There were many times, I’m sure, when my mother was disappointed in me, but one memory is seared into my brain like rice scorched into the bottom of a forgotten pot on the stove. Imagine it’s your mom’s favorite pot. The one she inherited from the good grandmother.
I was 16, and for reasons I can’t remember, I had to get a blood test at the hospital where Mom worked as a nurse’s aide. This was the age when I was diagnosed with severe asthma, so maybe this was a test to see if I was going to die. I may be exaggerating.
Anyway, this blood test was a very big deal to both of us for different reasons.
For Mom, this was a chance to introduce her oldest daughter to dozens of co-workers before I left for college and immediately forgot the names of the parents who raised me (Mom’s fear).
For teenage me, it was the daylight version of a slasher film, in which someone you trust coaxes you down the hallway and into the arms of the guy wielding a pickax. You might call it a needle.
Seventeen years earlier, my mother had to give up her dream of becoming a nurse because she became pregnant with me. She never put it like that. I was a gift from God, she always said, who helped her see that she was destined to be a mother.
Still, wouldn’t it be nice, she often added, if her oldest daughter decided it would be her dream come true to become a nurse? Purely coincidentally, of course.
I was all in, until the day we went for that blood test. Again, I don’t remember the details, but that never mattered as long as Mom was alive, because she remembered it with the accuracy of that witness to multiple crimes who nails the police lineup every time.
Apparently, it took a lot of negotiating to get me into the one-armed chair. After the needle pierced my skin, I started to hyperventilate. “What a performance,” Mom said every single time we talked about this, which was often. For decades.
After the blood test was over, I reportedly stood up and said, ever so softly, “Uh-oh.” Down I went, taking Mom with me.
Here comes the part I do remember: We’re in the car in our driveway, after a silent trip home. Mom cuts the engine, looks at my bandaged forehead and says, “Maybe Leslie will be the nurse.”
And God said, “It is done.”
My sister Les became the nurse Mom had always wanted to be
I still hate needles. Two years ago, a friend started describing over dinner how she loves to watch her blood shoot up the line when she donates it. I ended up with my head between my knees to keep from fainting right there in the restaurant. “Just looking for an earring,” I said.
“Where is this going?” you may wonder.
Come with me. I’ll drive.
We’re sitting in my Jeep, made by union workers in Ohio, as we turn into the county fairgrounds. We are joining dozens of other cars slowly streaming in front of us and behind us. Remember that last scene in “Field of Dreams,” when that long line of cars is winding its way to the magical baseball field in the cornfield? It’s like that.
Friendly people wearing masks and smiling eyes are welcoming us, nodding hello to you, my passenger, as they check my license. One nice woman directs me to veer right because, being my mother’s daughter, I have already printed my medical form and filled it out before leaving the house.
The sun is shining (it really was), and something is happening inside me as I slowly pull into what looks like a 4-H barn at the county fair. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before.
I can’t wait to get that shot.
I lower my car window, shove up my sleeve and offer it to the masked man with the needle. “Thank you,” I tell him as he injects my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. “Thank you, thank you.”
A week from today, I will be 28 hours out from my second dose of this vaccine for COVID-19. I may experience some side effects, but I can’t wait to get that next shot. I’ll let you know how it goes.
If Mom were here, she’d tell you that if her oldest daughter can get this shot, so can you.
Then she’d tell you a story. You know the one.
Connie Schultz is an Ashtabula native, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She can be reached at email@example.com.