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Of Pancakes and Other Elixirs

By: Bill McFadyen

                My dad had a personality trait of keeping his cards close to the vest.  He did not want publicized the specifics of his business or personal life.  That wall came tumbling down, though, when in the presence of women in the work force.  He could not help but to interact openly.

            For instance, in the McFadyen Music days, he and I developed a habit of eating late breakfasts at the Pancake House adjoining Gene Ammons’ hotel along 301 Business.  It was just down Gillespie Street from our building where we both had offices.  Dad got hungry in the mid-mornings.  I just wanted to get out of working and he was paying. 

            There was a tall brunette waitress.  Through something other than luck, we always ended up in her section.  She was probably halfway between us in age.  It is odd how as the years progress, gaps in ages disappear.  When in high school, you would not even talk to someone three years younger.  Sitting at the table in that diner separated by the sugar packets and maple syrup dispensers, it was a toss-up as to who bantered most with whom.  It was not unusual to discover a third strip of bacon beside the eggs, nor was it rare that the tip included additional currency beyond the customary percentage.  Everyone’s itch was appropriately scratched.  Remembering those encounters still invokes happiness today.

            After father and son forged a truce following the battles of child-rearing years, he began to take me with him to annual conferences around the country held by a group of non-competing, like-minded retail music dealers.  The corporate officers of each entity in the group would trade ideas and constructively critique each other’s businesses.  I do not subsequently remember my father telling people back home of any great ideas I had at the table during my vice-presidency.  I do, however, remember him very often telling people how I charmed us into First Class in the Pensacola airport through some apparently upgrade-worthy flirtation cast toward the pretty blonde attending the computer at the gate.  I do not mean to imply herein that the trait was hereditary, I simply mean to demonstrate some common ground between us.

            He continued his charming ways even into the final days of his life.  I went up to see him when there was barely a modicum of hope that he could rebound.  Not at all to my surprise, despite his weakened ways, I found him interacting with a quite lovely nurse named Sharon.  It was obvious that Sharon was not as vocal as the waitress at the Pancake House had been, but perhaps this particular setting called for someone with a bit more subtlety anyway.  As I gazed in the room at him holding Nurse Sharon’s hand trying to judge how much life he had left, his family physician, Dr. David Stewart, exited the hospital room.  “How is he, sir?” I asked.  Dr. Stewart looked back at the hand-holding that he had no doubt witnessed in his own office so many times and said with a grin-between-men, “Oh, I think that he is as good as can be expected.”  As shifts came and went and as staff rotated in and out over those final days, Nurse Sharon consistently indulged Dad’s fading charms.

            I know what it is like to nearly fail at college level Biology 101.  So in my way of thinking, the successful completion of a degree where the sciences move into third and fourth levels of difficulty, a degree that subsequently accredits one for a career in medical professions, is impressive.  Factor in that a subset of those like the Nurse Sharons of the world see myriad people come daily into hospitals only to witness their deaths time after time, yet they keep coming to work and they keep holding hands of those with fading pulses.  It is a special contribution to one’s fellow man, an exceptional gift for humankind, not only for the infirmed, but also for the surrounding family.

            Some months after Dad’s funeral, I went to my wife’s workplace for this or that.  My timing had to be precise, as she was teaching group exercise classes that ended on the hour.  If I was to see her without being an intrusion, then I had to be there when the big hand was on the 12.  Class ended, the door opened and in I wandered.  There rolling up her mat was Nurse Sharon.  Our recognition of each other was immediate.  I have never been reputed as the tough guy with my emotions.  Seeing her brought back those final days in the life of a man I loved dearly and who I missed every single day since.  She and I embraced… and I cried.

            Word has it that Nurse Sharon is going to have a second child soon.  How lovely.  I hope that the new child and her older sister turn out just like their mother.  I hear also that, like so many of our town’s quality families, the Commander-in-Chief has something for their patriarch (or matriarch) to do somewhere other than here.  May he accomplish it safely and they then find their way back someday.  I hope that Nurse Sharon takes with her the knowledge that she, in her life’s chosen work, has helped people like us get through mighty hard times.

            I have a daughter with whom I have forged a truce following the battles of child-rearing years.  According to the pay line of the stub in the check book, a monetary commitment has been made to enroll her next year at East Carolina University.  Initially, I assumed that the attraction had something to do with how much she loved watching a particular purple dinosaur as a child.  She refutes that by saying Barney played no role in the decision.  Her ultimate aim at ECU, says she, is earning a degree in nursing.

            Perhaps she will.  It is a lofty and worthy goal toward which to aspire.  Hopefully, academic achievement in the sciences (or lack thereof) skips generations. If she can achieve the goal, as all the Nurse Sharons have done before her, then somewhere out there in the future, there may be a sick child as yet unborn who needs a nurse who can exude her own inner child, helping to make a gray day a little brighter.  Somewhere else in that future, some dying man may see a kindred twinkle in her prime-of-life eyes and reach out for my daughter’s hand such that the leaving of this world for the next is less burdensome due to that greatest of elixirs, the human touch.  The world will be better for it.

            Thank you, Nurse Sharon and may the road rise to greet you.  Perhaps we will add to your compassionate ranks in just a little while.