We have an identity in this world, a name. In reality, though, we are a multi-dimensional being and no one identity fits us. Our image is different within difference spheres and how one person sees us may be very different from another’s viewpoint. No one outside yourself except God, knows the whole you. Even your spouse only sees a part. And what is going well with this part of you may not be doing so good with another part.
While I was a Project Manager at Wilmington Trust, I was something else in other surroundings. I was a husband and a father, for instance. I was also a student. In 1980 I went back to evening college, this time enrolling at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. I was in the Business Administration School. I spent two to three nights a week traipsing to classes in the Leslie C. Quick Center.
Speaking of identities in different context, on trips to and from classes I walked by the Burton H. Mustin Theatre and Lecture Hall. It piqued my curiosity because there was a character actor named Burt Mustin who popped up in many a TV show during the ‘50s and ’60. He always played some old codger, probably because he was an old codger. He didn’t get into film and TV until he was 67 years old and first appeared in the film, “Detective Story”, starring Kirk Douglas. Could there be a connection with this theater at Widener since it was an unusual name?
Indeed, there was. Burt Mustin had been a cadet graduating with a civil engineering degree in 1905 from the Pennsylvania Military College, later renamed Widener University. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1972 and when the Alumni Auditorium was renovated in 1979, it was renamed in his honor. Burt died in 1977 at the age of 92.
I am not certain the University has retained his name as the theater. They refer now to The Lone Brick Theatre in their literature.
I did very well academically at Widener, carrying a higher average than I had at Temple and Camden County College. I left Temple (Sociology Major/English Minor) with an accumulative average of 3.00 and 45 cumulative hours and I left Camden County College (Computer Science Major/Accounting Minor) with 12 hours and a 3.50 average. I had attended 7 years from 1963 to 1972 (I hadn’t gone in 1966-67) at Temple and 2 years at Camden County in 1977 and 1978. I now began 3 years at Widener, 1980 through 1982, majoring in Accounting and minoring in Finance. Some might say I sold out to corporate America.
At Widener I accumulated another 38 hours reaching sometimes a semestra average of 3.67. I was named to the Dean’s List during several semesters, which meant I had scored a 3.50 or higher average. If you add it up I had 95 total credit hours of the 128 to graduate. I needed 33 more, which would have probably taken me two more years at the most, maybe only three more semesters. My overall average for the three universities was something like 3.32, enough to graduate with honors. I only needed a couple more required courses in accounting and maybe one in Finance to have a choice of several degrees: Sociology, English, Economics, Accounting or Finance. My grades had been getting better each semester, so I might have graduated with an even higher average, except I didn’t graduate. I dropped out. There were a number of reasons for this, which will come clearer as we go further into my life in the early 1980s.
My parents were displeased when I reenrolled in College. They had always been against my furthering my education, believing it was a waste of time and money. Since they were never paying any of my university expenses there wasn’t much they could do about it except gripe. I would have rather they had taken some pride in my accomplishments, but if they ever did, they did not show it, not in my academic grades, not in my writing career and not in my work related achievements. Increases in my income, they understood.
To repeat some history, both my grandfathers died relatively young, my paternal grandfather at age 37 (on right, I never knew the man, he died before my birth) and my maternal grandfather at 57 when I was 15. Oddly, both sets of my grandparents had to get married, as both grandmothers were pregnant with my father and my mother. Also, both my grandmothers were older than my grandfathers. My paternal grandmother (on left) by quite a bit. She was 26; he was 19.
My paternal grandmother died in 1946 while my father was still in the Navy. I was only 4 years-old when she passed and I hardly remember her. She is pictured on the left.
As a boy my maternal grandparents were like surrogate parents. My father was seldom home and my grandfather (right) became more my dad than my actual father. His later years as he slipped under the waves of booze were very traumatic for me, especially when he died from cirrhosis of the liver when I was 15.
My grandmother (left in 1957 with her brother Weber) suffered a heart attack when her husband died, but she pulled through. Her and I were very close. She then moved in with my parents and I. She was a strong woman, a farm girl, and I loved her very much. All during those years from 1957 through 1979 she was healthy as a horse, having only those usual viruses and afflictions common to us all. In the summer of 1980 she turned 81.
On November 7 my mother and grandmother were attending a bazaar in Coatesville. My grandmother felt sick, like she had a big knot in her stomach and she was going to vomit and pass out. She couldn’t go to my cousin Kathy McCauley’s wedding on the 8th because she was still sick, nor did she go to church the next day. On the tenth, my mother took her to the Phoenixville Hospital and she was placed in the coronary unit while they monitored her heart. The next couple of days my mother could visit her only twice a day for five minutes each time.
They moved her out of the coronary unit on the 14th. Lois and I visited with her on the 16th. She continued to feel bad and had trouble eating and sleeping. Lois and I visited again on the 26th at the hospital, but on the 27th they sent her home. That night she fell out of bed. On the 28th, she attempted to walk, but collapsed. A nurse was supposed to come, but never showed up. On the 29th she collapsed again. The nurse finally showed up on December 1st and a therapist came on the 2nd. (Right, my grandmother, 1980.)
She was in terrible pain and still couldn’t eat. We came up to visit on the 20th with Laurel, but Laurel had fallen on the 12th and hurt her foot and still couldn’t walk. We went to my parents on Christmas and Lois made and brought the dinner with us. My grandmother was still in misery. On the 26th she was feeling a bit better, but couldn’t sleep at night, even with a sleeping pill.
Lois and I were going through a crisis of our own at this time. On the first of November, Jim Schlief, my former boss at both Welded Tube and Mercy Catholic, threw a dinner party and we were invited. Walking from the car to his house, Lois told me she believed she was pregnant again. Still no tubes had been tied apparently.
“How long,” I asked.
“I think two months, she said.”
She certainly wasn’t showing any baby bump. (Does she look pregnant in the photo of that night?) We put it out of mind at the party only saying she would have to see a doctor.
She never did.
The year before we had joined a new church since Laurel Hill was a bit distant from us over in New Jersey. Our new church was located at the Western end of Springfield along the Baltimore Pike (right as it looked in 1979). Its name was The Lownes Free Church, but everyone knew it better as “The Blue Church”. The basic structure had been erected in 1832 by George Bolton Lownes, who had come out of Quakerism and declared this chapel to be a place of worship“free for the use of any who would observe the doctrines of the Christian religion as set forth in the New Testament and especially the doctrine of the proper divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.
It got the sobriquet “The Blue Church” because Lownes had constructed it with Pennsylvania Limestone, which turned pale blue in the rain. (Original Lownes Free Church Chapel on left.)
When we joined the church, the Pastor was William Saal, his last name pronounced “Soul”, which seemed appropriate. He had become Pastor in July 1975. At the beginning of 1981 he left the Blue Church to become U.S. Director for Arab World Ministries.
I had been baptized shortly after birth at the Grove Methodist Church. When I joined Bible Baptist I was simply asked to stand before the congregation and affirm my Baptism, but I grew to feel strongly that I should be dunked. I discussed this desire with Pastor Saal and on September 13, 1975, my wife and I were both Baptized by emersion at The Blue Church. So, I am well Baptized.
Lois had promised to see a gynecologist soon, but on December 12 she called me upstairs and declared she was about to miscarriage and asked to be taken to the hospital. We were kind of in a bind as what to do with Laurel, who was about 2 ¾ years old. I called the parsonage and Mrs. Saal agreed to come over and baby sit Laurel. (Left, Laurel in December 1980.)
Laurel was sitting on the living room sofa and babbling away, saying a bunch of one syllable nonsense sounds out loud. Just as Mrs. Saal entered the front doorway, Laurel said what to her was a nonsense word, but to all the world was the forbidden four-letter word beginning with F, and I don'tmean fudge. I was embarrassed, because we did not use such language in our home, or anywhere else for that matter. She was just babbling as toddlers will do. The Pastor’s Wife made it worst by asking, “What did you say dear?”
Lois had come downstairs and we hurried away to the hospital.
I dropped Lois off at Emergency, then I moved the car back to the parking lot. When I came back inside I couldn’t find her. They informed me she had been taken up to the Maternity Unit. Upstairs I was told she was in a labor room. I took a seat in the waiting area.
Delaware County Memorial Hospital had been where Lois had worked back in the late 1960s. It was where she had an affair with an orderly that briefly broke our marriage apart with a separation. It did not carry pleasant thoughts for me.
Suddenly a Doctor burst through these swinging doors calling my name. He was a foreigner, an Indian or Pakistani. I stood, prepared for him telling me we had lost another baby. Instead he stuck out a hand, and in a heavy accent, said, “Congratulations, Mr. Meredith, you have a daughter.”
How could this be? Lois was only a little over two months pregnant, wasn't she? She certainly never looked pregnant. Apparently, her calculations had been off, but even so the girl had delivered much too soon. Soon I was brought more sobering news. The Medical staff informed me they did not expect this four-pound girl to survive the night. “Even if she survives,” the doctor was saying, “she will be blind and have serious mental retardation. We are having her transported to Fitzgerald Mercy. They have a special Neonatal ICU there.”
It now hit me on hearing Fitzgerald Mercy, I did not have medical insurance for pregnancies. When mercy Catholic had finally pushed me out the doors the past April, I lost my health insurance they provided. True, I got new coverage in September when I was hired by Wilmington Trust, but maternity coverage did not begin unless I was in the plan for at least six months. I had been in the plan less than four.