“Laugh – life is too damn short to be upset.”
That was the advice that Jeanette gave to me at the end of our interview.
She is one of those people who never seems to get down no matter what life throws at her. For her even sad stories, when viewed through the prism of time, become funny.
There was the story about the time she and her mother went to a kosher butcher on Jamaica Avenue.
“I’d like two pounds of chopped meat.” Her mother said to the butcher.
“Two pounds of chopped meat for the lady.” The butcher said to his assistant.
“What type of meat should I give her?” The assistant replied in Yiddish.
“Give her all the garbage.” The butcher responded in Yiddish. “Cut up two pounds of it.”
When the assistant was done the butcher wrapped the meat and handed it to Jeanette’s mother.
“Here is your meat.”
Jeanette’s mother, who was exactly five feet tall, took the package of meat and yelled in Yiddish, “Shove it up you’re a**!” as she threw it at the butcher’s head.
Rather than focusing on the insult, Jeanette chose to laugh about the memory of her undersized mother launching a package of meat at the butcher’s head.
As you’ll read below Jeanette had no shortage of tragedy in her life but she managed to maintain a positive outlook, and all these years later simply shakes her head and laughs at it all – the good and the bad.
I think there is something we can learn from her.
I hope you enjoy.
You Should’a Had Her Money
Jeanette sat in the wood-paneled court room directly in front of the prettyish blonde woman who had been testifying all day. It had been a brutal cross examination and the lower rims of the woman’s eyes were red and lined with tears.
Working as a court reporter for Queens and Nassau County Jeanette had covered custody battles, murder cases and nasty divorces…but this was an especially scandalous divorce. The husband, a prominent lawyer, had suspected his wife of cheating. He hired a private detective to spy on her while he was away on a business trip. His suspicions were confirmed when the private detective caught the wife having sex in the living room while their kids were upstairs sleeping. Jeanette had seen enough divorces in family court to know this was going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight…
After the cross examination Jeanette got in her car and headed towards Rego Park, like she did every Friday. It had been a long week and she needed a few days off to mentally recuperate.
She loved being a court reporter even though the job was emotionally exhausting and it had taken her a long time to get to her position. She graduated high school in the middle of The Great Depression and her family couldn’t afford regular college so Jeanette went to nursing school. She graduated in 1942 – the middle of World War II – and joined the Army as a registered nurse at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio where the top secret Enola Gay airplane was stationed. After the war Jeanette came back and worked as a nurse in St. John’s hospital where she met her husband Irving. They had a daughter together.
Jeanette parked her car outside the non-descript, two-story brick building on 63rd Drive in Rego Park. There were no outward signs but the building was the Friday meeting spot for ‘Parents Without Partners’ – a nonprofit organization devoted to the welfare and interests of single parents and their children.
It was still hard to believe that she was a member before the age of thirty-five. She was twenty nine when she married Irving. Thirty when they had their child. And thirty-four when he died of a heart attack. After Irving passed away Mary switched careers and enrolled in The Queens College Business School. But during registration a woman suggested she’d made an excellent court reporter with her medical background. So Jeanette became a court reporter and also fulfilled her lifelong dream of not only getting a Bachelor’s but also a Master’s degree.
There were a bunch of people milling about near the coffee table in the back of the room. Jeanette conversed with a few of the regulars and made eye contact with a woman whom she’d never seen there before. In the the brief moment they made eye contact, Jeanette could tell the woman recognized her but was also uncertain of where they had previously met.
Jeanette continued mingling. The dating life was hard for a single mother in the 1950’s – she’d met a few people through Parents Without Partners, but nothing substantial had developed. There had been Bill – who she’d taken a liking to – but who also told her that “marriage was out of the question.”
Suddenly Jeanette realized the woman on the other side of the room was the defendant in the divorce case. The woman must have realized it at the same time because she snarled at Jeanette as she stormed out of the room with tears running down her face.
While Jeanette was watching the woman run out, a man sidled up behind her and kissed her on the mouth.
Jeanette turned around. It was Bill.
“C’mon sweetie.” He winked, grabbing Jeanette’s hand. “I wanna show you the girl I’m gonna marry.”
Jeanette didn’t know what was more surprising: that Bill had kissed her on the mouth or that he had announced that he was going to marry someone else.
“I thought you said marriage was out of the question?”
“Did I?” Bill smirked as he walked into the other room leaving Jeanette with her mouth hanging open.
A year later Jeanette got a phone call.
“I’m living in Great Neck nowadays.” The familiar voice said. “I wanna get back together.”
“Uh huh.” He said. “Whaddya say?”
“What happened to the other girl?”
“Ain’t nobody like you.”
“Yeah?” Jeanette said. “If I’m so good why didn’t you marry me and not her?”
“Baby...” Bill whistled. “You shoulda had her money…”
“Bill?” Jeanette said, pausing and carefully measuring out the exact words she wanted to say.