Yesterday's Magazette

6 – Marcie’s Mom

Marcie’s Mom

By E. Lynne Wright

I was a young student nurse in a large city hospital in the 1950s. When the duty assignments for the Christmas holidays were posted, my heart thudded. I was assigned to work in pediatrics on the 3 to 11 shift that week, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!

Home was 250 long miles away, so for the first time in my young life, there was no possibility of being with my family. It looked as though it would be the bleakest Christmas ever.

Frantically, I scurried about the hospital, trying to change days off, trade shifts, forfeit future days off … anything to get home for the holidays. There had to be a way, I thought. But after exhausting every possibility, I faced the prospect of a lonely Christmas, rattling around a nearly deserted dorm. I sank into a bottomless pit of wretched self-pity.

While the other students decorated with tinsel and ribbons, I tacked up a forlorn sprig of holly and let it go at that. Carols fell on my deaf ears. I stubbornly resisted the holiday mood. Compared to me, Ebeneezer Scrooge would have looked like Santa himself.

In the time-honored tradition of students everywhere, we had interminable bull sessions, when we diagnosed the ills of the world, prescribed solutions, and clicked our tongues over the mess our elders had made of things.

During one of these late night sessions in early December, we were discussing Marcie, a beautiful child with a kidney ailment, who was a patient in the pediatric unit. Marcie’s mother had six other children, was deserted by her husband, and was employed at the hospital as a nurse’s aide – a notoriously low paying, backbreaking, dead-end job. We thought her a better mother to her brood than many women who were far more advantaged. We nurses met all the children at one time or another and they were neat, clean and well-mannered. They regarded the nurses with an admiration that was sometimes embarrassing.

One of my classmates submitted that if ever there was a family who deserved something extra at the holiday season, this was the one.

“Marcie’s mother is a gem,” she said. “She takes the kids to the art museum. She reads to them. She teaches them right from wrong. They go to the zoo and the aquarium. She deserves some relief from the grind of poverty.”

We all agreed and someone said, “Well, let’s do something about it!”

Amid much arguing and giggling, we decided on a plan. To begin, we would each contribute whatever meager amount of money we could spare. Then, in uniform, we would canvas the neighborhood businesses for donations and we would deliver the goodies. Whatever we could come up with was certain to be better than the family would have had without us.

I made my small contribution and retired to my room to wallow in self-pity. I had no heart for playing Lady Bountiful. Besides, I was already making a stupendous sacrifice working the holidays. Bah, humbug!

When the time came to deliver everything, the nurses had collected toys, a turkey, clothing, cookies and even a Christmas tree with ornaments. I was enlisted to help carry it to Marcie’s home.

There are fragments of memories of that afternoon forever etched in my mind. The surprise and gratitude on the mother’s face. The penetrating chill of the apartment, as I learned that sometimes people cannot afford to be warm. The sparseness of furniture. The spotless linoleum that covered the floor. It shone so I was sure our operating rooms couldn’t have been cleaner. And the superabundance of love in that tiny apartment!

For some reason, I counted the children. There were three too many.

“Playmates?” I asked the mother.

“My sister’s,” she said. “She left. We don’t know where she went. So they’re mine now.”

She looked so serene. She made suggestions to the older children who were struggling with the nurse to set up the tree.

“It’s just going to be the best Christmas, thanks to all of you,” she said, her eyes glistening. ”I’m so happy!”

Happy! I thought. She must be joking. In astonishment, I searched her face.

She wasn’t joking at all.

In the many years since that holiday, whenever I have trouble getting into the spirit of things, I recall Marcie’s mom. Then I go and do something nice for someone. It works every time to put joy into my heart.

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