Saturday, March 24, 2012

Happy Echoes

Combs Farm,   Robbinsville NJ  (Photo: Pulte Builders)

Princeton area, New Jersey

       It's funny how sometimes you think of something when it doesn't really seem to relate to where you are now, or what you are doing. Today, it was unusually warm and my shoulders prickled as the sun's rays reached them. I thought of another place, some thirty years ago.
I went to college to study biology at 16, and then had an epiphany where I decided I would rather be a nurse than a physician. I therefore, in my late teens, transferred, and attended a nursing school, and after graduation, attended and graduated from another, as well. The first nursing school was in New Jersey, and they did a very thorough job of seeing to it that we had all the clinical experiences necessary to be good clinicians when we arrived. One of those clinical rotations was in the area of Princeton and was a month long working experience with a broad variety of psychiatric patients. I am still sworn to secrecy over the specifics of those days, and the patients we saw,  but I will talk about my life while I was there.  I was exceedingly worried about being sent to Princeton for a month. My father had attended the university there, and was familiar with the region, but it was non-commutable from where I lived if you had to be there for an entire day five days a week starting at 6:45 am.  . I had to find a place to stay there, for an entire month !  I could barely get sufficient fuel in the gas shortages of the late 1970s, and I certainly did not have the funds to pay for a hotel for an entire month.   My father had the brilliant idea of placing an index card in one of the Shop-Rite stores there, which simply said  "Nursing student needs inexpensive place to stay for a month during local clinical".  Please call 201-555-2882.   Like magic, a woman called and related that she had children who were away at college, and therefore she had a spare room.  What a relief.  Since there was no time before the clinical started, I did not meet her before the arrangement began, and she had not met me.   I received the address and arrived there one afternoon.  She had told me to come in through the garage, and had given me directions.  She wasn't even home when I arrived,  and that first day, directed me with notes left around the home.  I still believe that this was a very brave thing to do.
                They were a remarkable family.  They had five children. All were in universities somewhere in state, except for the youngest who was still in high school.   One of them was in another school of nursing some distance away.  Their father was an airline pilot and their mother had attended college for chemistry, but now worked from home as a very busy piano teacher.  She worked from home most days, but especially afternoons until about dinnertime.  The month I was there was a very positive time for me.  The house was very comfortable.   Since each of the kids managed to stop by to touch base for one reason or another each week, there was also a casserole or warming dinner ready.   I came in early each day, and had dinner.  Mrs. S. and she would ask all about my day.  She would drink tea while I ate.   Next, her son from high school would arrive late after ball practice (sometimes I would pick him up at the school)   Then, she would listen to him as he ate dinner.   Then, other kids, when they could, would show up to discuss everything from parking tickets they had received, to how they would finance their next car, or decisions they needed to make with regard to graduate school.  Mrs. S. had dinner between eight and nine pm herself on the nights that her husband was home from his flights.   Having this home base and great example was very positive for me.  Our psychiatric affiliation was very challenging.  I was fortunate in that I was commuting a very small distance, and was calm and rested each morning when I arrived, while some of my classmates were not.  Many of the things we saw while there were difficult.  It was of great benefit to me to have this home away from home for this month.  While I was there, I truly appreciated that I had become an "S" kid for a month.  I kept trying to pay the amount we had agreed upon, and at first it was to be weekly. Then it was to be "later sometime".  Eventually, Mrs. S said I could reduce it by picking up their youngest son at the high school after practice, which I happily did.  The last week I was there, they chose not to accept anything, and thanked me for my coming and for my cooperation.
                 I think I decided then, that their family was the template for what I wanted.  I wanted to have an education sufficient to raise and educate my own children.  I decided that I wanted a large family if financially possible. I liked the atmosphere there on the weekend, when everyone tried to make it home. They were all making their way in the world and would touch base with one another whenever they could.
                 I stayed in touch with Mrs. S. for a few years.  I once told her what a difference their kindness made to me. They offered me an alternate template for raising a family.  She downplayed the importance of a month with them, but it really had been helpful to me, in many different ways.
                Now, all these years later, I am the "Mrs. S".    Most of my children are in college, or have just finished.  I try to carve out calm listening and talking time each day when possible.  The youngest one here now, came to us through adoption.   We also have a houseguest, a friend of my daughter's who is here on the farm until he finishes college.  This was the life Daniel knew when he was here.
                 The S. Family had no way of knowing how important their month long gift to me really was. It not only helped a young nursing student complete a difficult clinical and move closer toward graduation, and the ability to earn a living.  It also showed me the value of having a large family, and how one might coordinate doing so.  It also provided me with a calm template for how one relates to and launches young adults,  which was challenging then, and continues to be today.   It also freed me to do good in the world, intelligently, and carefully.  In all, the month long investment the S. Family made in me, translated to good in the world for others also.  Lately I have been thinking a great deal about my life in its totality.  My staying with the S. Family  was seventeen years before Daniel, our fourth child, was born.   Although the two events seem unrelated, they aren't really.  Seeing the wonder and workability of a large family is one of the things which made having a large family myself, possible.   In a sense, I am an "S" daughter, and Daniel, was an "S" grandchild.   All of our family profited immensely from a simple gracious act of helping a nursing student stay somewhere overnight while she completed her clinicals.  Thank you.


  1. i am very thankful to Mrs. S. as well. it is people like her that ensure that our world continues to fill up with good-natured, intelligent, caring and wonderful people. yes, there are still evil ones in the world wreaking their havoc - but people like Mrs. S influenced people like you so that you would go on to become the amazing woman that you are.

    Mrs. S - i thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    your friend,

  2. Kymber, I am grateful also to those who shaped you to be the thoughtful, intelligent, loving and supportive human being and friend that you are, as well.


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