Sunday, March 28, 2010

* Value


Twenty-five years ago I suddenly was transported 3000 miles from New Haven.

My parents, ages 71 and 73, at the time, had gone on vacation to Bend, Oregon from Mt. Carmel, Connecticut and my 73-year-old mother wound up in an Intensive Care Unit in Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, Oregon, fully conscious, on life-support machinery for 118 days, leaving my father stranded in a motel for those four months, not knowing a soul in the town.

My parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary portrait, 1984, the year before their fateful trip to Oregon.

I sold everything I had, quit my job as an apartment superintendent two blocks from the Yale gym, found a house-sitter for my parents' house, and moved to Oregon in the second month of the ordeal.

I had $1000 total, to my name, not knowing how long I might have to stay there.

I rented a University of Oregon "dorm" room vacated for the summer in a motel across from the hospital, bought a second-hand bike for $40.00 and ate in an all-you-can-eat
Chinese fast-food place for $3.50 a day, also across from the hospital.

I lived on a budget of $7.00 a day.

Here I am one block behind Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, holding one of the last bricks from the recently demolished "Animal House", the actual building used in the movie of the same name. To keep busy, I interviewed everyone in town associated with the movie. (Yes, a real horse actually walked through the President's office at the University : I interviewed the secretary.)

One item I bought for the "dorm" was a plastic cup from the University of Oregon Bookstore, also near the hospital. It had an emblem for the football team mascot on it: the Ducks.

It may have cost 99 cents.

I ran out of money two months later.

I was about to lose my "dorm" room when I accepted a night watchman's job at Washington Abbey, a plush retirement home something like Kendal today,in exchange for an unfurnished efficiency apartment in the Abbey and one-meal a day in the dining hall with the residents, who treated me like their shared, universal grandchild, a blessing, given my circumstances.

Here I am attending a costume party in the dining hall for the residents of Washington Abbey in Eugene.

The only requirement was that I sign a one-year contract, even though (especially since, actually) they knew about my mother's precarious situation.

I signed.

My mother died three days later.

Honor bound, I was stranded in Eugene for a year.

A quarter century later I still have that yellow plastic, Oregon Ducks cup.

The Ducks emblem is about worn off it.

I use it every day.

I wouldn't trade it for $10,000.

Barbara Ward Keane, the mother of my childhood memories.

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