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Charlene Wexler

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Take Nothing for Granted
By Charlene Wexler
Sunday, February 03, 2013

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He had always loved her more than she had loved him. She took him for granted. Then things changed.

He had always loved her more than she had loved him. He was the one who had waited for years. He would look at her with those hungry eyes, and would jump at the sound of her voice.

They had met while he was a soda jerk in a drugstore. He had dropped a beverage all over her, because he had been so taken by her beauty.

At first he had annoyed her. She was young, petite, barely five feet tall, never weighing more than one hundred pounds, with bright large hazel eyes, wavy auburn hair, and an hourglass figure. Charismatic and outgoing, she had many suitors. She was a tease who had the habit of keeping all her boyfriends around whether she cared for them or not. Him, she took for granted.

Her house in Chicago was a meeting place for her friends, and her older brother's friends, too; something like the salons of Old Europe. She liked to call her family's home their "Cosmopolitan Rendezvous." The family wasn't rich, but there was always plenty of food, music, and lively conversation available in her house.

Her mother, Lena, was an expert seamstress who worked for the affluent families living on Prairie Avenue and in Hyde Park, so she was always dressed in the latest styles of clothing. Lena had what they called "needle knack"--she could walk down State Street through stores like Marshal Field's and preserve a mental picture of the latest fashions. At home she would sit down at her treadle Singer sewing machine and reproduce them using cheaper material--but no one needed to know that.

The daughter had spent many a day helping her mother schlep bags of clothes and delicate antiques, generously given to the mother by those affluent families. She once had to help her mother drag a carved wooden Chinese chair on a streetcar-they certanily didn't own a car back in the early 1930s. The chair became known as the "Swift Meat Packing heirloom," as it came from the Swift home, given away when the Chinese décor fad passed out of fashion. That was something the ultra rich did all the time.

Times like that embarrassed her, but nobody fought with Lena. She was a tough, strong-willed woman who had traveled across the ocean from Lithuania by herself at the age of twelve, and had been the head of her family ever since. In Lena's eyes the daughter was merely a daughter, and daughters were born to help their mothers work. It didn't matter that the girl was smart.

The daughter graduated from high school at sixteen, and started college courses immediately. Tragically, her father's unexpected death brought ended her college days, even though she had a scholarship. It was a time when it was considered more important for men to get an education, so she went to work as a secretary, while her brother was allowed to continue his schooling. For the rest of her life she resented leaving school, but without a father working money had become sparse, especially for a family that also had a crippled child.

For there was an older sister who had had polio as a baby, was confined to a wheelchair, and needed constant care. The Great Depression deepened, and times became even more difficult. The daughter no longer was out dancing or holding court in her living room, and she truly missed those carefree days.

Throughout it all, the beau she took for granted was the one who stayed around, offering a helping hand. While her other young men were having a fabulous time spending their parents' money, he had managed to make it through pharmacy school while working thirty-hour weeks in a drug store. He had never seemed smart like her brother and cousins who became lawyers. She and they had a stylish command of the English language and were up on current events, while he was always engaged in some sort of manual labor or struggling with his studies. He had little panache, but much perseverance and determination.

The country was starting to come out of the Depression, and he was a professional man with a good income who was willing to meet her prenuptual demand of moving in with her family. She couldn't fathom leaving her widowed mother and crippled sister, or their large apartment in Hyde Park.

They were married in 1938, twelve years after he had dropped a soda on her lap. She made a beautiful bride, and he a handsome groom. They probably spent too much money on the hotel reception, but his father insisted the meal be kosher. The only glitch in the party was the temperature. Chicago on Aug. 14, 1938, was a sweltering 100 degrees, and air conditioning was a thing of the future.

Life was looking up, though. President Franklin Roosevelt had improved the economy with his many work programs. War was limited to Europe, and in America we were still tooting our isolationist policies.

He was working at a drugstore in Hyde Park near their home, making a whopping thirty dollars per week, and she was back to what she loved the most--opening up her home to entertaining.

Then trouble arrived in the form of illness. He sneezed, wheezed, hardly ate, and slept a lot--but never stayed home from work. Soon he was coughing, having trouble breathing, and then his temperature started to rise and rise, and he couldn't physically make it out of bed. When his temperature hit 103, the doctor was summoned.

After examining the patient, the doctor shook his head and said, "I'm sorry, we have nothing to stop the pneumonia. The hospitals are full with respiratory disease-- after all, it's the fall when the temperature fluctuates. He is better off at home. I will come by every day and check on him."

She tried to give the doctor his customary five dollars for the visit, but he waved his hand and smiled. "Forget it," the doctor said. "I have a interest in keeping him alive. He's the one who sends me patients from the drugstore--not that impossible old brother of mine who owns the place."

She stayed by her husband's bed night and day. Her heart ached. She hadn't realized how much he meant to her. He was always there, and she had taken him for granted. She tried to get him to at least sip some soup, but he coughed too much to even swallow. His skin burned to the touch, yet he shivered. She tried hard to get him to keep down the aspirin and cough syrup the doctor had left, but it was a struggle. She constantly swabbed his head with cold towels, and kept the humidifier going and the windows closed.

In the month he had been sick his robust, five-foot, eleven-inch frame became skeletal. His ribs stuck out like twigs on a tree.

She called every doctor and hospital she knew about. She had heard about a miracle drug called penicillin, but it wasn't available yet.

She could barely function. She had lost her gentle, kind, loving father just a few years earlier, and now her husband was on his death bed.

His sister and her mother occasionally relieved her on her lonely vigil. They had already given up on him, but they volunteered because they were afraid for her health. She, howevger, never gave up. She knew he was a fighter who would not give In. Hadn't he fought for twelve years before she agreed to marry him?

Tiny, her little white Pomeranian who had resented his intrusion into her life, suddenly realized how much he meant to her, and spent days in the room with him, climbing all over him, busily licking his face in an effort to get a reaction.

His wife prayed while the tears ran down her face.

Her prayers were answered. The fever broke and he lived, though it took many months before he regained his full strength. She was sure it was her love that had saved him.

When he was himself again, she became a new woman, too-one who appreciated him and loved him as much as he loved her. They started all over again, with their newfound shared love for each other-a love they would pass on to their children as well.

And taking nothing for granted for the rest of their lives.



       Web Site: Charlene Wexler

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Reviewed by William Bike 2/3/2013
A romantic story with some history in it, too! Great job!

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