Minnie Belle Thrasher was the very first person to greet me — not at some recent gathering but much earlier. She was the nurse assigned to my mother in the delivery room of the Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia. I popped into her waiting hands and then issued my first wail.
Why it happened is a mystery, but for some reason Minnie Belle and my mother became lifelong friends. I recall that she was a very proper woman, and while we looked forward to her visits, she was never very much fun. This essay is really about something that happened late in her life.
Minnie Belle showed up at our house about twice a year and could be counted on to drop by Christmas day. My parents visited her inner-city apartment just as often. On one of her visits she appeared with her new husband, Uncle Ed. Somehow I had the feeling that he was a government spy who spent most of his time in a cloak-and-dagger operations somewhere in the world. I recall that the four adults would spend evenings involved in the strange Chinese game called Mahjong. Maybe that is where I got the idea that Uncle Ed was involved in some Far Eastern clandestine operation. All of this happened before I was 7 years old, and who knows how much of what I remember are only the strange musings of a curious child.
On a winter night sometime near my first-grade year, my parents got a message that Minnie Belle was quite ill and had been taken to the hospital. Uncle Ed had called, and my parents were terribly worried. I recall “pneumonia” was being whispered, and in the days before antibiotics, pneumonia was often fatal. The messages in the following days were increasingly grim, and then one night I recall my mother sharing a happier report: “The crisis has passed, and Minnie Belle will recover.”
My guess is that a year or so later she did die, but her name was never forgotten, and Minnie Belle stories often found a place in our dinner table conversations.
Now more than 80 years later, why am I remembering whatever I know or even may have imagined? The one image that stands in bold relief are the words “The crisis has passed, and Minnie Belle will recover.” One rarely hears about such medical crises these days, but somehow this word got lodged in my memory. I can still hear my mother’s joyous report.
There was one other time when similar words hit me. I recall standing with a great crowd of cheering people just outside the 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby watching the electronic message being flashed on an adjacent building that Japan had surrendered and the war was over! The bloodshed had ceased. There were to be no more gold stars on neighborhood house windows announcing the death of a service member. No more air-raid alerts. No more ration coupons. “The crisis has passed, and the world will recover.”
And now America is mired in a desperate illness bringing the nation to the brink of losing the grandeur inherent in these two and a half centuries of blessing. The risk lies in the possibility that the disease will kill the vision. Nevertheless, my profound hope is that I will wake up on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and hear my mother’s words, “The crisis has passed, and the nation will recover.”