by Ted Gargiulo — I never realized how many caring relatives and acquaintances my mom had until she wrote them about her cancer.?People I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years responded in droves.?Some called long distance.
The one response that surprised us all was from my late Uncle Al’s friend, Hannah.?She and my mom had visited Al in the hospital back in New York two years earlier when he was dying, and had kept loosely in touch since then.?When Hannah, now living in Taos, heard of my mom’s illness, she called to say she was flying out to California to spend a few days with her, “Not as a guest, but as a helper.”?
We were delighted at the news.?Having a friend help care for my mom would boost her spirits and give my wife Jann and me a much needed respite. What’s more, I was finally going to meet this woman who had been close to Al for so many years.?It would be almost like seeing my uncle again.
I enjoyed hearing about the two of them.?Seems they’d been intimate early in their relationship. Later, they decided they weren’t romantically compatible but remained friends anyway.? Something I did NOT know was that Hannah had modeled in the nude for Al some 40 to 50 years ago.?He’d actually done a series of charcoal studies of her.
“THAT WAS YOU?” I gasped. “I’ve got those drawings hanging in my office at home.?You mean to say I’ve been looking at YOU this whole time and didn’t know it?”? Hannah chuckled.?She said I reminded her of Al, not physically, but in my manner and body language. I took that as a compliment.
Sadly, our collective euphoria over seeing Hannah began to wane shortly after her arrival.The lady, it turned out, was a loud, bossy, know-it-all, who credited herself (far too generously) with being everybody’s Friend in Need—the star and heroine of practically every story she told. And she told a lot of stories.? Yet despite all that, she was nincompoop in the kitchen.?The woman couldn’t even boil pastina without making a big complicated deal out of it.?Some helper!
Worse, she was pig-headed about doing things her way.?She insisted, against Jann’s advice, on taking my mom out to breakfast. (“Don’t be silly, of course she wants to go!”)?My mom wasn’t up to it, but was too polite to decline.?The trip wore her out and exacerbated her pain. That afternoon, she began vomiting up everything she’d eaten for breakfast.?Once Smartass Hannah realized how sick my mom really was, she panicked and called Jann, whom she had recently chided for being overly concerned over my mom’s wellbeing.?Drove the poor girl crazy. Desperate, Jann called Hospice and had them send over a nurse, then summoned me at work and begged me to rush home.?
The woman pushed her way into everything, till it was all any of us could do not to let her know how we felt, my mom especially.?We couldn’t wait for her mission of mercy to end. Once she left, we all breathed easy again.
So, this was THE famous Hannah I’d heard so much about…in the flesh!?Sorry, Al, but I liked her better as charcoal.
[Adapted from Payback Time, 1998-99]