‘Yes, my Mom spent time in a prison. And make that “Prison” with a capital “P.”‘
My Mom was a nurse when she married my Dad, and she worked for a few years at Regular Nurse Jobs.
I remember when I was in kindergarten and we lived in Memphis, she worked at Methodist Hospital, which my three-year-old brother Scott mispronounced as “Memphodist.” Mom didn’t correct him; she thought it was cute. (She also didn’t correct us when we referred to the “Entire State Building.”)
Well, after a while, nursing while “momming” got to be a bit too much, so she hung up her white cap and devoted herself to bringing up us kids.
But then, after years of carpooling and band recitals and PTA, the big kids flew the coop and the little kids turned into high schoolers. And Mom found she wanted to exercise her nursing muscle once again. And earn a little coin besides.
I was gone by then, both physically — off to college — and emotionally — totally absorbed in turning into a Grownup — and I wasn’t very tuned in to what was happening with the folks back at home.
For example, there was a period when a foreign exchange student was living in our house — a foreign exchange student (from Chile? Peru?) who came and went — and I never even met him.
So, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I wasn’t all that up to speed about the various nursing-related jobs my Mom had. I do recall that, for a time, she drove around to people’s houses conducting physicals for an insurance company. I remember that job because my Mom said that, invariably, the people she was supposed to give physicals to lived on remote farms with furiously barking dogs. Huge dogs that would lunge at her car door, leaving scratches on the finish and drool on the glass. “Come on out, he’s friendly,” these people would insist as my Mom cowered inside.
So no wonder the job in Vandalia sounded more, well, normal. She could drive to work, park in a parking lot, and do her nursing in a nice clean nurse’s office. The fact that the office was inside a prison didn’t faze her in the least.
(Speaking of prisons, if you haven’t read my piece “That’ll Teach You,” you might want to take a look. It’s about the time I spent in prison — locked in a cell.)
Like I say, I was gone from home by then and starting my climb up the Advertising Ladder, so I was a tad fuzzy on the details. I knew my Mom “worked in a prison,” but somehow I pictured this as one of those “campus”-type institutions. You know, those places where they put the Bernie Madoffs and the Enron Guys.
Well, the years went by. I was sitting around the kitchen chatting with my Mom — back when Times were “normal” and I could actually visit her — and she happened to mention that she gets a pension from “The State.” Having reached “pensioner” status myself by this time, I was rather interested. “Was that from the time you worked in the prison?” I asked.
“Yup,” she replied, taking a sip of warmed-up coffee.
“You know, I never asked, but what kind of prison was that, anyway? What kind of criminals were there?”
“What kind? Well, I remember there was this one guy who killed his wife, then cut her up and fed her to the pigs.”
It’s a good thing I hadn’t just taken a sip of coffee myself.
Amagansett, New York. October 2020