Wednesday, August 9, 2017


“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 Leon had been slowly dissipating, 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 mindlessly handled 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 he was 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 through.  On this day, although cheered by hearing Leon had come home from the hospital, her voice sounded disquieted.  She told me Herb was exhibiting symptoms similar to Leon’s and their physician had just hospitalized him. He was apparently much worse than Leon had ever been.  My poor sister was raising five children and expecting her sixth, and now Herb was deathly ill. I offered Karyl what cords of comfort I could, reminding her that Leon had recovered and I was sure Herb would as well.
When I hung up the phone, 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 increase Leon’s 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 went on, he began taking more.  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 Boston University and called often, offering to visit and help.  No matter how many times I told her Leon might still be contagious and wasn’t allowed to have guests, she said she didn’t mind. One day, without calling first, she showed up at the front door.  When I heard the bell, I looked out the window and saw her standing there.  Unwilling to admit her, 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'll  take care of him for a few hours.”  Although I couldn’t take Marilyn up on her offer, I’ve never forgotten what this 17-year-old compassionate girl attempted to do. 
Throughout Leon’s illness, 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 3:00 in the morning.  Since Mother and Dad had been traveling for several years, Leon and I were accustomed to being awakened by the calls, or having our meals interrupted.  Although it was inconvenient, we didn't complain.  It was always good to hear from my folks.
With 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 3 days in a row.  My dramatic training had failed and my “Everything is fine” didn’t sound quite fine enough.
He and Mother wished to extend their 3-month trip by 2 more weeks.  They were in Hawaii 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 Leon 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, yet now my father was telling me not to ask.  Never again did I tell my parents if something was troubling me.  I vowed to be more self-reliant from that day forward.  
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 survive.  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 Grafton Street until Leon 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 first floor 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 our coverage.
Realizing we had no choice but to move, I called the Mason-Rice Elementary School to 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.
Instead of feeling welcomed, Connie felt unwanted, as if her presence 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..
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.
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 Leon to my car and we drove together to Grafton Street.  As 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 friend Maggie arrived and stayed with me for two 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 tea-cart 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, making sure 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 four o’clock, 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. 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, Leon 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 his 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 Leon 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 Leon’s progress, my dad’s five sisters decided their office-warming gift would be to plant five evergreens outside the office's front windows.  Although the trees were somewhat scrawny at first, they soon filled out and added considerably to the attractiveness of our home-office. They also 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 pediatric office.
Unfortunately, few patients appeared to have heard the news.  Hours would go by without a soul coming to the office.  Leon was frustrated by his inability to do anything to make his practice grow.  He couldn’t advertise, for that 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 to doctor.
From the beginning, Leon was on the lookout for ways in which he could better serve his patients.  He liked an idea we had 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 7-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 have 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.  One Sunday afternoon, Leon, the 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, carefully 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 danger.
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 around 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, Leon’s 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. 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 why 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 this, 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; by October, I was pregnant, and our baby was due early the following summer.
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 Leon’s office 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 20 on our block alone.  Some days I would sit under a tree in the front yard and read to 9 or 10 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 was good.
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 thinking 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 accepting.  I was afraid my water would break 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 the relief of a blast of cool air.  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 eight o’clock.  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.  It was tempting but   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.  I was content to watch television  until he returned a couple of hours later.  By eleven o’clock, we were both sound asleep.
Four hours later, my water broke.  This time, Leon woke 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 On the Street Where You Live over and over again until we pulled up at the hospital.
When 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 night!”
I had an easier delivery than I’d had with Philip and my recovery was thus quicker.  I was sent home 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.  The summer was a joy.  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 and renew my idyllic existence there.
Six weeks later, Leon accompanied me to see my obstetrician for my three-month check-up.  I knew I felt wonderful, so I wasn’t 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 blocked tubes, 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 that 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.  As we turned to leave, Dr. Mullaney said to Leon with a big grin, “You know, Leon, most of my patients are Irish Catholic.  They almost always come in for their 3-month check-up pregnant.  This is the first time I’ve seen one of them walk out of my office 3 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 Hartford 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 Leon 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 this 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 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 the way 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 Leon 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.  Another mystery we'll never know the answer to.
What a happy winter that was for me!  My days were satisfyingly full taking care of 2-year-old Philip and baby Charles, sometimes at home and sometimes while working in Leon’s office.  In the meantime, 8-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, jumped rope, rode her bike, and played hopscotch with Debbie Fineberg and Diane Brass.  When the snow arrived, all the children built snow forts in the front yard and threw 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 zip down the hill again and again 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 for cups of hot cocoa.
By the time spring arrived, 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, Dr. 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?”
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 to get it, offering to help out with Charles.  Yetta placed Charles in a swing where he sat contentedly for hours, fussing only when the motion stopped and the swing needed re-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, Leon skipped the excitement and opted 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 another girl?”
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.
Leon had previously chosen Caroline for a first name, but neither of us liked the way Caroline Ann sounded when the two names were spoken together.  As we lay in bed that night discussing girls’ names, Leon came up with the perfect solution.  “Aura, you’ve always loved the book Little Men, telling me that the character Jo was your heroine, and that you’ve tried to model our home after Plumfield.  If we have a little girl, why not name her ‘Jo’?  It goes perfectly with the middle name ‘Ann,’ and if our daughter decides the name Jo is too boyish, she can always call herself ‘JoAnn.’”
A week later 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 5 o’clock in the morning of July 17th, and Leon 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 Leon to help me out of the car.  Instead, he left me and ran in by himself.  What had gotten into him?  I groaned 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.
Worn out, I walked into the hospital and was greeted by a nurse who ran 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!”  .  
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 Leon 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 puttinh his arms around his baby girl.  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 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.  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 close by, protecting the newest family member.
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.
           As Labor Day approached, 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 and who their classmates would be.  Everyone dressed in their Sunday best and we’d take pictures on the front porch, documenting how the children had grown since the previous fall.  One by one, each child – not just ours but the neighbors’ as well – would stand back-to-back with me, hoping this might be the day they passed me by.  Since I was only 4 feet,10 inches tall, they all achieved their goals 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 did feel like Jo in Little Men.
As happy as Leon and I were when we looked out over our yard, 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 she’d used for almost 30 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 my youngsters and their friends laughing gleefully, running back and forth with our dog and our cat, chasing each other in a frantic game of tag.      
Mr. Cedrone turned to me and said, “Grow children now – grass later.” 
He couldn’t take my parents’ money, he explained.  Anything he planted would never survive all the activity, and 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  won't forget the 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 3 years old.  I was preparing a feast for 18 of us, for the 6 Krugers were joined by the 9 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 3-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 and told him over and over how sorry I was.  I looked up to see that my brother-in-law, Herb, had been watching the whole performance.  All I could think of was what a horrible mother he must think I was.
         Many years later when I was in my 50s, I shared this story with a close friend, telling her I’d never forgiven myself.  She said, “Don’t you think Philip forgave you long ago?  Perhaps it’s time you should do the same.”  Her words 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 deplorable I believe them to be.  I do my best, learn from experience, and then move on, though I find this 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, 15 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 viewed 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 trying to do 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 home.
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. 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 19-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, and reading stories aloud, but instead she was ignoring them.  I knew she couldn’t focus on them every minute while she was doing the housework, but 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 directions 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 hands.  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. 
“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 2 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 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 call Leon 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 proud of the trust we placed in her.
          Often on Saturdays she’d take the 3 little ones to the park or to the stores on Center 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 4-year-old Philip holding tightly to the side.  I was amazed at how grown up and mature Connie could be at only 10 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.  Leon 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 afternoon, Leon 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 turn.”
My friends were amazed.  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, “Leon doesn’t 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 have.  He meant it when he said I should stay out here.”
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 20-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 ever since I was little.  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, Leon leaned over and whispered to me, “You’re not going to make the top ten.” 
            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 6 people for lunch every day of the week and I tried hard to provide a healthy variety.
            One of the few dishes I really spent time on 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 5 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,4 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 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 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 5th-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 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 20 minutes earlier, all by himself.  Because he was so young, they had stopped him to ask if he knew how to get home.  When he responded with confidence that he did, they 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 20 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 house.
Connie and I asked him what happened.  He said, “I waited outside the kindergarten for Connie the way you told me to do, but when all the other kids were gone and she wasn't there yet, some grownup 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.
Philip said, “Do you know the O’Malley family, the one with 5 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 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 20 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 looking relieved but saying, “I could have gotten home by myself.”  For a few days after that, we hid and then followed Charles until he reached 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 hours Leon was devoting to his practice, he’d gotten out of shape and this 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 was able run a little further and after a couple of months, he came into the house and announced, “By next spring I should be able to do the Boston Marathon.”
At that point his training began in earnest.  Our home was right by the twenty mile point of the race.  Leon asked me to drive him 5 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 10 miles, 15, and finally 20 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 20 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, 13-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.
That spring Leon ran his first marathon.  The year was 1962 and the Boston Marathon attracted only 230 runners, just barely over 1% of the athletes who typically ran the race, 40 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 story of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride “on the 18th of April in ’75.”
It took Leon over 4 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.”
As 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 6 miles beyond.
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 in, Leon 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 annual ritual.
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 assured her, “I think he’s wonderful, too.”
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.  Leon bandaged her up and tried to call the emergency room of Newton-Wellesley Hospital 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 turned out that he was so nervous he was dialing our own number, which of course was busy.
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 Leon with, “What kind of a bandage is that, Doctor?” 
            Leon answered, “That’s not a doctor bandage, that’s a daddy bandage.”
Everybody knew that Leon preferred 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 was raving 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 outraged 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 Cape helping 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.  Lena 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.”
“Yes, Grandma.”
“More than life itself.”
“Yes, Grandma.”
“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.  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 80 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 6 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.  Now my grandma was in the same predicament.
Leon and I investigated the nursing homes in the area and couldn’t find anything we liked.  This was 25 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 heartsick 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 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 assured 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 an avenue to the 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.
Much of our focus in those years was on our extended family.  One day Leon’s maternal aunt called to say that his mother had collapsed and was in an ambulance on the way to the Newton-Wellesley HospitalLeon 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 thanked me profusely, and put everything in my hands.  David said I could move Nannie after 3 weeks and recommended I look into a new nursing facility he knew about only 4 blocks from my home.
It was a brick house with 5 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 5 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 2 more years, during which time I visited her almost daily.
Facing the deaths of my grandmother and Leon’s 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 14 people to take her place.”  Point made.  We bought life insurance for 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 7 children with us.
Leon’s brother, Everett, stayed so often for two to three weeks at a time that we sometimes referred to our third floor guest room as Everett’s.  Occasionally he’d arrive after the children had gone to bed for the night.  When that happened, we’d tell them when they came down for breakfast and they’d run back upstairs, race into the guest room, and jump all over their uncle, refusing to leave until he allowed himself to be dragged out of bed.
One time, Leon invited 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.  Leon 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.  Leon 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 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?”
Everett was special to all of us.  Whenever he came to visit, it was a celebration.  The younger children would sit at the window watching every car that turned onto our street, excited at the prospect that Uncle Everett might finally have arrived.  I looked forward to his visits as much as the children did, for we always had fun and talked about interesting matters.  Once, he and I got into a discussion about religion.  As an atheist, he found it hard to understand how anyone could follow a formal religion.
 He said, “Aura, why would an intelligent woman like you believe in God?  I know some people do because they need to pray whenever they want something.  But you never ask for anything, so that can’t be it for you.”
I said, “I need God so I can thank Him.”
“Whatever for?” 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.
One Christmas, Everett brought his fiancée, Carolyn, to stay through the New Year.  Since Everett had been married unsuccessfully 3 times before, he 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 50; 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 sipping coffee and discussing their situation, with the room lit only by candles.  Years earlier Mother had labeled such talks “midnight 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 midnight and witnessed the marriage.
The holidays ended and the newlyweds returned home.  A few weeks later, Philip turned 10 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 10 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 30 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 5:00 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 10-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.
           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,  Jo handled the route instead, thoroughly enjoying herself.  Several months later, Philip was given the opportunity to expand his route to 3 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 10 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 Boston.
         Jo took her job seriously, 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'd push 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 persuaded 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 8 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 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 McLean Hospital, I wished I could have done more.
         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 recall 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, Boston University.  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 Hartford.
         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 7 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 Leon’s office, 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 me.
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. 
“They’re teenagers," she said, "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.


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