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Recollection of a recollection

Notebook Recollections

This column was previously run in the community reporter of December 2009

This January, as you read this column, Mr. Positive is oozing Christmas spirit. And his house as well.

His winter holiday lights were up before Thanksgiving. Windows are still wreathed, fences garlanded. There are red bulb ornaments on any still standing vertical vegetation.

The tale that follows is a real story. People’s names have been changed. Mr. Positive is the only real person mentioned, which is interesting, because in real life he’s almost too good to be true….

The day, after her white toy poodle, Cindy, died, Marcella Horak fell down her basement steps and fractured her pelvis and three lumbar vertebrae. This was May, 1985. She was 86 years old. The paramedics took her to United. It’s amazing she survived.

I called her 93 year old brother, George, in California with the news. I could feel his panic, hear his fear. Marcella was his older sister, his lifetime, go-to-person. 

And to top it off, he didn’t think he’d be able to get back to Minnesota. Ever.

Marcella stayed a week at United and then transferred to St. Mary’s Home on the far western end of 7th Street.

There was talk of never returning home again. Her house was 103 years old. She was born there. Raised a family there. Lived her entire life there. The only bathroom was on the second floor. The stairways were steep and treacherous. The wiring and plumbing was old.The home with which she had become so intimate was now her enemy.

Her brother George called for updates every week.

Eventually, Marcella did go back home. West 7th block nurses came three times a week, she got daily Meals on Wheels. But it was nip and tuck. She spiked a fever every few days for two weeks. She ate like a hummingbird. She lost weight.

I had an otherworld experience at Marcella’s on a house call the July after her fall.

I knew her well but had never been in her home .

Mr. Positive had told me that Marcella‘s house was Christmas all the time.

I saw it that day. The living room completely decked out. The most real fake tree I’ve ever seen. White-flocked. Silver-tinsiled. Red bulbs, blue lights. Santa figurines on every branch. 

The music was all holiday, all the time. There were foil-wrapped boxes and snow globes on every available surface. And four different Baby Jesus crib sets. 

I had been standing in the middle of a Christmas orgy. All on a sweaty, stifling, 94° July day.

Marcella was moving a little better. And she was glad to have a visitor. Then she showed me probably the only non-Christmas item in her entire house. A framed 1907 black-and-white snapshot of herself in her first communion outfit. All white. Dress, leotards, shoes, flowers. Even a white parasol. She was nine years old, standing in front of this very house, squinting into the sun. The innocence of that photo startled me, knowing what was ahead. Her mother would die five years later. Her father, one year after she married. Her husband and her two children would all go before her. And here we were, 78 years later.

Marcella made three emergency room visits that summer for dehydration. She refused admission each time. She was given IV fluid and, at her request, sent back home.

I tried to get Marcella started on a living will, but she said her brother would know what to do.

In October she was hospitalized for pneumonia. She went into full heart-lung arrest on her third day at United. The whole resuscitation team swooped in. Two interns did CPR. Anesthesia intubated her. She was shocked three times. She got IV cardiac drugs and right into the heart cardiac drugs. Nothing worked.

I got the call at the office in the middle of the hullabaloo. I drove right over to the hospital.

Marcella’s body had stopped working by the time I got there. She was in heaven. Doctors and nurses trailed out of the room. 

Then it was just Marcella and me. I looked into her face. The little first communicant. Her eyes were wide open. I gently closed her lids and patted an arm. I wondered who would finally take down her Christmas decorations. I used the phone on the wall to call her brother. He asked me to describe how she looked.

I turned Marcella’s way. I said she was peaceful. What I didn’t say is that EKG strips flowed off her bed into piles on the floor. There were red and blue capped medication ampules and empty syringes scattered over her bed. The emergency cart had two drawers fully pulled out. And the five o’clock West 7th afternoon sun beamed through a window directly onto Marcella.

I told her brother about the light and all he said was thank you so much.

A Hmong couple with four young children moved into Marcella’s house the next spring. Mr. Positive volunteered their first lawn-cutting. I’m reasonably sure Mr. P. also tried to talk them into a permanent, living room holiday display.


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