Since my mom passed away a few weeks ago, I've had time to think about how much she influenced me. Rarely did we have conversations that did not reflect our mother-daughter relationship. She was the problem solver, the one who would make things better. Or, on the other hand, the didactic parent, ready to tell me what to do. She also was the ultimate caretaker, long after I left the family home. Reflecting on this, I realized there have been multitudes of caretakers in my life.
The first of many guiding hands brings back a sweet childhood memory.
In sixth grade I was a monitor for the kindergarten class, arriving early to help the young children start the day, as well as assist in the afternoon.
I remember one special occasion. Ms. Wycoff, the kindergarten teacher, asked the children to bring in the cream at the top of the milk bottle. The cream was put into a glass jar and each child shook the jar as he or she said, "Shake, shake, shake, and butter we shall make." Growing up in the heart of New York City, this was fantastical! When the cream turned to butter, I was amazed. I never forgot the taste of that butter on a saltine cracker. It was miraculous.
That Christmas, this wonderful teacher told me and the other monitor that she would like to take us to a movie and lunch to thank us for the time we'd put in all year.
The long-awaited day arrived. My teacher picked me up in a taxi! I had never ridden in a taxi before. The three of us nestled in the back seat, watching the sights as we traveled uptown. Although I do not recall the film we saw, my memory of that outing is clear as one of the most exciting times of my life.
After the movie, our teacher said, "We are going to Schrafft's for a late lunch."
Years later, I learned that Schrafft's was a restaurant catering to women. They were famous for their candy. When Ms. Wycoff said "Schrafft's," I had no idea of what a thrilling afternoon we would experience.
A bit of snow was falling as we strolled to the restaurant. Going to our table, I was awed at the sight of women wearing hats, beautiful plates on the table and an overall feeling of luxury. My stomach did flip-flops with nervousness as I took a seat.
"Order anything you like," Ms. Wycoff said, smiling at us. My friend and I looked at each other, then looked at the menu. Lamb chops leapt out at me; this was something I recognized. Sitting there, feeling grown up among this splendor was overwhelming. A waiter served the meal, but I remember nothing about what else was on the plate. Did we have dessert? Memory fails.
After lunch, we put our coats on and followed Ms. Wycoff to the counter. She said, "I'd like to buy each of you a box of candy to take home to your parents." We were speechless! Looking at the array of candies, I could not believe this was really happening. A whole box of candy!
I have no recollection of the taxi ride home. When I showed my parents the box of candy, they were flabbergasted. My dad took the first piece, joy on his face as he bit into the luscious chocolate.
That exquisite day was more than 50 years ago. I wonder if Ms. Wycoff knew how much of an influence she had on my life. She showed me that kind behavior is rewarded. Her generosity would be repeated many times in my life, and I learned to reciprocate.
Ms. Wycoff was the first to introduce me to a world outside my tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I hope she was aware of how dramatic that day was for me.
I like to believe I've been a guiding spirit to people I've met along the way as a result of the "caretakers" in my life.
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