My Name is Sally

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By Sally Imperato

I am at the end of my life now, winding down, “ready for Freddy,” whoever Freddy is. I am housebound, I have exhausted my friend’s visiting capabilities with a three-month hospital stay. I have worn out my children. I have made peace with my God, received all the blessings I can have; I have nothing but time on my hands.

I find myself reflecting on “my story.” Everyone has one.

When my children were small, I remember someone talking about someone being bored. I wondered what boredom was.

I am of Swedish heritage on my father’s side, and southern Italian on my mom’s. All my cousins have blond hair and blue eyes. I had brown hair and brown eyes. Then I married an Italian man and got an Italian last name to match my hair and eyes. But my heart has always been Swedish.

I am named after my Swedish grandmother and wanted to be just like her…and except for her coloring, I am.  My parents married late in life and there the depression; I am an only child.

I grew up in Canarsie, which at the time was serviced only by a trolley car. The streets were not paved, and except for the grocery store that was part of the four-family house I grew up in with my Italian grandparents, there was not another store. Once a week, a horse-drawn cart came with ice, meat, eggs and milk. For some reason, the only meat he had was lamb chops. They are still my go-to supper, along with potatoes and carrots, the only vegetables I ever remember having.

I had a favorite aunt who lived in the house. She was a nurse and the mother of my cousin Paul, who was my age, and eight years later, my twin girl cousins whom we babysat. We were like siblings. One twin passed away at a young age and to this day, although we live states and states apart, we cousins are very close.

Paul and I were neck-and-neck to be valedictorian at grammar school graduation. Conveniently for him, a week before graduation, I broke my leg and the decision was made.  I broke my leg playing “whip,” when one of the boys swung me a little too hard.  That boy later became the fellow I dated for seven years. Everyone, including me, thought we would marry.

There wasn’t a high school in Canarsie at the time.  I went to Bishop McDonnell and cousin Paul went to Brooklyn Tech. Our schools were one stop apart on the train, so we traveled together, further strengthening the bond. 

I loved Bishops and I did well there. I was in the same grade as Helen Boyle, (mother of Rockaway Times publisher Kevin Boyle), but I did not remember meeting her there. As married with children and serving as Eucharistic ministers at St. Francis de Sales, she and I spent a lot of time together. High School was something that never came up in conversation.

My mother had a dream for me. I was to be a school teacher. Her dream was not my dream. My friends were reading comic books. I was reading first aid books. 

When I applied to nursing school, my mom tore up my acceptance letter, and my family moved to Florida. We lived in a trailer park. The shower was down the road, the whole thing. I was miserable. I met a fellow who had a motorcycle and asked for a ride to the local hospital. I got a job there as a nurses aid from 4-12 p.m. Mom thought I was on a date every night. I loved what I was doing…I can still give a great back rub. I did some research and found that Kings County School of Nursing had everything I needed. Tuition was free, you lived there, you got uniforms and they gave you an eight dollar a week stipend for personal things. So as soon as I had airfare, off I went. I left a note.

It was not long until my parents came back north. They left Canarsie and moved to East Meadow. I would not accept any help from them. 

I loved it, I loved every area I worked in. I knew I had made the right decision. 

I felt I had outgrown my boyfriend and he took the breakup badly. But, he quickly moved on and married a lovely “Canarsie girl;” had an army career and moved to Spokane, Washington. That is about as far as one can get from Brooklyn. 

At graduation, I did not get the most prestigious award, I got the one I wanted, the Nursing Arts Award. 

My first job was teaching “communicable disease nursing techniques” at the Kingston Avenue Hospital. It was during the time I was there, that communicable diseases became obsolete and the hospital closed. There were vaccines for measles and mumps, tuberculosis and polio. I actually took care of patients in an “iron lung.”  Tuberculosis prevention came a little later; those patients were sent to state facilities. 

I went back to Kings County Hospital, which had then joined with Down State. 

There was a little laboratory at the end of the hall where I was assigned, and the doctor who worked there stayed to himself. We wondered what he did there because he had two cats in cages that he hummed to and spoke to. I found out. One day he beckoned me in there. He was Dr. William Dock, and he did the first cardiac catheterizations on cats.  I was fascinated and happy to be a part of his work.

One evening as I was giving out medications, holding them in a wire type basket, around 10 p.m. or so, when a “hospital mouse” ran across my feet.  Woops went the basket…meds all over the floor. Just then some tired looking intern stepped off the elevator and started laughing at me. Not funny!

Fast forward, three years later, I married him. Then my name matched my coloring.

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