The other kids in my neighborhood loved peanut butter and jam sandwiches and they just couldn’t wait for barbecues. Not me. As a kid I was a very picky eater.
No matter what was on the menu at home, I steadfastly refused to eat anything except corn on the cob and Hungarian palacsinta. I am not one for hot dogs, but, put it this way, if Coney Island ever featured a palacsinta eating contest not only would I agree to enter but I would win.
Please keep in mind we’re not talking blintzes here. We are singing the praises of authentic homemade Hungarian pancakes individually filled with sweet cream cheese, jam or walnuts or any combination thereof.
A few years ago, when I tried a plastic box of six such palacsinta at Pomengranate, a kosher supermarket in Flatbush, New York, I had to be talked out of calling the police.
The pancakes were so delicious I was convinced they had kidnapped some Hungarian grandmother and kept her making takeout palacsinta in a back room. There was simply no other way they could be so authentic and taste so good. In addition to being convinced not to call the cops, I also had to be convinced not to buy every package they had on the shelf.
I tell you this to admit there was considerable self-interest involved when I passed on the flowers and brought Mom a dozen palacsinta when she was recovering from a hip replacement at the Jewish General Hospital a few years ago.
Mom sampled one while the lady in the next bed and the nurse had two apiece. That made for a total of five. Mom insisted I take the rest of them home. Who am I to disobey my mother?
Mom who can be great fun at any time was quite the hoot on morphine.
Her rich imagination was obviously running wild. One nurse told me that the previous evening Mom had called the police. She told them there were some Jewish men in the next room who had called hookers to come over to “hev sex.” She said they were so loud and they were making so much noise that she could not sleep.
Was Mom convincing? Put it this way, the cops showed up and the nurse had to tell them that morphine can cause some patients to hallucinate.
Mom told me the same story when I came to visit the following morning. I reassured her that she would be able to have a restful sleep because I had made sure the police arrested the randy noisemakers and put them in jail.
When I went to visit her a week later in rehab at the Catherine Booth hospital, she was in a very good mood.
“This is a very nice place. Guess who came to visit me today?”
“I don’t know. Who came to visit?”
“What do you mean the owner?”
“Kotrin Boots. She is the owner here and she is very polite. I told her I really liked her place and she was very happy.”
“Mom, I don’t think “Kotrin Boots” came to see you. The hospital is named for Catherine Booth. She was the co-founder of The Salvation Army and I don’t think she came to see you. She died in 1890. “
“Then who came to see me? She looked very important and she sure acted like she owned the place.”
We later ascertained that Mom’s VIP visitor was, in fact, the head nurse.
During the ice storm of 1998, Mom and Dad and Bijou the mad Maltese all moved into my place at the Chateau apartments on Sherbooke Street. I had insisted they do so when I caught my father at their duplex leaning forward, shovel in hand, to clear frozen ice off the front stairs.
Mom wanted her morning coffee which, as you might imagine might not be all that easy to find during an ice storm. Undeterred I climbed down eight flights of stairs, took a cab to the east end where the lights were still on, took a cab back home and climbed back up the eight flights. Huffing and puffing, I handed her the coffee not expecting any thanks.
I didn’t get any.
“Dis is not hot. Dis is not coffee. Dis is moslek.”
Moslek is the Hungarian word for swill.
Back down the stairs. Back to the east end and back home with a café au lait. This time there was a thank you and Mom didn’t even mention that it was lukewarm instead of piping hot.
One Friday afternoon in 2004. I was strolling with Mom along Westbury Avenue when an SUV pulled up and a bearded rabbi, one of the most respected in the city, stuck his head out the window. He was a longtime family friend.
Looking right at me, he said in Yiddish, “Shemzach nisht? Spatzieren mit a shayna maidele uffen guss?” which means “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, walking with a pretty young girl on the street?”
To say that Mom was delighted at the compliment is an understatement, but the rabbi’s comment turned out to be much more than a mere compliment.
He made the remark some 14 years ago, soon after my dear father had passed away. Every time I see mom in a sad mood, every time she is uncommunicative, I lean in close to her face and repeat it to her. And every time – without fail – her eyes light up and she breaks into a wide smile.
There was a time when it was impossible to get her to smile. She didn’t want to talk. She had told the caregiver that she felt sick. She would vomit in the morning and did not want to eat.
I would go to her apartment to visit and I would be dismayed to see her just slumped over in her chair. She looked very weak and very tired.
She just didn’t seem her usual self so I called Hatzalah, a local volunteer Emergency Medical Service organization. They would examine her vital signs and suggest I should call an ambulance. I would grab her medicare card and a list of all her medications and off we would head to the hospital.
She would spend a day or so in some hallway, a day or so upstairs in a hospital room where they would check her out. There would be a few tests and a few x-rays. I would be told there was nothing wrong and we would head back home.
She would be better for a few days and then it would happen all over again. This continued on a weekly basis for more than a month.
She would be fine and after a few days, she would feel ill again and we would go back to the hospital. She would feel okay for a day or two and then back to the hospital yet again.
At one point, I was so frustrated I said “Why don’t we just have her sit in the corridor of our building? She can be ignored here as well as she can be ignored in the emergency room corridor.”
One day, Mom and I and Jhonas the caregiver were watching a Golden Girls re-run. Just after Bea Arthur gave Betty White her trademark glance of disbelief, an American commercial comes on extolling the virtues of the Exelon patch which can help alleviate some of the symptoms of moderate dementia.
The commercial shows some elderly person smiling at her adoring grandchildren as they list off the side effects which might include a general feeling of illness, weakness, vomiting, drowsiness, fatigue and itchiness on the site of the patch.
The caregiver and I stare at each other in disbelief. Could it be the Exelon patch that is making her sick?
I call the doctor, he agrees to take her off the medication and prescribes another one instead.
Within a day or so, Mom was back to her usual self complaining about the temperature of the café au lait.