My wife, Laurie (God bless her soul) was a pretty special person. Despite her many attempts to drive me absolutely bonkers at times, she had a heart of gold!
She cared so much for little kids.
We were married for 4 years before we had our daughter, Heather, and even then, she was our only child so Laurie always had a “little free time”.
After we first got married, Laurie started babysitting for my cousin Chris’s beautiful young daughter, Christina.
We was a gorgeous, beautiful, sweet child…with a head full of amazing blond curly hair! She was just so sweet & so reserved.
You wouldn’t even know Christina was in the room as she was so well-behaved.
Laurie not only loved & adopted all “her kids”, but she absolutely didn’t tolerate any nonsense whatsoever from the kids. They were taught to behave…they also quickly came to realize that learning was fun!
We would always buy them educational toys & games…and, thank goodness, they were all good eaters.
BTW, who are all “these kids” anyway, besides li’l Christina??? 🤔
After she babysat Christina every weekday for a couple of years, Chris moved out to Long Island & Laurie got pregnant. (No, those events were not related in any way & were just a mere coincidence.)
When Heather was about 6 years old & we purchased our first new home, Laurie started babysitting young James Yap.
His Dad, Medardo (Dadu) would normally drop him off at our house on Staten Island on his way to work (around 7ish) & either him or his wonderful wife, Gloria, would then pick up James after work.
We loved having James as Laurie took such wonderful care of him! OK, Laurie was a bit pricey with her babysitting rates as I think she charged $50/hr but lemme tell ya, it was worth every penny! James always had a very full day with plenty of learning & entertainment…she’d feed him all 3 meals…and we’d often send him home with some new clothes & toys.
Soon after… Oooops, pls excuse me for a minute! I’ll be right back!
(“Psssst, psssst, psssst, you freakin’ dummy! Can’t you remember anything?!?”)
Oh, sorry ‘bout that, everyone! I was just informed in the back that Laurie, the shrewd negotiator that she was, actually charged $50 a WEEK, not an hour.
Silly me, heh?
Soon after, in late 1993, she hadda give up watching James as we relocated to San Antonio with Citibank.
We always live in the NY area our entire lives (Brooklyn, Long Island,!Staten Island) so this was truly a major move for us in soooo many ways – – geographically, culturally, philosophically, professionally, financially.
We were moving away from our families & friends and realistically, staring a whole new life. We really didn’t know a lot of people, except for the 3-4 Citi families who lived in our subdivision (which we just came to know AFTER the move itself), but none of the wives/Moms had young children.
So wha does Laurie do?
She goes to a local middle/high school & starts taking care of the li’l babies of the teen Moms who were students at the school.
They’d drop off their little ones in the nursery before class & then pick them up at the end of the school day. Laurie & another volunteer took care of 6-8 babies while Heather was attending (a different) school herself. My Mom would often crochet blankets & hats & whatever for the babies & mail them down to us.
And whenever we’d visit the families back in NY (~3-4 times annually for the first few years), we’d always bring along an extra huge bag to take back with us…filled o the brim with goodies & homemade whatevers!
Oh, yeah, and since I was a creature of habit, I’d still “return home” for a haircut.
*places right hand on Bible & raises left hand*
There was NO connection whatsoever between the length of my hair & when I hadda fly to NY for an important business meeting!
Then, one day, when I was going down (or was it up?) the stairs at work, I ran into Jill Campbell & her husband, Steve…and their infant daughter, Julia.
Jill had been my department’s Financial Analyst & was such a sweet girl. After meeting Steve, I soon realized that he was incredibly nice as well.
Jill was scheduled to return back to work from maternity leave the following week & they were still looking for someone reliable whom they could trust to babysit li’l Julia.
“I think I may have just the perfect
person for you…my wife, Laurie!”
I told them all about Laurie’s experience with kids…made no mention whatsoever of my shady background nor my lengthy incarceration at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility…and made arrangements for them to stop over that night to meet Laurie.
Apparently, I committed Laurie without even speaking to her. I don’t think I even had a cell phone yet & besides that, my office was “waaaaaaay over there” (you know, like more than 100′)! Besides, I just knew full well that she would be absolutely thrilled & would immediately jump at the chance.
IThat is, IF they approved of us.
Jill & Steve came by after work with Julia.
Instead of my telling you what happened, I’ll let Steve handle that part. Here’s what he said at Laurie’s wake on the evening of 9-11 as he recounted the whole incident…
“After meeting Mike & hearing him talk about Laurie, I kinda knew that we had something there.
“But, of course, we needed to meet Laurie…”our Laurie”…and make sure we were comfortable enough to entrust our Julia with her.
“As soon as we got there, Laurie warmly welcomed us as if we were long-lost friends…and she immediately bonded with Julia.
“And then when we saw Heather & how beautiful & well-mannered & respectful she was, we were totally convinced! If they raised this beautiful child, they would certainly take such wonderful care of our Julia! We knew right there & for the next 4-5 years, we were absolutely right.
“And Julia loved her Aunt Laurie so much & we loved our Laurie so much!”
There was an instantaneous bond between Laurie & Julia.
Of course, we drove a very hard bargain & finally got those darned Campbell’s to agree to our standard $50/week rate.
How dare they insist on paying more! Apparently, they knew very little about negotiations.
Laurie took such incredible care of Julia…who was an absolutely-magnificent child!
Often times, Laurie would convince Steve to leave Julia overnight with us so they could have an adults-only evening together at home or go out to dinner.
And we spoiled Julia rotten, just as we had with Heather & James, but, of course, with those boundaries.
We got her outfits & toys. Heather was an amazing big sister to Julia. Laurie took Julia everywhere…to Sea World & Six Flags Fiesta Texas (as we had family season passes o both places)…to breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort (our adopted “home away from home”…to just about anywhere & everywhere.
And Julia learned so much stuff early on, doing her flash cards & educational games & learning toys & talking books. She wound up doing so well in school.
BTW, she graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Texas up in Austin and just recently received her “white coat” & saw her first patient as she’s completing her education at the University of Houston’s School of Optometry! She’ll be following in her Dad’s (Dr. Steven Campbell) footsteps.
Her younger sister, Caroline, (who Laurie babysat, along with Julia, for a few months before being physically unable to continue) is also attending UT🤘🏼& is a beautiful & talented young lady just like her older sister.
But Laurie the Wonderful could also drive me absolutely bonkers!!!
Late one Sunday morning, back in NY, my Dad had gotten us special passes to Monmouth Race Track (harness racing where the driver sits in the sulky behind the pacing or trotting horse), and a private box to boot.
The previous day, I had 36 2’x2’ concrete slabs delivered to our home in Staten Island.
I was going to simply align them in our back yard, right off the play room door downstairs, in a large rectangle (8’x18’) so our Welsh Terrier, Dressa (“Dressed for Success”, a show champion, bred & trained by Linda Taranto, Laurie’s older sister) would have a hard surface on which to walk & keep her tails trimmed.
The issue was that these 36 slabs were dropped off by the curb in front of our house & they had to magically move themselves to the back yard.
They were not equipped with li’l rollers (must’ve been an oversight on my part) & they were heavy as hell!
But making 36 round trips seemed intolerable so Godzilla (with his tiny little brain) decided to carry 2 at a time, an immediate 50% reduction in total mileage.
Things were going well (= I didn’t die) until the very last pair of slabs.
I thought I felt a slight twitch in my back as I bent over to grab them, but the thought of actually stopping now was a totally unmanly, albeit wise, thing to do.
So I simply stood back up, prayed to the back gods & bent down again to grab the last two.
Made it safely to the back yard & started to gently move them into place.
*takes a bow*
As I bent over to pick up the last slab & complete the job…
An angry Apache Indian snuck up behind me & drove his tomahawk right into the small of my back…and at the same exact moment, Cowboy Joe shot me with his ol’ six shooter in the same exact place, no less!
What a co-inky-dink!
In that moment, I experienced the complete “joy” of childbirth with the absolute worst pain in my entire life shooting up & down my back.
I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything but writhe in pain.
Then about 30 seconds later (though it felt like several lifetimes), I went numb. Completely numb.
(I’ve written another story…”Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!”…where I kinda experienced something pretty similar when I was hurled from a runaway golf cart at Cedar Creek golf course in San Antonio several years later.)
I was now too afraid to move as I was sure that my back “fell off” or just completely disintegrated.
I looked around for the angels or the big hand pulling me into one of the big Hs, but I didn’t see anyone.
(H’s…Heaven & Hell. Ya never really know who’s comin’ for ya!)
I got up…V – E – R – Y S – L – O – W – L – Y…and didn’t feel any pain. Nothing.
I finished sliding that last slab into place, then went inside to tell Laurie what happened.
She gave me the usual “Yeah, right!” look & told me to take a hot bath.
The next morning, we packed ourselves into our van & headed out to Monmouth Race Track in New Jersey…me driving & Laurie, Heather & our BFF, Donna Stewart aboard. Not sure if we brought anyone else along.
Anyway, I pulled up to valet parking & everything was going smoothly.
We had arrived pretty early, but there seemed to be this huge swarm of people approaching from the general parking area. Apparently, they had just opened the general admission gates & here they came like a herd of charging bison!
Yes, had I only remembered to take away their credit cards…
As soon as I exited the driver’s side & took a couple of steps, I stopped dead in my tracks.
Hunched over. Stuck.
I could not move, I’m in this INCREDIBLE pain & Laurie’s giving me “agita”, yelling at me to move my ass before we get run over by the mob.
“Like I have nothing freakin’ better to do that bend over like this & scream in pain!”
I was completely frozen in that position…bent over, unable to stand up straight or sit down or move in any way.
Frozen in place on a hot, sweltering day.
They eventually flagged down a racetrack employee & were able to get a wheelchair for me, but I couldn’t sit down in it. So they basically pushed this geometrical figure…me!!!…backwards into the wheelchair!
I gulped down 3 muscle relaxers that Donna happened to have in her purse (she suffered from a chronic bad back) & a bunch of Advil.
They wheeled me up to the box & we actually enjoyed the day.
The pills helped to loosen my back muscles & the pain gradually receded. But I still couldn’t walk normally & eventually spent my next two weeks (my vacation time, no less!) in bed with my back completely thrown out of whack.
And every time thereafter, whenever I threw out my back (which was usually once a year, lasting for 1 day to a week), I would have Laurie in my ear…
“Why are you gyrating all over the floor & up the stairs? You look grotesque! You were JUST sitting so nicely on the couch!”
“LIKE YOU THINK I WANNA DO THIS? DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M HAVING FUN? IT’S MY DAMNED BACK! THIS IS LIKE THE 20TH TIME YOU’VE SEEN ME LIKE THIS!!!”
When you have back pain, it’s one of the worst possible experiences you can experience! And no one ever thinks about their back…ever…until you hurt it. And trying to find a position where it doesn’t hurt is not easy, trust me!
But Laurie would always get annoyed, like I was trying to get attention or gain sympathy or something.
As I learned later, I have a damaged L4 disc in my lower back & a terrible case of DDD/Degenerative Disk Disease throughout my entire neck & back. No cartilage whatsoever up there & everything compressed down there. I’ve had 3 major steroids injections (administered in a hospital surgical room) right into my back & the specialist said…
Ah, never mind. It ain’t gettin’ better & I won’t ever have surgery again (unless it’s life-saving)! Twice, my kidneys failed after an unrelated operation & I almost kicked the proverbial bucket.
OK, back to less-gory things…
Being 1/2 Irish, Laurie loved St. Paddy’s Day (St. Patrick’s Day).
She’s out in her green underwear & flashing the old geezers at the Carmel Richmond Nursing Home on Staten Island where she worked as a nurse’s aide with several of her girlfriends. Her Mom, Lorraine, also worked there as a floor clerk for many years.
She’d buy green bagels & green beer. She would always make corned beef & cabbage for dinner, and then finish the night off with this incredible pistachio cake.
It was a plain round pound cake (lemon cake, yellow cake, whatever) inside, but she’d cover it with this cream-cheese based icing (tinted green, naturally, that hadda be 2″-4” thick in places) that was unbelievable!!!
Oh, and then there was the time she made me “eggplant parmigiana”…
BTW, the non-Irish 1/2 of her was not Italian.
Laurie was born missing one gene…the cooking gene. She made a lot of things, most of them reservations.
She was great at holiday feasts (especially Christmas, Thanksgiving & Easter) when we would have lots of family & friends at our house.
We start off with a ton of Italian antipasto (pepperoni, soppresatta, cheese, roasted peppers, olives, mozzarella, meat pies), stuffed mushrooms & then a macaroni dish.
Then we’d have a turkey & one other major meat…ham, roast beef, leg of lamb. The required gravies & different stuffings also made an appearance.
And we would have vegetables…
…and more vegetables…
…more vegetables than ever seen by mankind at one time in a single location!
Mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, candied yams, corn, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, pearl onions, barley, beets, spinach, squash, tomatoes, green beans, salad, artichokes, asparagus, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, turnips, and peppers.
No, not some of them. Most of them.
And once, at our home on Manhattan Street for Thanksgiving, every single one of them.
But a normal meal on a Wednesday or Friday, it was steaks or something on the grill, take-out or go out.
She was like an all-or-nothing type of cook.
Back to the eggplant parmigiana…
We were still newlyweds when I come home from work & Laurie said that she made me eggplant parmigiana.
I was a little surprised as she rarely attempted any dishes outside the basic meal-and-potato sphere. Vegetables were a given, but never as part of a recipe or anything.
We brings out this small rectangular casserole dish.
Look, my mom made the best eggplant parmigiana in the universe. She’d sliced up the eggplants, then would “dry out the slices & draw out the liquid” as they lay on paper towels & napkins throughout the kitchen.
She would then dip each slice in egg wash, then flour, then bread crumbs, then fry them up.
There was now more draining of the fried slices going on before she prepared the actual dish: a layer of fried, SKINNED eggplant, spices, sauce, cheese, mozzarella.
Then repeat this with another layer & again until you reached the top of the cooking pan or casserole dish or whatever.
Best ever. No restaurant ever came close.
But I just couldn’t visualize imagine Laurie going through all this preparation for one dish.
So Laurie puts out this small casserole dish & tells me to grab some.
I take my knife to cut it into sections first, but there’s really no consistency whatsoever. It’s all mushy.
I make a couple of “cuts”…it was like cutting soup…then grab the spatula to take out a serving.
It’s sloshing all over the place!
I eventually get a “portion” into my plate, then it looks nothing like eggplant parmigiana or anything known to man.
I taste it, figuring that maybe…
OMG! It tasted worse than it looked….and that was close to impossible, I tell ya!
I grab a portion of the eggplant, but it’s all mushy, just as if the eggplant hadn’t been…
“Did you bread & fry the eggplant first?”
“I guess you didn’t dry out the slices & draw that acidy liquid out then, either, right?”
“I just sliced the eggplant & put the slices into the cooking pan.”
“Where did you get this recipe from?”
The Earth itself stopped rotating.
“That’s exactly what she told me to do!”
“Babe, I’ve been eating my Mom’s eggplant parmigiana for 20-something years. Trust me, she slices the eggplant, dries & drains them, breads & fries then, then she puts out them into the pan with sauce & cheese & the rest of the stuff. When it’s finished, it has the consistency of, like, bread & you cut it into pieces.”
“But I followed her instructions exactly!”
“Maybe I should call my Dad as apparently, she’s had a stroke!”
I dropped the discussion as it was useless to pursue. We were only married a few months but I learned the “Yes, Dear!” response very quickly.
Regardless if you’re actually right & wrong simply doesn’t matter. If you have a disagreement with your wife & she’s right, then you lose.
And if you have a discussion with your wife & you’re right, then you still lose! And it’s even worse than losing!!!
The best tactic is to lick your wounds, smile, apologize for ever (fill in the blank)-ing her, and just eat the damned eggplant!
So I did!
“Mmmmm, this is actually pretty good!”
And I wolfed down a second portion just to drive the point home.
I’m tellin’ ya…can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
BTW, you know damned well I confirmed the story with my Mom, without giving up any of the gory details. It appears that all that Laurie asked is how you layer the eggplant slices in the pan & what you add.
So there apparently was a miscommunication. You’ll only get the right answer when you ask the right questions.
And on the other hand, don’t assume the other person already knows that…
“Pssst, don’t forget to remove the pits before you make cherry pie!”
But I loved her dearly! She was such an incredible, loving person to everyone whom she met!
Thank you as always for listening.
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