The year I turned one a 50-year-old Irish divorcee named Mrs. Fredericks came to live with us. My mother was severely ill, so my father had to hire a housekeeper. Someone who could manage the task of caring for four needy children under the age of ten, and my mother, who was recovering from brain surgery.
We nicknamed her Freddie.
When I was older Freddie would often tell me the story of how she came to work for us. She was staying with her daughter not a block from my father's medical office when she saw his "help wanted" ad for a housekeeper. "You see," she would then say, patting my knee with her thin ringed fingers, "God sent me."
Given the chaos in my family and my parents' bitter marriage, it seems to me a miracle she stayed. Freddie lived with us for 16 years. Had she not appeared when she did, been the loving and steady figure I needed as a girl with a mentally disabled mother and an absent father, I am not sure how I would have turned out.
I am not at all sure I would have survived.
Freddie kept a diary during those tumultuous years, years when my mother had seizures and was drinking, was out of control.
An entry from February 24,1964:
Mary Ellen had an attack. First one she had when I wasn't there to take care of her. Didn't tell me--I found out myself. Apparently she asked the Dr. to let me go--but he said no. She'll always have to have someone looking after her.
From April 30, 1964:
Mary Ellen filed for a devorce (stet). The Dr. leaves for his holidays tomorrow morning--so found out and skipped out tonight. Mary Ellen picked Mona up from school and took her to Flo's for a whole week. The poor child was so upset. She came back from time to time to get clothes and told me to get out. I wouldn't leave the children to her care, so phoned her lawyer and told him she had attacks so he said to stay there. So upset. Can't get ahold of the Dr.
Freddie was my memory, and long after I'd left home I still saw her regularly. "Don't forget, we had some good times too, Mona, dear," she would say to me during such visits. The year she died, I went to see her in the nursing home where she was staying. She was 89, frail, and though her body was abandoning her, she was eager to hear news. My daughter was then six months old, and as we talked, she sat in Freddie's arms for a while. I did not want to leave that afternoon, but the baby grew fussy and it was time to go so I leaned over and kissed Freddie for what would be the last time. "I love you. Take care of yourself, dear," she said.
There is not a day I don't miss her.