home where this story took place, but is similar and from the same neighborhood.
I had been fast asleep – finally, after several weeks straight of brain-knocking work at school in San Francisco where I was studying electrical engineering. Circuit formulas were sloshing around my head with notes reminding me to gas up the car and eat.
It was Friday night. Mom and Dad were out with friends. Middle sister was out with her boy friend. Younger sister was in bed. The house was quiet – until the phone rang. Through the mental fog, I picked up the receiver next to my bed. It was middle sister’s boyfriend.
“Gary. Your parents had a terrible car accident. I’m coming to take you to the hospital”. Those few words triggered an adrenaline dump and I was instantly awake – confused and very groggy, but awake.
This quarter, kept me in the city the whole day and then, after a dinner break, two more hours for a night class I’d aced several exams by studying hard. My commute between my home in Petaluma and San Francisco was sucking me dry. I’d even survived a stray, but heartfelt marriage proposal (long story) and a few nights sleeping on friends couches in the city to avoid some of those commute hours. I really needed some uninterrupted sleep.
Instead, I found myself setting in the boyfriend’s car, next to my sister as we drove to the Petaluma’s Hillcrest Hospital at close to 1am Saturday morning.
I sent middle sister home be with our youngest sister and then ran down a deserted hallway to the emergency rooms where I found mom first, in a room by herself. She was pretty banged up, lots of small cuts, but she was going to survive. “Where’s dad?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she moaned, clearly in shock.
“Don’t worry. Stay put and I’ll go to find him. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Try to rest.”
Dad was only nextdoor. I found him sitting on an examination table, with most of his clothing cut off, looking stunned and beat up. He had a few cuts bleeding just enough to be dripping out through a hole in the the table into a bucket on the floor. Seriously – this is how we deal with bleeding patients?
“Dad, it’s me. Are you okay?” He could only mumble incoherently. I stepped closer and looked him in the face. His eyes were pinched closed and I was’t sure he heard me. I knew almost nothing about the accident so I’m looking for clues. His face looked as if someone had hit him between the eyebrows with a bat. I looked closer, where’s all the blood, but all I could see was a small trail of faded yellow fluid slowly draining down one side of his nose.
Semi-clear fluid from his forehead? I recalled seeing diagram showing the small bladder of fluid surrounding our brain and and spine.
If dad took a hit to the face, hard enough to shatter his forehead the bones shards could easily have penetrated that membrane – but then what are the chances that his brain is also sliced up . . .? Oh – no.
I drew back and tried to disprove this thought. Mom, I knew was going to be okay, but I knew at that moment that dad was in trouble. And exactly where is the damn doctor? There had been no one in either my parent’s rooms except for me. Was everyone on a smoke break?
The doctor came back. He was telling the nurse to arrange transport for my father. He was in trouble and they were transferring him to a larger hospital in Santa Rosa. I told the doctor who I was and that I’d be going with my dad. I went back to brief mom and I was going with dad to the other hospital.
After a quick ambulance ride, standing near by as the emergency room team worked on dad, x-rays and intravenous fluid bottles were attached – dad was stabilized. He wasn’t going to die tonight, but according to his doctor, “This injury to his head might be serious, we need some more tests and time to study his x-rays. The part of his brain that is injured could cause personality changes or memory loss.”
Okay, mom and dad were as safe as I could get them. I called home to brief my sisters. It was now something like 2:30am and other than the activity around my dad, the place was quiet. I walked the halls for a while to calm down and think. I circled back and verified that dad was being attended to but finally realized that I really – really needed to get some sleep. I found a vacant patient room far from the nurse’s station, went in, closed the door, pulled a blanket loose and curled up on the bed. It took quite a while to wind down, but finally I slept for several hours until morning.
Looking back, I have to say how thankful I am for my extended family who jumped in to help us, great medical care for my parents and given how things could have gone, my dad and mom both came through fine.
Dad had lost his sinus’ (sheared them right off beneath the skin) so he loss all sense of smell (which I of course reminded him of when it came to cleaning the dog pen. “But dad, you can’t smell any of it. It’ll be easy for you.” My favorite was to pull something out of the fridge when he was nearby, take a careful, thoughtful smell of it before handing it to him and saying,”This doesn’t smell okay, what do you think?” and watch as he forgot reality for that second and took a sniff – only to realize that I’d duped him again. His normal response was not repeatable.
I had started college with a scholarship which was fast running out, I knew my parents had offered to help, but now they were both laid up and just starting what had to be a long recovery.
Bottom line, I now had money concerns. So I approached anyone I thought might be able to connect me with a part time job. Apparently, I asked at the right time. Someone had just requested from my college a student to help around the house. I called the number I was given and we agreed to meet.
The address took me up into the hills of San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood. I was welcomed by a single elderly woman I’ll call, Mrs. Logan who invited me in for tea and a sit down get-to-know each other. She was dignified and charming and after tea and a good chat, she declared that I was hired and we arranged a schedule.
Thus began my life as a student and part-time retained handyman. She had pried out of me the story of my parents accident and understood that this was why I was working. I was up at her home as often as I thought homework would allow. She had fun insisting that I keep my grades up and we often had tea together and became good friends.
A new quarter at school began and I continued to spend 2-3 afternoons a week with Mrs. Logan, weeding, repairing or moving her furniture around. Soon, it was December and Mom was back at work. Dad was almost ready. I had almost drained my checking account to pay tuition and realized that I had a small problem. I wanted to get some kind of Christmas present for Mrs. Logan but: I was nearly broke and I could not afford anything she would think was nice, so I had to get clever. Here’s what I came up with.
San Francisco still has a famous import store named Cost Plus. It was something of a destination for my gang and I back in Petaluma. Sometimes we’d pile into my big old Chevy and make the drive up down to the North Beach district to see what weird stuff we could fine. On one of those trips I had seen these cool carved wood jars. They were only $6 each so I picked one up after school.
Then I drove out to one of the forested areas I knew about north of San Francisco, where I’d often gone bike riding with friends and knew where I could find bay trees growing wild and snagged a couple of branches with fresh new leaves.
Finally, I went home and pulled out my typewriter and typed up a short little ditty that read like a hallmark card about what to do with fresh bay leaves, cooking with them or breaking them open in small rooms to perfume the air with a rich smell of bay. I trimmed, signed and rolled up the note to fit into the jar which I then filled with washed fresh bay leaves. I wrapped it up and brought it to her before Christmas.
She was so cute as she opened the package, and commented about how nice the jar was.
“Don’t stop yet, you have to open it”.
She did, and appeared confused by the leaves as she pulled out the note. As she read, her smile grew to take over her whole face. She put down the note and tore into one of the leaves with the excitement of a 5-year old. The bay scent burst out as she ripped the leaf. She set the pieces in a tea cup plate after rubbing them between her hands and took a deep smell, making an expression like she was smelling warm fresh bread. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as she filled the room fresh forest air.
Holding up the note again, she asked, “and you say I can cook with them too?” The idea of adding bay leaves to spaghetti sauce delighted her and I heard all about it the following week.
She was still telling me about the fun she was having with that jar of bay leaves each time I came by until one day in mid-February. A woman I had never met answered the door when I knocked.
“Oh – hello. I’m looking for Mrs. Logan please.”
“I’m sorry but she’s not available. Can I help you?”
“I help her with chores a few times a week. I can come back. . .”
“You’re her handy man, Gary?”
“Um, yes. Should I come back later?”
“No – no, please come in. I’m her daughter, Corina,” she said offering me her hand.
I sat down in the same chair that I always sat in and Corina said, “I’m sorry, but mom never told me your last name and I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I regret to tell you that my mom passed away just two nights ago.”
Wow. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Please Gary, you could not have known, but I hoped to find and tell you that we, have heard all about you.”
“Did I do something wrong, because I can. . .”
“No – absolutely no! You gave her that wooden jar of leaves and it made her so happy. She’s been having more fun with it and telling all of us about your kindness.
I was shocked and humbled as she told me how her mom showed off my little wooden jar and made them a pasta dinner over the holidays with the bay leaves.
“Wow. It was just an inexpensive jar.”
“Gary, that little jar touched her in ways you never could have imagined. Thank you for being such a good friend for her.”
I was stunned as I drove home that afternoon. Mrs. Logan was gone. The little wooden jar had exceeded all my expectations as a gift and I never would have met her except for my parents car accident. Life unfolds in strange ways.