My mother became a widow in her 91st year. She and my father had shared 70 years together, not only as lovers, but also as partners in a medical career. Where Dad was reticent, she was outgoing; where he was staid, she was bubbly. Their practice flourished because of his diagnostic ability and her understanding of human nature. I cannot recall them ever doing anything alone or going anywhere without each other. Aptly, when my father died, he did so in her arms, apologizing for having to leave her.
Although in many ways liberated, my mother was still a product of her generation. She had never paid, no less seen, a bill; that was her husband’s duty. She knew nothing about bookkeeping, taxes, deductibles, health insurance; this aspect of her life was sheltered, seen to by the man who had promised to love, honor and take care of her.
After nine decades of being dependent on someone else to manage all the trivialities we call life, my mother took hold of the reins and declared her independence. She learned to balance a checkbook, read a lease, question a bill and discovered Henry Hudson’s light had been extinguished.
My parent’s apartment was on the 10th floor of a 14-story building overlooking the Hudson River. There, in a tiny, well-manicured park, higher than all the trees, stands the likeness of Henry Hudson. During the daylight hours he stands guard, watching the squirrels and birds and the young mothers pushing their strollers on a path surrounding his monument. When it grows dark and the trees are indistinguishable from the night sky, Henry Hudson is bathed in light and takes on an ethereal green glow, an iridescence that is both magical and comforting.
Whenever my children or nephews stayed with their grandparents, Henry Hudson was there to encourage them. When they didn’t eat their lunch, Mother would say, “Oh, poor Henry will be so sad if you don’t eat,” and when it was bedtime, she’d persuade them that poor Henry couldn’t sleep until they did. Whether the children believed her or not, Henry Hudson became a part of their childhood mythology. They would wave hello to him when they arrived and blow him kisses when they left. He was their daytime friend and their night guardian.
Then, about six months after my father died, Henry’s light went out. For the first time in 46 years, Henry Hudson stood alone in the dark.
My mother felt a terrible sadness, to have lost first the beacon of her life and now this other beacon that illuminated Henry Hudson, who shared so many of her happy memories.
The next day she called her councilwoman’s office, explaining to an aide how Henry had played such an important part in her life, and how he deserved to have his light rekindled. “Try the Parks Department,” she was told.
The Parks Department representative listened sympathetically and said not to worry, they would see that the bulb was replaced. Months past and still Henry remained in the dark. Now Mother called her assemblyman’s office and asked why it took the Parks Department three months to replace a light bulb. “We’ll look into it,” was the answer. A month later the assemblyman’s office called and a young woman suggested Mother call the Parks Department. A round-robin of governmental red tape.
So my mother wrote a letter to her local newspaper, telling them of Henry Hudson’s plight and the difficulty of getting someone to screw in a light bulb. Instead of just publishing her letter, the editor decided to run a front page article, along with the forgotten Henry Hudson. The next morning Mother’s phone rang, and a strange but affable man’s voice said, “I understand you wrote to your newspaper and mentioned my name.”
It was her assemblyman, surprised at seeing his name in an unsanctioned article, but assuring her that he would personally see to Henry’s light...immediately. All he asked was one favor. “Of course,” my mother said, “What can I do for you?” “When the light is restored, write another letter and tell them I did the job.”
The power of the press; it’s light can never be extinguished.