This week we celebrate President’s Day and my Mom’s birthday, so let me tell you a story about my Mom and a few Presidents.
Mom always gave her age as 21 plus. In a way Vivian was both hiding and revealing her real age, as she was born in ’21, February 23rd, 1921. So, doing the math…that would make her…21 plus.
Since George Washington was born on February 22nd, my Dad once joked that Mom was one day younger than Washington. He only ever made that mistake once. He was a tank commander in World War II, and fearlessly fought Nazis in Germany, but he quickly learned not to pick a fight with my mother. She would never surrender.
Mom grew up in Flood City — Johnstown, Pennsylvania — a town which has spent much of its time under water, lots of water. There were two things to do in Johnstown back in the day, learn to swim or get out. She got out.
She went to Nursing School in Brooklyn, where she was famous for two things. One made the school proud, and one made them angry. Nurse Vivian (as my brother Kevin refers to her in his Chronicle articles) was the first nurse to get 100% correct on the Nursing exam, and that made everyone proud. Then she made them all mad.
Mom wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, proudly noting her achievement and inviting the First Lady to attend her Graduation from Nursing School. To the shock of everyone but my mother, Mrs. Roosevelt accepted. Rather than feeling honored, the school executives were very upset because they knew that they would have to spend their every waking moment in the weeks ahead, preparing and polishing every inch of the school to get ready for the distinguished visitor.
FDR wasn’t the only President involved in my mother’s life story. She previously had a run in with Abe Lincoln, too.
The country was in the middle of World War II and needed to sell War bonds to finance the operation. Somebody got the idea of promoting the cause by having the nurses sing a song at the Lincoln Memorial. The statue was undergoing some work and there was scaffolding everywhere, but that was no problem. They were not going to be on TV. This was the age of radio.
When the nurses gathered at the statue, everyone quickly found out that Mom’s remarkable intelligence was not accompanied by a beautiful singing voice. They told her to stand way in the back and just move her lips, and not to sing under any circumstances. Since she was not going to get to sing on the radio, she decided that there was another way to enjoy the field trip to the Lincoln Memorial. She climbed the scaffolding and sat on Lincoln’s lap. It was the age of radio. You could do those things back then.
Besides nursing, Mom was also famous in South Ozone Park for the Halloween costumes she would make. Mostly they were for her sons, but occasionally she got into the act, too. Here she is as Groucho Marx. “Say the secret word and the duck comes down.”
Groucho had a secret word, but Mom had a real secret. I’m only revealing it now for the first time, because of all the flap about the Arizona priest who for decades baptized babies using the wrong words. The Catholic Church ruled that all the Baptisms he performed were invalid.
That never would have been a problem if Mom had lived in his parish. She was a devout Catholic and a nurse in the maternity ward. No child was going to be put at risk of dying unbaptized and being denied Heaven while she was on duty. As an insurance policy, she secretly baptized every child in the hospital who was born to a Catholic mom. She might have secretly spritzed a few Jewish babies, too, but that has never been confirmed. Nobody was going to Limbo on her watch, and you can be 100% sure that she got all the words right.
Happy 21 plus Birthday, Mom.
Your 73-year-old son.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,