Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A ROSE IN BLOOM

Rose came into our family life one summer at our beach house. We lived in a large, three-story house on the Atlantic Ocean. There were lots of us – my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and their daughter and my family – my husband and our two children. Although we weren’t all there at the same time, we wanted to be there – the house drew all of us like a magnet. From the perspective of time, I can say we lived together in relative, yes relative, harmony.

Although we all did our share of the work involved in running the house, most of us went into the city to work almost every day – so we needed some additional help.

So, along came Rose! A tall, soft-spoken African-American woman from South Carolina. She was 28 years old at the time.

The children hid under the porch the afternoon we met Rose for the first time; they didn’t want a stranger to join our family life, especially since she was going to "sleep in" – as the phrase went at that time. They managed to avoid her at first but were secuced by her fabulous cooking and heer willingness to satisfy any requests they made for their special favorites. They were also enchanted by her voice – she sang as she worked. Her repertoire was very extensive. Fragments of "In the cool, cool of the evening ..." and "Tenderly" ... " drift through my mind."

One of Rose’s unexpected areas of expertise was as a sex educator. Often, I would come home from work, expecting dinner was almost ready and I would find the children sitting with Rose around the kitchen table, evidently entranced with what they were hearing. Rose knew! Never mind that my husband was a gynecologist and I knew a thing or two, too, and we considered ourselves askable parents, Rose was the sex educator par excellence! She had a boyfriend they learned a lot about and even her sister’s sex life was material for discussion. I sometimes shudder to think what all this information added to their sex lives! But Rose’s talks remained pretty secret.

Rose was a passionate baseball fan, as we all were – Brooklyn Dodger fans. We felt as if we were part of their team because their business manager lived across the street from us. All the famous players of that time came to swim and relax on the beach – Jackie Robinson, who will always be remembered because he broke the racial barrier and because he was the first black player in the major leagues – Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Gill Hodges – Sometimes these legends in their own era even tossed some balls with the children on the block. Rose was right out there on the street with them. Often, she reported she couldn’t sleep at night because of her excitement at being so close to her beloved Dodges.

When Marc (the oldest child) was about 10, he and Rose made a $1 bet, witnessed and filed in the family safe. Marc bet he would be a major league baseball player. Rose bet he would be a doctor. Rose won the bet and collected the bet, figuring in interest and inflation. We had a party and invited Rose to celebrate Marc’s graduation from medical school. Rose wanted to cook a celebration dinner for us, but we insisted that she be a guest and we do the cooking.

We didn’t see Rose much after that party. There was the occasional visit and telephone call. Then, one day I made a call and I learned her telephone had been disconnected. I felt a sense of loss, almost as if I had heard that she died. Maybe she had.

But when Rose’s name is mentioned in our family, there are smiles, sighs, and a strong sense of nostalgia for the Rose that bloomed in our lives those many years ago. The bloom on the Rose has never faded.

3 comments:

Marc said...

Tears came to my eyes after reading this. I also remember that Rose read the Daily News. When the headline would read somethihg like "Boy Stabs Girl in Bronx," you would turn over the paper so I couldn't see the headline. Oh - if only that was the worst news I ever heard in the newspaper!!

boblf said...

Rose was a part of my life as well and I have vivid memories of her. I think that she added something to my relatively cloistered life--something vital, warm, and compassionate. Thanks for writing about her so well.
Bob F.

googli said...

I remember Marc's many Rose stories over the years. She seemed to be an important member of the family and Marc's development. "The Contract" (aka "The Bet") story is a classic, but Rose's role as a balancing sex education and her role in opening up the outside world shows her real influence. Must say the kids turned out to be pretty healthy, so it all worked.

Marc and I spent all day Saturday hiking, hanging out, and going over old and new stories. At dinner we had a surprising reunion! (Ask Marc.)