“Grow Children Now – Grass Later”
To every thing there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under the heaven.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1, King James Version
It had been nine years since the end of World War II. My daily fear of losing
had slowly dissipated, but now it returned.
My days were a nightmare. My
nights were worse. I’d lie in bed,
staring up at the ceiling, wondering what was to become of us. I longed for sleep to provide me with at
least a few hours of respite in which I could stop worrying about Leon’s health,
yet it eluded me. I was exhausted,
mindlessly handling all the little chores of running the household, chores that
used to give me such pleasure.
When I thought I could bear the waiting no longer, Dave Kaufman called to say my husband was showing signs of improvement. He’d turned the corner and was no longer in danger of dying. Before I could ask for details, Dave said I could bring
Leon home, warning me he’d need to
stay in bed recuperating for at least two months. Two months!
I could easily handle two months of nursing my darling back to
health. I’d treasure every moment of it,
knowing I had almost lost him. With a
light heart, I sent Connie off to school, took Philip upstairs to his Nannie
Annie, and rushed to get Leon
and bring him home.
As soon as we arrived and
comfortably settled in bed, I called my sister to tell her the wonderful
news. Karyl had been my major support
through these trying times. We talked
every day on the phone and she never failed to say she knew Leon would pull
this day, though cheered by hearing Leon had come home from the
hospital, her voice sounded heavy. She
told me Herb was exhibiting symptoms similar to Leon’s and their physician had just
hospitalizeD him. I no longer had to
worry about my own husband, but now my sister’s was in danger, and he was
apparently much worse than Leon
had ever been. Poor Karyl. There she was raising five children and
expecting her sixth, and now Herb was deathly ill. I offered Karyl what few words of comfort I
could, reminding her that Leon
had recovered and reassuring her that Herb would as well.
When I hung up the phone, I saw it was time to prepare lunch for
Leon. Dr. Kaufman had warned me that Leon’s appetite
would be slow to return and said I’d have to do everything possible to get him
to eat, that it was critical for his recovery.
Dave prescribed a steady diet of steak and potatoes, designed to
strength as rapidly as possible. I put
up a card table next to the bed, set it as attractively as I could, and sat
down to eat with him, attempting to make our meal a festive occasion. At first, Leon could manage no more than a
few mouthfuls, but as time wore on, he ate more and more. It was wonderful to have Leon home,
though our troubles were far from over.
He was still weak, unable to get out of bed without my assistance. To make matters worse, friends and family
couldn’t visit because Leon
might still be contagious. No one but
Dr. Kaufman came to see us.
There was one exception. Aunt Essie’s daughter, Marilyn, was a student at
and called often offering to
visit and help. No matter how many times
I told her Boston University Leon
might still be contagious and wasn’t allowed to have guests, she said she
didn’t mind, but I was equally adamant that she shouldn’t come. One day, not bothering to call first, she
just showed up at the front door. When I
heard the bell, I looked out the window and saw her standing there. Unwilling to open the door, since we were
still quarantined, I opened the window to say hello. She said, “I know you can’t let me into the
house. But hand baby Philip out the window
to me and I can take care of him for a few hours.” Although I couldn’t take Marilyn up on her
offer, I’ve never forgotten what she tried to do. She was a seventeen-year-old with more
compassion than all the adults in the family combined.
Mother and Dad were on vacation and Dad would phone periodically from all over
the world. He’d tell me of their
adventures and ask how things were going.
The calls weren’t easy to place and frequently my phone would ring three
or four times before the ship-to-shore connection could be made, sometimes at
three in the morning. Since Mother and
Dad had been traveling the world for several years, Leon and I were accustomed to being
awakened by the calls, or having our meals interrupted. Although it was inconvenient, we never
complained. It was always good to hear
from my folks.
Leon’s illness, however, the calls
became an intrusion. Each time my
parents called, I longed to tell them how sick Leon was and how I needed them to
come home, but I didn’t want to ruin their vacation. So I made myself say, “Everything is fine,”
even though everything was far from fine.
For weeks, the actress in me succeeded, but eventually I could hold out
no longer. My father, with his keen ear,
sensed something amiss and called back three days in a row. My dramatic training had failed me and my
“Everything is fine” didn’t sound quite fine enough.
Dad was suspicious. He and Mother wished to extend their three-month trip by two more weeks. They were in
and, rather than coming directly back to Boston,
they wanted to sail home through the Panama Canal. They’d done this before traveling west, but
had been told it was a completely different adventure going from the Pacific to
the Atlantic, one they were eager to experience. As Dad told me this, I could hear in his
voice that he needed me to verify for him one more time that all was smooth
sailing at home. I couldn’t do it. I had to tell him the truth.
When he heard that Leon had been hospitalized with hepatitis and was still bed-ridden and very ill, and that Herb had come down with the same disease and was in the hospital and might not live, Dad assured me he and Mom would change their plans and fly home from Hawaii the next day. My relief was palpable. I knew my parents could do nothing to make
and Herb heal faster, but their support for Karyl and me would be immeasurable.
I counted the hours until their arrival, eager for them to put their arms around me and tell me everything would be okay. I was hurt when Dad instead chastised me for spoiling their vacation. When I protested that I had held off as long as I could and that he had asked me repeatedly how things were going, he said, “It doesn’t matter how many times I ask you how things are at home, I expect you to tell me they’re fine. It’s a rhetorical question. You should know that.”
I didn’t know how to respond. My father’s words confused me. I’d been brought up to believe I could rely on my parents to help whenever I needed them most, yet here was my father saying not to ask. Never again did I tell my parents, or anyone else for that matter, if things were troubling me. I vowed to be more self-reliant from that day forward. As I look back on that decision now, I recognize that while it gave me strength in difficult times, it prevented me from seeking assistance from others when it may have been better to do so.
Few times have been as difficult for me as that spring of 1955. What had happened to my Utopian world?
Leon was still
terribly ill. Herb was in the hospital
and might not make it. Yet I had no
choice but to continue running my household and taking care of my father’s
restaurant business. Pollyanna was
having difficulty coping.
I wanted to delay the move to our new home on
regained his health and Connie finished first grade. As reasonable as this desire may have been, I
couldn’t make it work. I felt like
Hamlet when he complained, “How all occasions do inform against me.” The family that had bought our old home was
anxious to move in and refused my request for extra time. In the meantime, construction at our new
house was completed and there were no longer workers there all day. The empty house proved to be an invitation to
vandals, who threw paint all over the downstairs walls. Our insurance company paid for the damage, but
warned us they would not continue to insure a vacant house. If we didn’t move in, they would have to stop
Realizing we had no choice but to move, I called the
alert the staff there that Connie would be transferring mid-term. Confident that arrangements had been made, I
prepared Connie for the move, assuring her she would quickly make friends in
her new classroom and love her new teacher.
However, when Connie and I arrived, the secretary said we’d have to wait
two weeks. The principal was away and
new students weren’t accepted in her absence. Mason-Rice
To say I was annoyed is an understatement. Instead of feeling welcomed, Connie felt unwanted, as if her presence there was a major inconvenience. Seeing the hurt look on her face, I told the secretary we’d been promised Connie could begin school there and she would have to figure out how to make it work. I was adamant.
Seeing I had no intention of leaving, the secretary took us to a first grade classroom and told the teacher that Connie would be in her class. The teacher, who had been given no advance warning, was annoyed with the situation and took it out on Connie, speaking sharply to my little girl as she pointed to an empty seat in the back. Looking about the room and, seeing all the children staring at her, Connie began to cry. I knelt down to comfort her and the teacher reprimanded me. “Mrs. Kruger, don’t coddle her. She’ll be fine as soon as you’re gone. You must leave now.” This was not an auspicious beginning to our new life.
Having settled Connie in school, I returned home to meet up with the moving company. Everything was packed and ready to go, with the exception of our bedroom. The first thing the movers did was transfer Leon from our bed to a chair, and then they loaded the truck, putting the bed in last. Next, they helped
to my car and we drove together to Grafton
soon as we got there, the movers set up our bed and half-carried Leon up the
stairs. He fell asleep the moment he was
ensconced in his new surroundings.
My dear friend Maggie arrived and stayed with me for a couple of days to help. All through the years, Maggie was there for me, a rock when I needed one most. While I unpacked, Maggie took care of Philip. I can still picture her pushing him about on a teacart while I put everything away in the kitchen. She pushed him from room to room, chattering away to keep him occupied. When Philip napped, Maggie took care of me, as she had done when I was a child, seeing that I rested when I grew exhausted.
I found that caring for
Leon was harder
in our new home than on Cloverdale
Road, because now I had to go up the stairs every
time he needed me, which was often. I
still had to bring him his meals in bed.
He slept much of the time, but was bored and lonely when awake, restless
if not entertained. Whenever Maggie and
I needed a break from housework, we’d go upstairs and sit with Leon to help
him pass the long hours more pleasantly.
Each day at , Maggie made me stop for a cup of tea, a long-standing tradition in her Irish home. She said that after working hard since early morning, a late afternoon tea break allowed one to replenish resources to get through the remainder of the day more easily. I agreed with her wholeheartedly. During those first few days in our new home, it helped tremendously. I began to look forward to our afternoon tea, eager for the chance to sit back and contemplate all we’d accomplished. Much as I enjoyed those times, however, I found that once Maggie was gone, I fell back into my American ways and no longer stopped for tea. Years later, I revived the tradition when I sat at the kitchen table with my children upon their arrival home from school. They would drink milk or hot chocolate while I sipped a cup of tea.
As the days passed and I began to get the house in order,
grew steadily stronger. It was truly a
celebration when he was able to go up and down the stairs without
assistance. A week later, Leon announced
that he felt strong enough to begin getting his office ready and Dad said he
wanted the privilege of furnishing it.
Pleased with the unexpected financial support, Leon accepted
the generous offer and the two of them went off together to shop. There was a bounce in Leon’s step
that hadn’t been there for months.
The furniture and equipment began to arrive and
spent many happy hours preparing for his first patient. At the end of each afternoon, he’d take me on
a tour of the office, showing me all he had done. It wasn’t long before everything looked
ready. It was warm, yet
professional-looking – just the balance he’d hoped to achieve.
When they learned of
progress, my dad’s five sisters decided their office-warming gift would be to
plant five evergreens outside the office front windows. Although the trees were somewhat scrawny at
first, they quickly filled out and added considerably to the beauty of our
home-office, and served the practical role of providing a privacy screen for
families inside waiting to be seen. When
all was ready, we held two housewarming parties, one for our home and one to
celebrate the opening of Leon’s
Unfortunately, few patients appeared to have heard the news. Hours would go by without a soul entering the office.
was terribly frustrated, unable to do anything to make his practice grow. He couldn’t advertise, for it was
illegal. All he could do was to wait
until friends told friends and gradually word of mouth filled his waiting
room. He maintained his sanity by building
a boat in the backyard, washing up quickly when he had to switch from carpenter
From the beginning,
Leon was on the
lookout for ways in which he could better serve his patients. He liked an idea we learned about from our
own pediatrician. Dr. Ganz held a “call
hour” from seven to eight each morning, during which parents could have their
questions answered by phone. Leon did the
same and we had an office phone hooked up in our kitchen so he could field
calls while we ate breakfast. We waited
and waited those first few weeks, willing the phone to ring, but it remained
silent. You could feel the tension in
the air. It didn’t help when one morning
seven-year-old Connie said, “I thought seven to eight was call hour. How come nobody ever calls?”
Several years went by before
Leon had enough
patients to cover his costs. During that
time, we lived as frugally as we could.
I remember using recipes from a cookbook called 100 Ways to Make Hamburger.
I thought the children were unaware of our efforts to pinch pennies
until one day when Connie said, “I know Daddy’s office is doing better because
we don’t eat hamburger as often.”
Connie never seemed to mind our lack of funds. Like most children, she took her cue from her parents’ outlook. Because Leon and I were aware of our good fortune despite our tight budget, we spoke often of how well off we were. As far as Connie was concerned, we were rich. What she did mind, however, was our lack of a dog. So one Sunday afternoon,
children and I drove to a pet store, determined to come home with a new
dog. When we found a beautiful
forty-five pound border collie brimming with affection, we were hooked. Biscuit looked just like Lassie from the
year-old television series. The similarity
in size and coloring was so remarkable that people would stop us on the street
to ask, “Did you know your dog looks exactly like Lassie?”
Her personality resembled Lassie’s as well. She was wonderful with the children, herding them away from the street. I’d sit on our front steps chatting with other moms in the neighborhood while the little ones ran about in the yard. Biscuit would play with them, grabbing them gently by the wrist and bringing them back to the grown-ups if any of them strayed too close to the cars.
At first, Biscuit spent the nights in our kitchen. Unlike homes built today, our kitchen had doors so it could be closed off from the rest of the house. Until we were sure Biscuit was housebroken, we didn’t want her to have the run of the house at night. That first morning, we all trooped into the kitchen together. Biscuit was happy to see us, barking eagerly and wagging her tail. In her excitement, she jumped all over us, which wasn’t a problem for Leon, Connie and me. But when she jumped on little Philip, she knocked him over and he cried. By the third morning, Biscuit figured out what was happening and, when she got to Philip, she sat down and offered him a paw.
Biscuit’s instincts to care for her young charges did not end with the children. When Leon and Connie brought home a kitten a couple of months later, Biscuit took care of her, carrying Princess around in her mouth as she would a new puppy. On cold winter nights, Princess curled up against Biscuit’s belly, finding protection and warmth there.
We loved watching the two animals together and they soon became an integral part of our lives. When it came time to go to
Hyannis to spend the summer with my folks, we
couldn’t leave our pets behind. They
adjusted quickly to their new environment and, if they could talk, I believe
they would have told us they looked forward to those summers at the beach as
much as the rest of us.
It was a special summer at the
Cape, the first since Leon and Herb regained their health
after their struggles with hepatitis. Without
the weight of shoes, for he was allowed to go barefoot all the time, Philip was
able to master walking and the sight of him toddling about the yard with the
animals and his cousins warmed my heart.
It was a happy time and the children flourished.
When the children and I came home in the fall,
office was running smoothly. He finally
had a full schedule and it was obvious to everyone that he was successful. His young patients loved him and their
parents were appreciative. He felt as if
he were making a real difference in their lives and that made him happy. With everything going so well, we started to
consider the possibility of a third child.
We called our fertility specialist, Dr. Simmons, and asked if it was feasible for us to try again. He saw no reason that we couldn’t at least investigate the possibilities and he scheduled us both for tests.
Leon’s condition was unchanged and
my tubes had become blocked again.
Despite that, the doctor was optimistic, saying he could clear my tubes
and we could once again use artificial insemination. We didn’t have to try nearly as long this
time and by October, I was pregnant, and our baby was due early the following
The year flew by. I was in seventh heaven, caring for my two children and knowing we had a third on the way. I thought often of Plumfield and felt as if Leon and I were truly achieving our dreams. I worked in
for several hours each day, surrounded by young families, Philip sitting
contentedly on the floor at my feet.
When not in the office, I enjoyed our new friends from the
neighborhood. Leon and I would socialize
with the parents, and Connie would play with the children. And there were many children, close to twenty
on our block alone. Some days I would
sit under a tree in the front yard and read to nine or ten little
children. They were all intrigued by my
growing mid-section and I would let them place their hands on my belly to see
if they could feel the baby move. Life
At the beginning of July, Mom took Connie and Philip to the
Cape. Leon and I stayed in Newton waiting for the baby. It was hot and humid, 103 degrees on Boston
Common. I was just thinking about how I
couldn’t stand another minute of the heat when Dad called to invite Leon and me
to join him for dinner at the air-conditioned Pinebrook Country Club. Knowing the baby had already dropped, I was
nervous about going. I was afraid my
water would break right there in the restaurant and could picture my
embarrassment as everyone rushed around dealing with an expecting mother. It would be shades of I Love Lucy all over again.
When I told Dad my concerns, he said not to worry, that he’d arrange for
us to eat in the informal dining room near the exit. If my water broke or I felt tired, we could
make a quick escape without causing a commotion.
As we walked into the Club, I felt a blast of cool air and breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in days I felt strong and full of energy. My appetite returned and I ordered my favorites…shrimp cocktail and
Maine lobster. When I finished, I still had room for dessert
and got another favorite, mince chiffon pie.
By the time we got home, it was around . As we got out of the car, our neighbors, Yetta and Sid Brass, walked across the street to remind us that, although it was still only the third of July, fireworks were scheduled in the park down the block, in honor of Independence Day. Although it was tempting, it was more than I could handle and I told
Leon to go without
me. At first he was hesitant, not
wanting to leave me alone, but I assured him I felt fine and he should go enjoy
himself. He took me at my word and I was
perfectly content to watch television alone until he returned a couple of hours
later. By , we were both sound asleep.
Four hours later, my water broke. This time,
Leon woke up
immediately and rushed me to the car. As
with Philip, I was unaware of any contractions and was feeling no pain. The musical, My Fair Lady had opened on Broadway earlier that year and I already
knew all the songs. In my euphoria at
the impending birth, I began singing away, repeating On the Street Where You Live over and over again until we pulled up
at the hospital.
Leon told the staff how short my first
labor had been, they wasted no time getting me to a room. The interns teased me, saying they expected
me to deliver this baby just as quickly as the first so they could go celebrate
the 4th of July. I
obliged. At five in the morning another
son was born. When it came time to write
a name on the birth certificate, Leon said our new little boy would
be Charles Kern. I was moved as I
realized that Leon
had chosen to honor my father by using his surname as Charles’s middle
name. When Leon telephoned Dad a few minutes
later to tell him of the birth and the name, my father thought Leon was
joking. He said, “Aura can’t have had
the baby. She ate a whole lobster last
I had an easier delivery than I’d had with Philip and my recovery was thus quicker. I was sent home very soon after the birth and Mrs. Selwyn was waiting for me when I arrived. She stayed for a week, helping me with baby Charles. Her last task was to help me pack the car for our annual trip to
Hyannis. As Leon, Charles, and I drove away, I
couldn’t have been happier. The summer
was heavenly. Between watching my three
young children and regaining my strength, I found myself totally revitalized. When Labor Day rolled around, I was ready to
go home to Grafton Street,
eager to renew my idyllic existence there.
Six weeks later,
accompanied me to see my obstetrician for my three-month check-up. I knew I felt wonderful, so I wasn’t at all
surprised when Dr. Mullaney pronounced me to be in excellent health. What did surprise me, however, was when he
casually added, “By the way Aura, I assume you know you’re pregnant.” Pregnant!
That was impossible. With Leon’s sickly
sperm and my tubes that were always blocked, there was no way we could conceive
without returning to the fertility specialist.
I said, “Dr. Mullaney, you must be mistaken. Dr. Simmons told us it couldn’t happen.”
He laughed and said, “Aura, I’ve been practicing obstetrics for many, many years. I think I know a pregnant woman when I see one.” Leon and I were flabbergasted. I was so happy I felt as if I would burst. Pregnant! I hadn’t let myself even think about a fourth child, and here we were going to have one without even trying. I thanked Dr. Mullaney over and over, practically jumping for joy. As we turned to leave, Dr. Mullaney said to
with a big grin, “You know, Leon,
most of my patients are Irish Catholic.
They almost always come in for their three-month check-up pregnant. This is the first time I’ve seen one of them
walk out of my office three feet above the ground.”
As we drove home with our heads spinning from the wonderful news, we laughed about the irony of the situation. Just a week earlier we had gone to
for Karyl’s birthday. Karyl and I were
chatting as we sat in the kitchen, each of us feeding our youngest and talking
about how happy we were with our families, she with her six children and I with
my three. What neither of us knew was
that we were both pregnant. We laughed
about that for years.
My parents, however, did not find the humor in our situation. My father made it clear he believed we’d behaved irresponsibly by having another baby so soon.
Leon saw how hurt I was by my
father’s criticism and decided it was important for my parents to
understand exactly what had happened. We
had kept our fertility problems a secret from everyone, concerned that
artificial insemination was not well accepted.
So one afternoon, the two of us went to visit my folks, and
gave them the medical description of what had happened, how my tubes had been
blocked and had to be cleared, how his sperm weren’t viable and a sperm donor
had been needed. He quoted our fertility
specialist, Dr. Simmons, regarding his comments that we could never get
pregnant naturally and if we wanted another child, we should return to him to
repeat the procedure. Given that
history, there was no reason to use birth control and we were amazed to find
out at my three-month check-up that I was pregnant.
When Mother and Dad heard the whole story, they went from being disappointed in us for our supposed irresponsibility to being delighted at our good fortune. But Leon and I didn’t stop there. We went on to explain how expensive the procedures had been and how we had scrimped and saved every penny so we could pay all the medical costs without coming to them for help. I said, “Dad, it bothered me that you thought we were always broke because we were being extravagant. I wanted to tell you the real reason and for you to be proud of me for managing so well instead of being disappointed in me for being a spendthrift.” His answer was to hug me and say, “Aura, I’ve always been proud of you.”
We drove home pleased with how the afternoon had gone. Now my parents could share in our joy, yet we were confident they would keep our secret. We still didn’t feel ready to share with the rest of the world how our two boys had been conceived. Polite Bostonian society was not yet ready to deal with artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization. Thank goodness times have changed.
Our next call was to Dr. Simmons, to tell him the good news. After congratulating us, he asked
to come in for further tests. His
scientific curiosity was aroused and he wanted to figure out how this could
possibly have happened. What he discovered
was that Leon’s
sperm count was up and the sperm were healthy.
Perhaps time had healed him, or perhaps it happened because he switched
from jockey shorts to boxers. We’ll
What a happy winter that was for me! My days were satisfyingly packed taking care of two-year-old Philip and baby Charles, sometimes at home and sometimes while working in Leon’s office. In the meantime, eight-year-old Connie was developing a social life all her own. With so many children in the neighborhood, she was never at a loss for something to do. She played basketball, football and baseball with the O’Malley boys, Grady and Gene, and jumped rope, rode bikes, and played hopscotch with Debbie Fineberg and Diane Brass. When the snow arrived, all the children together would build snow forts in the front yard and throw snowballs at one another for hours on end. When they tired of that, they would drag their Flexible Flyer sleds to the park across the street and spend hours zipping down the hill until their fingers and toes were frozen and their lips were blue. Then they’d race back to our house, throw their wet mittens, snow pants, and overcoats on the benches by our front door, and sit around our kitchen table waiting patiently for hot cocoa.
By the time spring rolled around, I had begun waddling, my big belly swaying with each step. That didn’t stop me from carrying Charles and Philip everywhere we went. One day, as I was walking down the stairs with Charles under one arm, Philip under the other, and the new baby in my belly, Dave Kaufman came in the front door looking for
Leon. In those days, nobody ever rang the bell;
friends and neighbors, adults and children, all just walked in and hollered,
“Hello. Anybody home?” In any case, Dave took one look at me and
said, “I never want to see you doing that again. With one misstep you could hurt four of you
at once. Let Philip walk so you can hold
onto the banister. And try to have
someone else carry Charles.”
With three young children to watch and one on the way, it was difficult to follow Dr. Kaufman’s advice. Connie was a tremendous help, entertaining Philip and Charles whenever she could, picking things up off the floor so I wouldn’t have to bend over, rubbing my back and telling me to rest. Despite all her assistance, however, it was a welcome respite when July arrived and Mother took Connie and Philip to
Hyannis for their summer
at the beach, leaving me with only baby Charles to watch.
A couple of days after they all left, it was July 4th, Charles’s first birthday. Yetta and Sid Brass, our neighbors across the street, hosted a cookout, throwing a joint party for Charles and their son who shared the same birthday. It was one of those hot, sultry
New England nights without
the least hint of a breeze. It was
wonderful. All the neighbors who hadn’t
fled town for the weekend were there, and every one of them catered to my
needs, bringing me water so I wouldn’t have to stand up, offering to help out
with Charles. Yetta placed Charles in a
swing where he sat contentedly for hours on end, fussing only when the motion
stopped and the swing needed winding.
When it was time to walk to the park to watch the fireworks, I decided to call it a night. Unlike the previous year,
the excitement and opted instead to join me for some quiet time at home. He carried a sleepy Charles into the house
and put him to bed, saying he’d close up the house for the night and I should
just take care of myself. When he joined
me a few minutes later, we snuggled together and talked of the impending birth. We both were still amazed at our good
fortune, at my unexpected pregnancy. Leon placed his
hand gently on my belly to feel the baby kick, saying how happy he was to once
again be waiting for a new baby. Then he
said, “You know I’ll love whatever we get, but is it all right for me to want
When I smiled and reassured him that there was nothing wrong with his wish, we began discussing names. His mother had recently said, “If you have a little girl, would you consider giving her the middle name Ann?” I was surprised by her request. In the Jewish tradition, it was unusual to name a child for a living relative. Perhaps because we had already broken with tradition when we named Connie for Grandma Lena, Nannie Annie thought it would be acceptable to do so again. We decided it didn’t really matter why his mother had asked us to do this, and we honored her request.
A week later when Mrs. Selwyn arrived to help out until it was time to go to the hospital, and then to take care of Charles while Leon and I were gone. It was good to see her again. She’d taught me much with my earlier children and it was with a sense of relief that I turned over my one-year-old little boy to her.
My water broke at in the morning of July 17th, and
had me in the car and on the road in less than three minutes. Not only had he rushed me out the door, he
drove at breakneck speed. When he ran
two red lights, I became concerned. I
stopped singing long enough to ask him why he was hurrying and he said, “Aura,
your contractions are so close together that I’m afraid you’re going to have
this baby in the car.” He told me later
he could tell when my contractions were occurring by the way I’d pause to grunt
in the middle of my song.
When we pulled up at the hospital, I expected
to help me out of the car. Instead, he
was so disconcerted he left me on my own and ran in by himself. What had gotten into him? I grunted as I opened my door, all the time
thinking, “How unlike Leon! He’s usually the image of chivalry.” As I dragged myself up each step, I kept
expecting him to reappear, hoping he’d realize that in his excitement, he’d
left me behind.
Exhausted, I walked into the hospital and was greeted by a nurse running up to me with a wheelchair.
Leon hadn’t forgotten me at
all. He’d dashed into the hospital
hollering, “If you don’t want a baby born in the lobby, get outside with a
wheelchair immediately and get my wife to obstetrics!” It never occurred to him that I wouldn’t know
what he was doing. He assumed I’d wait
in the car for help to arrive.
Once I was safely settled in the wheelchair, Leon and the nurse raced with me to the elevator and into the delivery room. We barely made it. Within minutes of our arrival, Jo was born. Our obstetrician, knowing how much
had hoped for another daughter, stepped out into the hall and said,
“Congratulations, Dr. Kruger. You’re a
mother.” Leon knew immediately what he meant
and rushed in to see his new little girl.
In the year since Charles’s birth, procedures had changed at the hospital and no protective mask was put on me when I was handed my baby. Delighted with this new freedom, I kissed Jo over and over, inhaling her fresh baby scent with every breath. All too soon the nurse took her away to the hospital nursery. Apparently, it was too soon for
Leon as well, for after making sure
I was resting comfortably, he donned his hospital attire and went to the
nursery. He asked for Baby Kruger,
appearing to the nurse to be there as the baby’s pediatrician. She said, “Yes, Doctor,” retrieved Jo from
her hospital crib, and began to undress her for examination. Leon interrupted her efforts,
taking Jo and wrapping his arms around his little baby. Then he kissed her all over, just as I had
done. The surprised nurse said, “What
are you doing, Doctor? Aren’t you going
to examine her?” Leon answered
gleefully, “I’m not the doctor. I’m the
daddy. This one is mine.”
I recovered quickly from the birth and since Jo was a healthy baby, the hospital sent me home the next day. Within a week, I was strong enough to make the trip to
Cape Cod. My mother and Grandma Lena couldn’t wait to
see their newest grandchild. Minutes
after we arrived, Grandma Lena gently placed baby Jo at one end of the carriage
and one-year-old Charles at the other, and she went for a stroll with my four
children. Connie and Philip walked on
each side holding the edges of the carriage, staring down at their new little
sister with a look of wonder on their faces.
I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful sight. When they returned, Connie and Philip ran
into the house to give me a large bouquet of wildflowers they’d picked for me,
and I placed it in a vase for all to enjoy.
Grandma Lena sat on a bench in the yard with the stroller beside
her. Biscuit lay beneath them,
protecting the newest family member from any who might approach.
As I looked out the kitchen window at my dear grandmother watching my two younger children, I reflected on how fortunate I was to spend my summers at the
Cape. It was those two months of relaxation each
year that allowed me to toil hard the rest of the time. I worked in Hyannis as well, helping to run the
household, but it was different, for it was shared and I wasn’t in charge. And I always had time to go to the beach
where I could watch my children frolic in the sand and surf.
All too soon, Labor Day approached and it was time to return to
Newton. Connie was entering the fourth grade and,
with the return of all the families to the city, Leon’s schedule became hectic once
again and he needed me to help run his office.
Summer vacation was over. The
first day of school was exciting, with the children eager to see what their new
classrooms would be like, who their new classmates would be. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best and
we’d take pictures on the front porch, documenting for all time how the
children had grown since the previous fall.
One by one, each of the children – not just ours but the neighbors’ as
well – would stand back-to-back with me, eager for the day they passed me
by. Since I was only four-foot-ten
inches tall, they all managed it before they finished elementary school; it was
their special rite of passage.
With everyone back in town after summer vacations, the neighborhood buzzed with activity and our home was the hub. There were always young ones running in and out. Our front yard was a football field, a baseball diamond, and in winter, a snow fort. One day, as Leon and I stood on the porch looking out over the yard, we counted over a dozen children rushing about, chasing after a ball.
Leon hugged me
and said, “You have your Plumfield.”
And, indeed, I truly felt like Jo in Little
As happy as Leon and I were when we looked out over our yard, my mother was frustrated. Instead of happy children, she saw scrawny grass and large patches of dirt. After several weeks of telling us we should do something about it, she took matters into her own hands and called the gardener for she’d used for almost thirty years, Mr. Cedrone. It was his cows that had wandered our schoolyard when I was a small child. His children were among my first friends when my family moved to
Newton from Hartford.
His farm always looked tidy and well kept, and he had done wonders with
my parents’ yard over the years. With
that in mind, my mother asked him to perform his miracles for our home on Grafton Street,
saying she and my father would pay the bill.
For a long time, Mr. Cedrone and I stood on the front porch watching the neighborhood children, our dog, and our cat, all running back and forth, laughing gleefully, chasing each other all about in a frantic game of tag. Finally, Mr. Cedrone turned to me and said, “Grow children now – grass later.” He said he couldn’t take my parents’ money, that anything he planted would never survive with all the activity, and that it was far more important for the children to enjoy the yard than for it to look pretty. I hugged him, thanking him for his understanding.
As happy as I was in those days, I was in a constant state of fatigue, like so many mothers torn between raising their young children, running a household, and working at a job. I usually managed to maintain my good spirits, but every once in a while, I became so exhausted that my patience grew thin. I will never forget time during the fall of 1957 when my temper got the best of me. The events are indelibly etched in my mind.
It was Thanksgiving and Philip was three years old. I was preparing a feast for eighteen of us, for the six Krugers were joined by the nine Kramers, Mother and Dad, and Grandma
Lena. While it was hard work, everybody pitched
in. Despite all the help, however, I was
stressed out as I tried to get all the last minute things done before serving.
In the midst of the chaos, Philip kept pestering me about something he wanted. I can’t remember now what it was, nor does it matter. I told him repeatedly that I was busy and he’d have to wait, but his three-year-old mind had trouble with the concept of delayed gratification, and he continued to pull on my skirt and beg for attention. Finally, in desperation, I slapped him across the face, something I’d never done before.
I’m not sure which of us was more shocked. I couldn’t believe I’d hit my little boy in a moment of anger. How could I have done such a terrible thing? As Philip’s lip began to quiver and tears welled up in his eyes, I sat down on the floor and wrapped my arms around him, telling him over and over how sorry I was. I looked up to see my brother-in-law, Herb, watching the whole thing. All I could think of was what a horrible mother he must think me.
Many years later when I was in my fifties, I shared this story with a close friend, telling her I’d never forgiven myself. With her amazing common sense, she said, “Don’t you think Philip forgave you long ago? Perhaps it’s time you should do the same.” Her words made me laugh and took a tremendous load from my shoulders and from my heart. Ever since then, I’ve tried to avoid dwelling on my mistakes, no matter how onerous I believe them to be. I do my best, learn from my experience, and then move on, though I find that especially hard to do if I’ve hurt someone else.
A few months after the incident with Philip, Leon and I began to talk about how busy I was, running non-stop, fifteen hours a day. During this time of babies, dishes and diapers, laundry and cooking, of working each day in Leon’s pediatric office, and doing the paperwork for Dad’s restaurant business at night, I never had a moment to think about how exhausted I was. Instead, I was as happy as I’d ever been and saw myself as the most fortunate woman in the world. Despite that, my remorse at having lost my temper with Philip made me realize I was doing too much. Either
Leon would have to hire someone to
handle the support work in his office, or we would need to find help for me at
It didn’t take long for me to decide. I loved caring for the children and the career woman in me thrived on running
Leon’s office and working as Dad’s
accountant. The household chores were
another matter. While I didn’t mind
doing them, I was more than happy to have someone else take over. We looked for a young woman to move in,
someone who would run the household while I was next door in Leon’s office,
and who could watch the children whenever they weren’t playing in the waiting
room with me.
We advertised and found nineteen-year-old Bridie. At first we thought things were going to work out perfectly. She was sweet and the children seemed to love having her around, but we soon discovered it was almost like having another child instead of a helper. I was crestfallen to come home from the office and find her lounging in her bedroom watching television while Jo napped and Charles and Philip entertained themselves nearby on the floor. I’d had visions of her playing games with them, going for walks in the park, reading stories aloud, and rolling a ball about in the yard, and here she was ignoring them. I knew she wouldn’t focus on them every minute, expecting her to let them fend for themselves a little bit while she was doing the housework, but not just while relaxing in her room. To make matters worse, she seemed to have completely forgotten that cleaning house was part of her job.
When I expressed my frustration to Leon, he said I had to be more firm with Bridie and make her do a better job, but I found that difficult to do. It’s always been easier for me to give direction to children than to adults, and I just couldn’t bring myself to reprimand Bridie. I kept thinking, “In just a few weeks, we’ll all go to the
Cape and then my mother will train her to be a proper
nanny and housekeeper.”
Before I could be rescued by my mother, however, I was forced to take matters into my own hand. Out of the blue, Charles had begun screaming hysterically whenever he saw a large, stuffed monkey he’d been given for Christmas. Prior to that, it was one of his favorite toys, almost as big as he was. He cuddled the monkey and dragged it about the house with him. Leon and I were discussing the strange change in his behavior when Connie overheard us and shed some light on the matter. “Bridie’s been waving the monkey in Charles’s face until he cries. I told her to stop but she won’t listen to me.” I obviously couldn’t allow her to continue terrorizing Charles. I overcame my shyness of criticizing adults and spoke to Bridie immediately. I should have recognized at the time that she shouldn’t be taking care of children, but I still had hopes that Mother would teach her.
During that same period, Charles began to wake up crying around eleven each night. He appeared to be scared and we assumed he was having nightmares. Whether they were started by Bridie’s cruel behavior or just happened to begin at the same time, we’ll never know, for at almost two years old, he was too young to tell us. It took me almost an hour each night to calm him down. I’d sit and rock him, holding him close so he could feel my heart beating. I’d rub his back gently and whisper softly to him that everything would be okay. It broke my heart to see him so upset.
With the added stress of Charles no longer sleeping through the night, I became even more eager to get to
Cape Cod and the willing assistance of my mother and
grandmother. I wasn’t disappointed. On the day we arrived, Mother declared she
would take care of Charles at night.
When I thanked her and said she didn’t have to do that, she said, “I’m a
night owl and will be up anyway reading.
When I hear him cry, I’ll hold him until he falls back to sleep.”
True to her word, when Charles began to cry, Mother moved a chair into the hall right outside my bedroom. She rocked him for an hour, just as I would have done, holding him tightly and caressing his cheek. I could hear her murmuring to him to look over at me in the bed. Because he could see me and knew I was close by, he was content to be held by his Grandma Bert, and I was content to let her do so. She held him like that every night through the summer and, by the time autumn came, he was once more sleeping through the night.
My mother did something else for me that summer. Within days of our arrival at the
Cape, she realized that no matter how much
effort she put into training Bridie to properly care for the children and help
with the housework, it wasn’t going to make enough of a difference. She fired the young woman and advised me to
and suggest he look for help in his office instead. As a result, when I returned home to Newton, life was
easier. No longer did I have to split my
time between running the office and the house.
Not only that, as Connie grew older I found I could depend more on
her. She never complained about helping
with her younger siblings and appeared to be quite proud of the trust we placed
Often on Saturdays she’d take the three little ones to the park or to the stores on
Street to buy their shoes and clothes. I would watch out the window as she pushed
the carriage with Charles and Jo snugly within and four-year-old Philip holding
tightly to the side. I was amazed at how
grown up and mature Connie could be at only ten years old. The four of them were such an unusual sight
that many of the store clerks knew them and took care to see that Connie got
all the help she needed. After running
their errands, the children would end up at Brigham’s for ice cream.
Connie wasn’t the only one making my life easier.
often helped out at home, even though it was unusual in our generation for men
to do housework. One day when some
neighbors and I were chatting on my front steps toward the end of the
walked over from the office, greeted everyone, and then asked if I’d started
dinner yet. When I said I hadn’t, he
said, “You just relax. Tonight’s my
My friends were dumbfounded. None of their husbands ever cooked a meal. One of them said, “You go on in and help him get started. We’ll wait out here for you.” I laughed and said, “
need any help from me. He likes to cook
and the kids always love it when he takes over the kitchen. He’ll check the pantry and refrigerator to
see what we have and then figure out what to cook. He meant it when he said I should stay out
Cooking was never a big deal in my house. With so many more important things making demands on my time, I looked for ways to get in and out of the kitchen as fast as I could.
Leon used to
call me the champion of the twenty-minute meal.
I could walk in the door at the end of the day, scrounge about in the
kitchen, and have dinner on the table before everyone else finished putting
their coats away.
Of course, this expedient approach to mealtime did have its down side. One day at the dinner table, Philip said, “Who’s the best cook in the world?” There was no question. They all decided it was Grandma Lena, and I couldn’t disagree. I’d loved my grandmother’s cooking since I was a little girl. After further discussion they came up with Auntie Karyl, their father, and Grandma Bert. While they were arguing over whether Nannie or Auntie Helen came in fifth,
leaned over and whispered to me, “You’re not going to make the top ten.” We laughed for years about it.
It was a good thing that I was efficient in the kitchen because in addition to breakfast, dinner and the afternoon snack that most parents provide routinely, I had to serve lunch as well. Not only did I have to make lunch for myself and the three younger children who had not yet started school, I also had to plan for Connie because in our school district, the children were given a one hour break to go home for a mid-day meal.
Leon tried to schedule his patients
so he could join us as well, so I had six people for lunch every day of the
week and I tried hard to provide a healthy variety.
One of the few dishes I really worked over was tuna salad. It was one of my favorites and I’d always look for the freshest ingredients at the grocery store, my mouth watering as I pictured digging in to my delicious meal. Everyone else in the family loved it too, except Philip. One day, he said, “Mom, can’t you please make the tuna like Aunt Ceci?” She was Mary Louise O’Malley’s sister who lived with them, and all the children in the neighborhood adored her.
After Philip had voiced his preference for Ceci’s tuna over mine, I called to ask what she did. She said, “I don’t do anything. With that huge clan of mine to feed I just open a can and put the tuna on a plate.” I thanked her and said I’d try it and see what happened. Philip was thrilled. “Oh, thank you, Mommy, for making tuna fish like Aunt Ceci.” For that day, at least, I was the number one cook as far as Philip was concerned.
A few months later, Philip turned five and the elementary school allowed me to place him in kindergarten even though the year was half over. He loved going to school each day and his teacher loved having him. He was by far the youngest and smallest child there and became something of a class pet. He was oblivious to his special status and proudly led a parade on the day his elementary school was moved from one building to another, four blocks closer to our home.
The parade was the principal’s idea. Knowing that switching buildings might be traumatic for some of the students, she decided to make it a big celebration, culminating in a parade in which each student carried a few books from the old library to the new one. It was a community event with all the families standing along the parade route, cheering the children as they walked past. I took Charles and Jo in the stroller to the park to watch, Biscuit on a leash close by my side. Philip wore a huge grin as he marched hugging his books, waving to everyone. His smile grew even bigger when his eye caught mine, and he walked a little taller. The newspaper sent a photographer and the next day there was a picture on the front page of the local section showing all the students and little Philip in the front row leading the way.
After the parade, I took the little ones home and waited for the end of the school day. We had told Philip to stand at the door to his new kindergarten classroom and wait there until Connie came to pick him up. She would show him the way home from his new school. What we didn’t know was that Connie’s fifth-grade class was dismissed several minutes after the kindergarten one. By the time she arrived to get Philip, he was no longer there and the teacher told her that everyone had gone home. Not waiting to ask for help from the kindergarten teacher, Connie ran home as fast as she could and rushed into the house with tears streaming down her face. “Philip’s lost!” she cried over and over. After reassuring her that this wasn’t her fault, I left her with Charles and Jo and ran back to the school as fast as I could, trying not to think about how frightened and scared Philip must be.
When I arrived, the principal and a police officer were standing in front of the school by the crosswalk, having just helped the last of the children safely across the street. I told them what had happened and they both recalled seeing Philip leave about twenty minutes earlier, all by himself. Because he was so young, they had stopped him to ask if he knew how to get home. He responded with confidence that he would be just fine. They took him at his word and let him go. Before I had a chance to ask how they could have trusted such a little child, the officer suggested I get in his car and we could drive around the area. When twenty minutes of circling the vicinity failed to produce any sign of Philip, the policeman said we should go home and see if Connie had heard anything.
As we turned onto
Grafton Street, I
saw another police car pull up in front of our house and Philip climbed
out. What a joyous reunion we had! Even Biscuit participated, jumping all over
Philip and knocking him over, as she hadn’t done since her first few days with
us. I hugged Philip and couldn’t let go
of him as we made our way up the front walk, onto the porch, and into the
Connie and I asked him what happened. He said, “I waited outside the kindergarten for Connie just the way you told me to do, but when all the other kids were gone and she hadn’t gotten there yet, some adult told me to move on. I knew I could find my way home so I started walking. After a while, though, I couldn’t recognize anything.”
Connie said, “Were you scared, Philip, when you realized you were lost?”
“Of course not. I found a policeman and told him what had happened. He said I’d have to wait a bit until he finished helping all the other children at the crosswalk. He let me stand in the middle of the street with him when he stopped traffic. When everyone was gone, I got to ride in the police car and he turned on his lights!”
Once safely in the car, Philip gave the officer his address, but the policeman had never heard of
Grafton Street. So Philip said, “Do you know the O’Malley
family, the one with five boys?” When
the officer said he did, Philip said, “I live right behind them.”
I asked Philip whatever made him think the officer might know the O’Malleys. He said, “I figured that all the police in
Boston are Irish Catholic, and the O’Malleys
are Irish Catholic, so they probably knew each other.” He was right.
Because of Philip’s experience, when Charles started kindergarten two years later, Jo and I walked him home each day for a while until I was certain he knew the way. Charles was convinced he could find his way home right from the start, confident that what happened to Philip could never happen to him. I, however, wanted to be positive. When I thought he was ready, I told him he’d be on his own after school that day. But about twenty minutes before school let out, I walked with Jo to the school and we hid in the bushes. When Charles came out of school, he at first seemed fine, but then looked around frightened, unsure of what to do next. Jo and I popped out of the bushes and he ran to us with relief, saying, “I could have gotten home alone.” For a few days after that, we hid and then followed behind Charles until he got home.
That same fall,
Leon began to
have trouble with a hiatal hernia. It
had gotten so bad that he asked his old mentor, Dr. Gross at Children’s
Hospital, to perform the needed surgery.
After examining him, Dr. Gross advised Leon to lose some weight and become
physically fit first. With the long
was devoting to his practice, he’d gotten out of shape and that was making the
hernia worse. Dr. Gross assured him that
if thinning down didn’t get rid of the pain, he would operate.
Leon and I talked about the situation and wondered when he could find time to exercise. We were already busy every hour of every day and at first didn’t see how he was going to do it. Then, one morning he sat up in bed and said, “I’ve figured it out. We’ve always joked that our only free time is between four and six in the morning. That’s when I can exercise. I’ll sleep a little less and use that time to run.” He got up that very morning and ran his first mile.
He arrived home sweaty and exhausted, but excited by his experience, confident it would work. He ran on
Commonwealth Avenue in good weather and
at the YMCA in bad. Each day he could
run a little bit further and, after a couple of months, he came into the house
all excited, saying, “By next spring I should be able to do the Boston
Marathon” and his training began in earnest.
Our home was right by the twenty mile point of the race. Leon asked me to drive him five
miles back along the route and then he’d run home. He found that easier than going out for
two-and-a-half miles and turning around.
Eventually it became ten miles, fifteen, and finally twenty miles all
the way out to the official starting line in Hopkington.
As the race drew nearer, he said he’d hit a mental barrier. He’d successfully run the twenty miles from the starting point to our house, but found it difficult to push himself to keep going when it was so inviting to give up and come home for a shower. He thought that perhaps if I stood on the corner and cheered him on, he could keep running. So I’d stand on our corner in the bitter cold, sometimes in the snow, sometimes in the rain, hopping from one foot to the other trying to stay warm, waiting for
Leon to run by. It worked.
While I was driving him to his starting point or waiting out on the corner for him, thirteen-year-old Connie was in charge of everything at home. Most of the time she just slept, but every once in a while one of the younger children needed her or an emergency call came through on the office phone in the house. When that happened, I’d drive along the race route, watching for
Leon, having already placed his
medical bag and a change of clothes in the car so he could tend to the
emergency without having to go home first.
Leon ran his
first marathon. The year was 1962 and
the Boston Marathon attracted only 230 runners, just barely over one percent of
the athletes who typically run the race today, forty years later. It was April 19th, Patriot’s Day,
a holiday marking the start of the Revolutionary War, celebrated at the time in
only two states, Massachusetts
and Maine. Every schoolchild in Boston knew the holiday story of Paul
ride “on the 18th of April in ’75.”
Leon over four hours to complete
the race, a time which today wouldn’t qualify him to run, but finish he
did. The local newspaper carried an
article about the popular pediatrician who’d started to run when already in his
forties. Friends, family, and patients
all stood on our corner to cheer him on, just as I had done many mornings
before daybreak while he was in training.
We would yell for all the runners, and the children would hand out paper
cups filled with water, long before official water stations were established.
It was more than an hour after the front runners crossed the finish line by the time
Leon reached our corner, but
everybody waited for him. We were all
there to watch Leon
and didn’t care that the race had already been won. As Leon drew near, one of our local
police officers drove by and announced, “Dr. Kruger is on Walnut Street near the hospital, and
running nicely.” Ten minutes later, he
came by again and said, “Dr. Kruger just turned onto Commonwealth Avenue and is running
nicely.” As we all stared up the street,
straining our eyes to pick him out in the distance, the officer came by one
last time and told us, “Dr. Kruger will be the next runner over the hill.”
Leon appeared over the crest, a
roar went up from our corner as almost a hundred people showed their
support. Tears rolled down my cheeks as
I watched him run by. He’d worked so
hard for this moment and deserved every cheer he received. The noise of the crowd didn’t die away until Leon was
completely out of sight again, off on his way to the finish line six miles
Afterwards, everyone walked over to our house to party while awaiting our hero. Henry drove downtown to pick
Leon up at the end of the race and
bring him home. As soon as they walked
was greeted with accolades from all.
Then he grabbed a bite to eat, dragged himself upstairs to bed, and
slept until morning. This became our
A few days later I was in a local store when the saleslady started telling me about seeing
Leon’s name in
the newspaper. Another customer
overheard us and asked if he was written up because he was such a famous
physician. I said, “No, he was written
up because he’s a famous nut.” The woman
turned to the saleslady and said, “I was just curious because I know him. He’s my pediatrician and he’s
wonderful.” The saleslady smiled and
introduced me. “This is his wife.” We shook hands as I said, “I think he’s
He was an excellent pediatrician, although like many physicians, he sometimes had difficulty doctoring his own family. There was the time when Jo broke her wrist falling down our back stairs.
Leon looked at
it, gave it a kiss, and sent her off to school.
It wasn’t until the school nurse sent her home that he examined it more
carefully and realized it was broken.
Then there was the day Jo slipped on a rug and split her chin open.
her up and tried to call the emergency room of
to arrange for someone to meet us there to stitch her up. He was frustrated because he kept getting a
busy signal. He turned to me and said,
“I don’t understand how their phone can be busy. They have lots of different lines so this
won’t happen.” It turns out that he was
so nervous he was dialing our own number, which of course was busy. Newton-Wellesley Hospital
After he got through to the hospital, we drove over with Jo. As he removed the sloppy bandage on Jo’s chin, the intern in attendance jokingly chided
“What kind of a bandage is that, Doctor?”
Without hesitation, Leon
answered, “That’s not a doctor bandage, that’s a daddy bandage.”
Everybody knew that
to separate his friends and family from his medical practice. He’d always balk at giving medical advice in
social situations and this irked his mother.
If she didn’t feel well, she expected her physician-son to take care of
her and was quite annoyed when he wouldn’t.
One day, I had picked up Grandma Lena and my mother-in-law for lunch
with Leon and the children, and afterwards the two of them were talking on the
back porch while I cleaned up the kitchen.
This was our routine a couple of times each week.
On this particular day, they were discussing medical problems and Grandma Lena raved about how wonderful
Leon had been
to her when she was ill recently. I
could hear the irritation in Nannie Annie’s voice when she responded by asking
what it was that Leon
had done. I glanced out and could see
from the expression on her face that she was furious that Leon took care
of my grandmother, but not his own mother.
I laughed to myself when Grandma Lena said, “ Leon was such a dear. He gave me the name of an excellent
physician.” That’s exactly what Leon would have
done for Nannie had she asked, but whereas she saw it as an insult, Grandma
Lena viewed it as special treatment.
Perhaps my Pollyanna way of looking at things came from Grandma Lena. Her philosophy of life was a positive one. Once, as I was feeling sorry for myself after dragging eight barrels of trash up our long driveway, she told me how fortunate I was to have the strength to do it. When her friends would comment on how hard she worked at the
helping to watch her great-grandchildren, she said, “It’s a lucky woman who has
a reason to get out of bed at my age.”
Grandma Lena was never one to indulge in self-pity. She’d worked hard her entire life and enjoyed every minute of it, never seeming to care whether others knew of her efforts. I didn’t have her self-confidence. It bothered me that Leon’s mother never acknowledged how much effort it had been for me to support our household through all his years of medical school and the early days of his practice. I’d often heard Nannie Annie say, “My poor Helen” and wished that – just once – she’d say it about me. After all, my sister-in-law was well-to-do, had live-in help, and enjoyed a great deal of free time. I was struggling to make ends meet, did all the household chores, and had almost no time to rest. I longed to hear my mother-in-law say, “Poor Aura.”
Then, one afternoon, it finally happened.
and Annie were on the back porch chatting after one of our lunches together,
and I overheard my mother-in-law say, “Poor Aura, she works so hard.” I was so happy I almost laughed out
loud. Later, after I had dropped off
Nannie at home and was alone in the car with Grandma Lena, she started to talk.
“Aura, you know how much I love you.”
“More than life itself.”
“So you know I say this because I care about you…Don’t ever let me hear anyone say, ‘Poor Aura’ again! If you’re tired and working too hard, you don’t let anyone know. You put on makeup, dress well, and hold your head up high.” As I listened to her advice and knew she’d always lived by it herself, I was too embarrassed to admit how much I’d craved hearing those words from Nannie Annie. Somehow, my desire to be pitied evaporated. I saw the difference between wanting recognition, which is healthy, and pity, which is not. Believe me, no one ever said “poor Aura” again!
I’d been guided by my grandmother’s wisdom ever since I was a small child. There were many times that she helped me through hard times, sharing her strength with me during occasions I was unable to find it in myself. At over eighty years old, she was still a strong, vibrant woman and I think I viewed her as invincible. As a result, I took it hard when her status changed in an instant.
Grandma Lena had been riding in a taxicab and there was an accident. She was thrown through the windshield and suffered a major stroke, and then lay in the hospital in a coma for many weeks. At least we knew she was getting the best care possible with our good friend, Dave Kaufman. I visited as often as I could and Dave kept me up to speed on Grandma’s progress. After six weeks, he said, “We’ve done all we can for your grandmother. It’s time for her to leave the hospital. She’s no longer in a coma, but she’ll never walk again. She’s completely paralyzed except for the use of her left hand. She can’t speak, but I believe she understands everything we say.”
My thoughts strayed to the character of Monsieur de Villefort in Alexandre Dumas’s book, The Count of Monte Cristo. When M. de Villefort described his father to the Count, he said, “…he can neither move nor speak, nevertheless he thinks, acts, and wills…” When I first read that description as a teenager, I was deeply disturbed by the image and had nightmares about it for weeks. Now my grandma was in the same position.
Leon and I investigated the nursing homes in the area and couldn’t find anything we liked. This was twenty-five years before our legislators recognized the need to regulate nursing homes and the conditions were deplorable. It was clear that the places we visited were understaffed. Residents were routinely ignored and, in the worst of cases, abused. I was heartbroken at the thought of placing my grandmother in one of these homes.
Leon shared my
feelings and, after a few days of fruitless searching, he suggested we move
Grandma Lena into one of our front bedrooms and hire a live-in aide. I loved him so much for his generosity, his
willingness to open our home to her.
The children grew excited at the prospect of having Grandma with us. Charles and Jo, who shared the room next to ours, thought nothing of giving up their room and moving to the playroom on the third floor. When the ambulance arrived and the orderlies put the stretcher down in the front hall before carrying it upstairs, the two of them ran down the stairs calling out, “Grandma Lena’s here! Grandma Lena’s here!” and jumped on top of her. The orderlies smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Kruger. They don’t have to get off. We can carry them up too.” The two clung tightly to her as the orderlies carried the three of them up the stairs.
Every day after school, the two little ones ran straight to Grandma Lena to tell her about their day. They’d race up the stairs, for the first to arrive got to sit on her left side, holding the hand that could squeeze back. I’d stand in the doorway, watching them chatter away. I could tell Grandma enjoyed the hustle and bustle. She’d always loved being with children and teenagers, often saying, “They are the future. It’s better to be around the future than the past.” As the months went by, that time with Grandma Lena became very important to the children. It didn’t matter to them that she couldn’t speak. She could answer their questions, showing her response with her left hand, one squeeze for yes, two for no. I couldn’t help but think how fortunate my children were to have their great-grandmother in their lives. Inter-generational family relationships had been an important part of my childhood, and it was reassuring to see the tradition continue.
My children grew up knowing the value of family. It’s not surprising that this had two very different impacts on Connie. She knew she was loved and accepted by her extended family. Despite this, she worried that as an adopted child, she wasn’t truly part of it. I became more aware of her insecurities one day when she asked me not to tell her siblings that she was adopted. She was afraid she hadn’t been the greatest big sister and wanted to improve her relationships with each of them before they were told. Although I reassured her that she was a wonderful big sister and the other three loved her very much, I couldn’t allay her fears.
The question of when Philip, Charles, and Jo should learn of Connie’s adoption was a difficult one. I wanted them never to remember a time when they didn’t know, seeing that as the avenue to greatest acceptance. Yet, I believed it was her story to tell or not as she saw fit. I had thus delayed saying anything until she was old enough to be part of the decision. Perhaps that was a mistake on my part, but there were no support groups in those days to help me work through the many issues surrounding an adoption, and I did what I thought best at the time. When Connie raised the issue herself, I promised I would honor her wishes and not say anything, but advised her to tell them as soon as she could, pointing out it was better for them to learn it from her than from somebody else.
A few months later, the four children and I were sitting at the kitchen table having lunch when Philip said, “Connie, the O’Malley kids say you were adopted. Were you?”
Connie and I looked at each other. I said nothing, but tried with my smile to convey to Connie to go ahead and tell him, that it would be okay. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Yes, Philip, I was adopted. Does it make any difference?”
Philip asked, “Does it mean you’re going away?”
When Connie said no, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “As long as it doesn’t mean you’re going away, then it doesn’t matter.”
I was pleased with the conversation. I knew my children valued family as much as I did, and it was wonderful to get that sweet confirmation from Philip that he knew his big sister was family, whether or not she was adopted.
So much of our focus in those years was on our extended family. One day
aunt called to say that his mother had collapsed and was in an ambulance on the
way to the . Newton-Wellesley
Hospital Leon was seeing patients and
couldn’t get away immediately, but I jumped in the car and drove to the
hospital as quickly as I could. I ran
into Dave Kaufman at the hospital entrance and he gave me an update. Nannie had suffered a major stroke just like
Grandma Lena’s, and the prognosis was not good.
A couple of weeks later, my mother-in-law was still in a coma. Leon and I were sitting in her room when his sister Helen walked in. I left for a short time to give brother and sister some privacy and when I returned, they were discussing what should be done, both appearing highly uncomfortable with the prospect of making any decisions. At first, I felt as if it were not my place to offer suggestions. Eventually, however, recognizing that I was in a unique position to comment because of my experience working so closely with Grandma Lena, I thought I owed it to them to speak up.
I shared with them that over the past year I had discussed my grandmother’s condition often with David Kaufman, wondering if we had done the right thing in saving her after the car accident. I asked him why the hospital had performed heroics on my grandmother, knowing that if she survived, her quality of life would be greatly diminished, that she would be paralyzed, unable to speak. David had answered that the hospital was legally required to do everything possible. Only in a nursing home could she have been allowed to die peacefully in her sleep.
Knowing how difficult it is to evaluate the situation and determine the right course of action when the person involved is an immediate family member, I offered to take responsibility, saying that if Leon and Helen would authorize me to do so, I would work with David to transfer their mother as quickly as possible to a nursing home. They sighed audibly, thanked me profusely, and put everything in my hands. David said I could move Nannie after three weeks and recommended I look into a new nursing facility he knew about only four blocks from my home.
It was a brick house with five bedrooms owned and run by a dedicated registered nurse, Mrs. Muller. I was impressed with her when we talked and was pleased when she said she had a vacant room for my mother-in-law. We brought her from the hospital the next morning and she passed away five days later, never having wakened from her coma. Soon after, we made the decision to bring Grandma Lena there as well. She lived there for two more years, during which time I visited her almost daily.
Facing the deaths of my grandmother and
mother helped us deal with the question of our own mortality. Leon invited a friend of his who
sold life insurance to come to the house to discuss our options. The three of us were sitting in the living
room when Bob suggested we should consider taking out insurance on me as well as
on Leon. This was an unusual idea in those days and Leon questioned
its validity. Bob answered by asking a
question in return. “What would you do, Leon, if you
lost Aura? How would you manage?” Without missing a beat, Leon replied,
“I’d have to hire fourteen people to take her place.” Point made.
We bought life insurance on both of us.
One reason I was so busy was that we constantly had company. We hosted large dinner parties three or four times a month. The neighborhood children ate often at our home and my parents often joined us for Sunday dinner. Karyl and Herb would come for the weekend and, although they’d sleep at my folks’ house, they left their seven children with us.
the father of one of his patients to spend the night in our home. The mother had called Leon’s office
number in desperation when she and her husband began fighting physically and
she felt as if she had nowhere else to turn.
got there as quickly as he could and separated the couple. After spending a long time trying to get them
to talk calmly, he realized it was hopeless for the moment and suggested the
man come to our house until the morning.
hoped the cool down period might help the couple to communicate better.
When they arrived, I told our guest to take the bedroom on the third floor. The following morning, when the children went up to the playroom, they saw that the bedroom door was shut and assumed it was their uncle. They rushed into the room yelling, “Uncle Everett! Uncle Everett!” and proceeded to jump all over our poor guest. When they realized it wasn’t their uncle at all but a perfect stranger, they fled to the playroom. A few minutes later, our guest walked into the kitchen, bleary-eyed, saying, “Who the hell is Uncle Everett?”
I said, “I need God so I can thank Him.”
Everett asked in surprise, “with the hard
life you have?” I tried to explain to Everett that although I
worked hard, I was blissfully happy.
He’d never thought about it that way, but found the philosophy
appealing. Perhaps that’s why he was
drawn to visit us so frequently.
Everett brought his fiancée, Carolyn, to stay through the New Year. Since Everett
had been married unsuccessfully three times before, Everett wanted our opinion as to whether he
and Carolyn were right for each other. Leon
and I loved her immediately, although we realized there were a number of major
problems to surmount. He was a Jewish
atheist; she was Catholic. He was almost
fifty; she was in her twenties. He had a
college education; she had never finished high school.
Each night after the children were in bed, we sat in the dining room for hours sipping coffee and discussing their situation, with the room lit only by candles. Years earlier Mother had labeled such talks “ conversations,” saying they were productive because people lowered their defenses when they were tired and thus spoke more openly. Through our talks that week, it became apparent to Leon and me that the two of them made a wonderful couple and we gave them our blessing.
On New Year’s Eve, we threw a party and after observing Everett and Carolyn throughout the evening, one of our friends – a lawyer named Lou Callas – kept saying, “Let’s have a wedding tonight!” When the couple agreed, Lou called the Assistant Mayor, a personal friend of his, and asked him to perform the ceremony. Everyone at the party drove to the Assistant Mayor’s home close to and witnessed the marriage.
The holidays ended and the newlyweds returned home. A few weeks later, Philip turned ten and announced that he wanted to deliver papers. He’d been eager for a route for over a year, but the newspaper had a policy saying that boys weren’t eligible until they were at least ten years old. I told Philip he’d have to wait a few days before I’d have time to take him to the Boston Herald’s distribution office, but he didn’t want to wait. He walked over to apply for work and was given a route in our neighborhood. He came home excited, having been told that thirty papers would be dropped off at our house early the next morning. All he had to do was fold them neatly, place them in a delivery bag he’d been given, and take them to all the addresses on his route. He spent the rest of the afternoon practicing and making sure he knew where all of his customers lived.
He was awake by in the morning, eager to get started. He looked out on the porch, where I had told him he’d find his papers, but no papers appeared. He’d pace about for a few minutes and then look again, only to be disappointed once again, frustrated that he’d been forgotten. After an hour, he woke me and said, “Mom, the papers aren’t here yet. What should I do?”
I went downstairs, opened the door, and looked for the papers. There they were, piled neatly at the end of our driveway. Because I had told Philip they’d be on the porch, he’d never looked any further. Such is the trust of a ten-year-old. He ran outside and brought them in to the front hall. I untwisted the wire that bound the stack and he began to fold the papers neatly, just as he’d practiced. In the meantime, Jo had wakened and when she heard us getting ready, came downstairs to help.
When all the papers were neatly tucked into the bag, I hugged Philip goodbye and he brought his bike out from the back yard, excited finally to be on his way. There was one problem. The delivery bag was now so heavy that Philip had trouble getting on his bike. After trying unsuccessfully a couple of times, he cleverly pulled the bike up next to the curb to give himself a few extra inches. He threw his leg over and tried to sit down, but the momentum of the bag made him fall over. Jo and I watched from the window and she could feel my tension as I tried to decide whether to go help Philip or let him work it out on his own, which he finally did. Trying hard to sound grown up, seven-year-old Jo said, “Mommy, there goes your boy.”
Later that week, we had Philip’s bicycle fitted with baskets, which made his job much easier. Jo continued to help fold papers most mornings and sometimes, if he was walking, kept him company. If Philip was sick, or just didn’t want to deliver the papers for some reason, seven-year-old Jo handled the route instead, thoroughly enjoying herself. Several months later, Philip was given the opportunity to expand his route to three times its size, which he did. He quickly discovered, however, that he didn’t like having the larger route as much as he thought he would and asked Jo if she would deliver the papers to his original customers while he took care of the new ones. Jo accepted his offer and he became her unofficial supervisor, paying her from the money he received.
Each morning, Jo and Philip would set off together, clearly having fun, and Charles decided he wanted to join the party. He went to the office and introduced himself as Philip’s little brother. Although he wasn’t yet ten years old, the distributor agreed to start him out with a small afternoon route, given the family history of doing a good job. The distributor was astute enough to recognize that Philip’s success was due at least in part to the support of his parents, who helped out by driving on those days when Philip couldn’t manage on his own.
Charles lasted less than a week before he gave up. Jo, however, loved her new responsibilities and eventually decided she wanted them to be official. Having seen the newspaper break its own rule and let Charles have a route when he wasn’t yet ten, she was convinced they would break the rules for her as well. When she got to the office, she was told they’d been able to stretch the age requirement for Charles, but she was just too young. Besides, they didn’t hire girls.
Jo was outraged. The women’s liberation movement hadn’t yet taken hold, but Jo wasn’t about to wait for it. She wrote a petition saying she’d been delivering the papers for some time already, and should be allowed to do so officially. She then walked her route knocking on doors and asking each of her customers to sign. When she brought her petition back to the distribution office with several signatures, the supervisor, worn down by her persistence, gave in and Jo became the first female newspaper deliverer in
Jo took her job seriously, just like her older brother before her. Not satisfied with throwing the papers from her bike, she walked up to every house so she could place the paper under the front door mat. If there was a screen door, she’d open it and leave the paper between the screen and main door. If the mail slot in the door was big enough, she pushed the paper through. She continued delivering papers through the rest of the year, but as winter approached, her health began to suffer. She was so dedicated to her job that she’d never call in sick, resulting in an inability to get over even a minor cold. After we’d put her on antibiotics for over a month with no result, we made her give up her route and she improved dramatically.
Soon after that, we had more to worry about than Jo’s health. Helen and Henry’s youngest child, Susan, was a troubled teenager. They confided to us that she’d been seeing a psychiatrist since she was eight years old and had recently been admitted to a private, psychiatric hospital, where she was being held in a high security ward to prevent her from hurting herself.
I’d known that Susan was going through a difficult time. When the Lerners last visited, she’d followed me into the bathroom where I was sorting laundry, and she began to sob, saying she didn’t want to go home. We sat on the bathroom floor for over an hour as she shared her problems with me, focusing on her strained relationship with her mother. Having had my own ups and downs in my dealings with Helen, I understood perfectly how Susan felt, but didn’t see what I could do other than be supportive. When I heard she’d been committed to
I wished I could have done more. McLean Hospital
I began to visit Susan as often as possible, and the family authorized the social worker to discuss case details with me. Within a few months, Susan was well enough to be released from the hospital, but the psychiatrist and social worker didn’t want to send her home, believing her problems would return. When I heard this, I offered to have Susan live with us – if it was okay with my husband and her parents. Susan’s psychiatrist objected to the idea. He said that Susan was both suicidal and homicidal and it would be irresponsible of him to place her in a home with four younger children. Suicidal Susan might be, but I knew in my heart she’d never hurt me or mine, and I convinced the doctor to let us try.
Helen and Henry were grateful. They offered to pay us for our efforts, but we refused, saying this wasn’t about money. In response, Helen asked us to think of something we truly wanted, and perhaps she and Henry could give it to us. Leon and I knew we wouldn’t accept anything, but it was fun thinking about it for a few days. After much discussion, we agreed that what we wanted more than anything else was something the Lerners could never give us – two more hours in every day.
Susan quickly became an integral part of our household. The younger children adored her and Charles, who was beginning to display emotional problems of his own, found her to be wonderfully supportive, someone with whom he could share his thoughts with no fear of being judged. What I remember most are the many serious discussions Susan and I had while everyone else was away at school or work. She often asked me questions about the choices Leon and I had made regarding how to raise our children, and compared my answers to what she had seen in her own family. One day, she seemed particularly disturbed as she said, “Auntie Aura, I know you believe in being honest with the children. Why do you lie to them about money?”
Initially, I was quite confused, for I didn’t recall saying anything untrue regarding our finances. When I asked her to explain, she said, “I heard you tell them today at lunch that you’re rich.”
“But, Darling, we are rich. We have a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood and food on our table every day. We’re better off than ninety percent of the world’s population.”
Her answer made me laugh. “Then why do my parents always refer to you as ‘the poor relations?’”
We talked for a long time about how people often have different attitudes about money. Compared to her parents, we were, indeed, poor. We had no extra funds for elaborate vacations and our children often had only two sets of clothes, one on their backs and one in the laundry. But we had everything we needed, and we were happy with what we had.
Perhaps it was that sense of satisfaction that made our home a haven to troubled teens. A few months after Susan came to live with us, Karyl’s oldest son began having difficulties as well. He, like Susan, spent some time in a mental health hospital. When he was released, he decided to try going to college and came to
Boston to talk with the
Admissions Director at his mother’s alma
mater, . Stephen called me right after he was through,
told me he’d been accepted, and asked if he could come by our house for an
afternoon snack before driving back to Boston
When he arrived, he was excited. Not only had he been allowed to begin school halfway through the year, something that was very unusual in those days, he had auditioned for and been accepted into the orchestra. The day couldn’t have gone better. He did, however, have one concern. Stephen told me he didn’t feel ready for dormitory life and asked if he could live with us for the spring semester. Leon and I discussed the possibility that evening. There were already seven of us living in the house, but we could make room for one more. It was a great big house that cried out to be filled with children and teenagers. It was my Plumfield.
We called Karyl to tell her the news and she said Stephen would arrive the following morning. When he did, he had two heavy suitcases. One had books and the other had records. No clothes. I called Karyl and she put them in the mail to us. That was our first indication of the difficulties we would have with Stephen. He lived in his own world, driven by his music. He monopolized the piano, playing several hours each day, oblivious to anybody else who might want a turn. Jo said she didn’t mind. She loved to sit on the bench next to Stephen and turn the pages of his music, pleased she could follow along even though the music was quite complex. Charles, a talented pianist himself, said he didn’t mind either. He said, “It’s okay, Mom, I’ll practice when Stephen’s at school.” I, however, found it a little more difficult to accept Stephen’s behavior, not comfortable seeing my children chased away from their own piano. And it irked me when I’d call Stephen to join us for dinner and he’d ignore me.
Susan presented a different set of problems. One day when I was helping in
Susan came running in to tell me an electric cord on the third floor was
sparking. I dashed into the house,
grabbed a wooden salad fork from the kitchen and flew upstairs to unplug the
cord. As I looked at the cord later and
saw what looked like knife marks on it, I realized Susan had probably been
trying to start a fire and I wondered if the fire that destroyed the Lerner
home was set by Susan. I thought about
the psychiatrist’s warning that Susan was both suicidal and homicidal, and felt
grateful that something made her change her mind this time, and she ran to warn
As the months wore on, I began feeling as if the situation were out of control. Neither Stephen nor Susan respected the limits set for the household, acting as if the rules didn’t apply to them. I called Susan’s social worker at
McLean to seek her advice. I’d always been impressed with her when we’d
talk at the hospital, and thought she might have some good ideas. She told me of an old Bedouin saying. “If you let the camel put his nose in your
tent, it won’t be long before the whole camel is inside.”
She said I had invited not one, but two camels to put there noses inside my tent. Now they’d pushed themselves all the way in and I was overwhelmed. She said, “They’re teenagers and need to understand their limits. Tell them the rules and make it clear they must be followed or they’ll have to leave.” That gave me the freedom to do what I’d already known I must. I told Susan and Stephen about my conversation with the social worker, and they were responsive, promising they would be more cooperative.
Not long after that, the school year came to an end and Stephen returned home to his family for the summer. Susan was feeling much stronger and decided to strike out on her own by attending college in
England. What had seemed like a crowded house was suddenly
spacious. Between my grandmother, my
mother-in-law, my niece, and my nephew, I’d spent several years taking care of
my extended family. Now, with only my
immediate family to worry about, life seemed easy once again…but not for long.