Happy Halloween!

Postcard courtesy of Vintage Holiday Crafts.

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Halloween Countdown: 10-30-11

Sweet dreams, dear readers!

Postcard courtesy of Vintage Holiday Crafts.

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Halloween Countdown: 10-29-11

Postcard courtesy of Vintage Holiday Crafts.

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Halloween Countdown: 10-28-11

Postcard courtesy of Vintage Holiday Crafts.

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Halloween Countdown: 10-27-11

     Welcome to my Halloween countdown – an idea born of necessity.  You see, I found so many lovely vintage Halloween postcards, I couldn’t pick just one; so I chose ten.  Five will be displayed on this blog, and the others will appear on my business blog LittleCreekVet.  Enjoy!

All postcards are courtesy of Vintage Holiday Crafts

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Always On The Job

Nurse Mollie drifted in and out of patients’ rooms, checking on her charges. She preferred this time of night, grimly referred to as the Graveyard Shift. Sleeping patients required fewer nurses, allowing the cardiac ward to settle into a soothing rhythm of beeping heart monitors and measured breaths. Nurses padded softly down the halls, speaking in whispers lest they wake lonely people eager for late-night conversation.

Mollie entered Room 136 and found Mr. Gable shivering beneath his thin hospital sheet. She unfolded a cotton blanket from the foot of his bed and covered him, tucking the blanket around his feet, then his shoulders. She wrapped her hand over his, watching his heart rate drop in response and his body become still. Mollie leaned close to the elderly gentleman and caught a hint of a smile playing at his lips as he settled in to a deeper sleep. His breathing turned to snoring and, satisfied, she left.

Much had changed since her early days as a nurse, some things for the better, some for the worse. For one, St. Margaret’s now had fancy blanket warmers, which seemed like an improvement, but which Mollie could never figure out. For the life of her, she could not open its door, despite watching other nurses do it routinely. If it hadn’t been for that, she would have covered Mr. Gable with a cozy warmed blanket.

Heart monitors had certainly improved since her “green” years, and those she understood. In fact, she was so at home with the new technology, she often demonstrated their use for confused co-workers who seemed to push buttons at random. Only last Thursday, Mollie spent nearly ten minutes correcting every wrong button Nurse Lewis pushed on Mrs. Hardacre’s machine. Frustrated, Miss Lewis threw up her hands and called for a doctor. Mollie demonstrated the correct technique for him, as well, but he remained as stumped as Miss Lewis. After that little scene, Eugenia Hardacre demanded to be moved crosstown to Presbyterian Hospital, where her son-in-law worked in the lab. Mollie could hardly blame her.

Nurse Mollie continued her rounds, trailing John Healy into Room 140. If only her former classmates were here to see this – an actual male nurse. Who would have guessed such a thing when they started out? But Mr. Healy treated his charges with tender affection, having once explained that he preferred to imagine that each woman was his mother or sister, each man his father or brother. Wouldn’t family members deserve the best care? The other nurses, in Mollie’s opinion, could stand to learn a thing or two from him. Mollie stood back, allowing the capable young man to minister to Mrs. Crandall. He needed no assistance, of course.

“You’re in very good hands, Mrs. Crandall.” Mollie smiled and nodded toward John as he adjusted Mrs. Crandall’s IV drip. “I’ll leave you two, but please ring if you need anything.” She paused and turned back. “Mr. Healy, shall I arrange a new IV set?” John did not reply, his gaze now fixed on the heart monitor. Such a conscientious young man. Mollie slipped from the room, impressed by Mr. Healy’s focus.

She rounded the corner and collided with Dr. Gomez, sending a thick stack of papers flying, then fluttering to rest at his sneaker-clad feet.

“For Pete’s sake!” he sputtered and stooped to corral the mess.

“Let me.” Mollie knelt to assist, but their efforts were so poorly synchronized, they could have been mistaken for actors in a vaudeville show. Every time Dr. Gomez reached for a paper, Mollie snatched it first – not on purpose, of course, but her eagerness to help proved most unhelpful. Dr. Gomez thrust his arms out left and right, back and forth, coming up empty on each attempt. Mollie couldn’t help but laugh – this otherwise dignified man appeared to be the victim of a game of Twister gone horribly wrong. Finally she delivered the clump of paper into his hands.

Dr. Gomez stood and thumped the stack onto the central desk. “I’m going to bed,” he announced to no one in particular and stalked off.

Red-faced, Mollie hid in an empty room.  She covered her eyes and laughed into her hands, picturing Dr. Gomez on all fours, slapping at the floor like a madman. The door burst open, interrupting Mollie’s reverie. An orderly wheeled in a gurney bearing a plump older woman. The patient’s pink cheeks glistened as she breathed heavily, despite doing nothing more taxing than riding in a bed.

Immediately, Nurse Mollie regained her composure and began drilling the orderly for information as Miss Lewis joined them at the patient’s side. Mollie’s questions were answered, though not in the order she’d asked. She reached for the clipboard. Miss Lewis grabbed the charts first and Mollie made a mental note to have a private discussion with the young woman on the subject of insubordination. Who here did not know that Nurse Mollie ranked as the most senior member on staff?

Rankled, Mollie stood back and crossed her arms, observing Miss Lewis, ready to leap in and take charge at the slightest hint of incompetence. They would not lose another patient to Presbyterian on her watch; of that she was certain. As Miss Lewis tended to the woman with confidence and calm assurance, Mollie had to admit the young nurse possessed intangible qualities that could not be taught in school. In fact, her only current failing appeared to be an unprofessional manner of dress. Like most nurses these days, Miss Lewis wore “scrubs” in electric colors and childish motifs.

Mollie smoothed her starched white uniform and straightened her cap, the same uniform and cap she’d worn at graduation many years ago. She tsk-tsked at Nurse Lewis’s purple scrubs covered in orange pumpkins and black cats. Miss Lewis swiveled in Mollie’s direction and stared, then turned back to her patient. Shamed, Mollie busied herself reading the doctor’s instructions. Something seemed familiar about this plump, pink-cheeked woman, although she couldn’t place her.

The patient’s chart read “Wahl, Caroline Marie.” Impossible. Well, not impossible, but highly improbable. Two women named Caroline Marie Wahl in their town? In a big city, perhaps – but here? Mollie lifted the top sheet and read the admittance form. This one listed Mrs. Wahl’s emergency contact as “Herbert James Wahl, husband.” Mollie’s throat dried and constricted, her pulse quickening as she wondered how she failed to recognize her own daughter. It was age, of course. Mollie’s daughter could not possibly be as old as this woman appeared – that would make her older than Mollie herself!

 “How are you feeling, Mrs. Wahl?” Miss Lewis asked, brushing white curls off the woman’s forehead.

“Better, now. I just want to sleep.”

“Everything looks fine, so I’ll leave you to it, but I’ll have to wake you in an hour for vitals and another blood draw.” Miss Lewis reached for the door handle.

Mrs. Wahl cleared her throat. “My mother used to work here, you know. Nurse Mollie Honeycutt.”

Miss Lewis smiled at her patient and nodded. “I’ve heard of your mother. She’s legendary on this ward. In fact, some of the staff are convinced she’s still on the job.” Miss Lewis winked at Caroline and left the room.

Mollie moved to her daughter’s bedside as Nurse Lewis shut the door. She placed one hand on Caroline’s arm and the other against her cheek. Then she leaned down and kissed her daughter’s forehead.

“Mama!” Caroline cried out. Tears seeped from beneath her eyelids and trickled down her temples. “Mama, I need you.”

Mollie curled up on the bed next to her daughter and cradled Caroline in her arms, rocking her gently. “I’m here, baby. I’m always here.”

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     Windshield wipers skidded across the window of Heidi’s rental car as the rain began to let up. She reached the edge of the development and turned right onto Sgt. Trace Lane, heading for New Town. She hadn’t seen her mother since moving away at seventeen. Would she look the way Heidi remembered? There was no telling what condition Betty was in, after all this time.

     Betty Vaughan had been a classic beauty in her day. Heidi grew up amongst a thicket of her mother’s modeling photos covering tables and shelves throughout the house. That was more her father’s idea, but her mother never complained. Often, Betty would pause while dusting to lift a frame and gaze at herself frozen in a sultry pose.

     Cancer hit Betty hard. Between the disease and the treatment, her soft beauty wilted and left only thick, scarred veins and tissue-paper skin draped over bones. Her fierce red mane departed early in the battle, replaced by outrageously colorful Pucci scarves. Heidi spied her mother in one of her weakest moments, staring at a vision of her former self and asking, “What’s the point? I’ll never look like that again.” Late that night, Jack Vaughan packed the photos into boxes and brought them to the attic.

     Heidi was only ten at the time, but she knew a quitter when she heard one, and her mother had quit at life. Not just life – but motherhood. Her only child wasn’t enough to keep her fighting for survival. Betty faded rapidly and Heidi spent more time away from the house that summer, distancing herself from her mother. On the rare occasions when they spoke, Betty seemed lost in a fog of memories and regrets, barely aware her daughter was in the room.

     Heidi nudged the coupe along, trying to remember where to find her mother. The development was divided into three sections: Gates Hill, Restmere, and New Town. She had no trouble discerning one from another. Restmere was a flat green expanse just off the main road. All plaques were set flush into the ground, allowing plenty of space for a picnic or gathering. Gates Hill was the oldest section, crowded by hundreds of vertical monuments, many of them crumbling or listing to one side. Heidi wondered how so many people could be buried so close together.

     Ahead of her stretched New Town, notable for its synthetic glass shells. As a girl, she’d called them “bubbles.” Over the years, more and more bubbles had appeared as residents were added to this section. She felt sorry for people whose loved ones were buried in the old-fashioned graves. How was it possible to visit with someone you couldn’t see?

     Heidi glimpsed a flash of red to her left – her father had placed roses only yesterday. She parked and stepped from the car. Surveying the field, she noticed new graves without bubbles. Pity the poor souls whose bodies were unfit to view after death. She approached her mother’s tomb and peered down. Clouds parted, allowing the sun to shine like a spotlight into the vault. Heidi reached out, wiping water from the bubble. Her mother’s face appeared from behind the veil of raindrops.

     Four feet below, Betty Vaughan lay resting as though she might wake up and begin a conversation with her daughter. A red wig was sewn to her scalp and heavy silicone makeup filled in the deep creases of her face. Heidi removed a photo from her pocket and compared her mother at 25 to her mother at an eternal 32. The differences were obvious, but that was the fault of the disease. The undertaker, for his part, had done a miraculous job restoring Betty’s youth and vibrancy. And, as promised, the new embalming process, combined with the airtight viewing chamber, had held decomposition at bay.

     Heidi tucked the photo of her mother among the roses. Betty’s appearance hadn’t changed since Heidi had left town. She took comfort in that and found a sliver of relief from guilt she’d carried in the years since her mother’s death. What bond between them had been destroyed in life, could be renewed in death – that was the promise of the bubble. Her mother was there – right there, waiting, listening.

     Heidi knelt in the damp grass and draped herself across the bubble, hugging it, feeling the cool glass against her cheek. Fresh tears joined raindrops on the glass, and her body shook with sobs. She was ten again and grieving the loss of a woman who had valued the image in old photos over her own life and over her daughter’s life. None of it was fair.

     Finally spent, Heidi dried her face on her sleeve and gazed down at her mother. Had she lived, Betty would be 43 years old next month. Her prediction in the midst of illness was only partially correct: had she survived and lived to old age, she would not have regained the beauty that made her famous. Only in death did Betty Vaughan look like her old self.

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