It begins and ends in a name. My name. Harvey.
I never liked it. It could have been worse, I suppose. I was destined to be named after my deceased maternal grandfather, Hyman. My mom hoped to name me Hillary; my dad objected and they settled on Harvey, admittedly less odious then either Hyman or Hillary but hardly Rock, Butch or Duke.
I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, when introducing myself. “Oh, Harvey the rabbit,” people might say when I offered my name, referring to the popular movie released in 1950 about a six foot tall invisible rabbit.
It is the name of the odd fellow, the weird guy, the loser. In the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” released in 1969, a character named Harvey challenges Butch for leadership of the gang. Butch is incredulous. “Harvey?” he asks in a dismissive and derisive way before dispatching the rebellious Harvey in humiliating fashion. Harvey is a weak sounding name, the name of a nebbish, to use that wonderful Yiddish term.
Now and again I would complain to my mom about my name. “Oh, then use your middle name, Michael,” she would say with a bit of annoyance in her voice. “You can be H. Michael.” But it was too late. Friends and family already knew me as Harvey. I was stuck with it.
Years later my wife and I, members of the vanguard of a new medical specialty, emergency medicine, moved to New Hampshire to direct a new emergency department still under construction. The contractor for the project was a company named “Harvey Construction.” Naturally there were signs with the company’s name at the construction site. We noted it with amusement. Nine years later at a surprise dinner to mark our leaving the emergency department my dad remarked tongue in cheek to the guests that he and my mom had, when seeing those signs during their first visit, been proud that the entire project was being named after me.
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Exit 43 off of southbound Interstate 84 in Connecticut brings one to West Hartford and, if desired, to Crown Market, a kosher food business. For nearly a decade, twice yearly, I drove my mom the sixty miles from her Worcester home to Crown Market via Exit 43 so she might buy the ingredients required for her homemade gefilte fish as well as other kosher items she delighted in purchasing. Her health was failing by the time she reached her late eighties and she gave up making the gefilte fish but still enjoyed the twice-yearly trips to buy other items not otherwise available to her.
In earliest January, 2009, my wife and I left our New Hampshire home to drive to southwest Florida and spend the next three months in our newly purchased condominium where we would escape the New England winter and watch the spring training of our heroes, the Boston Red Sox. We stopped in Worcester to say goodbye to my mom whose health was deteriorating at an accelerating pace. She was by then on continuous oxygen, slow moving and weak.
It was a pleasant if brief visit. She encouraged us to “go and have a good time” and I promised to be back to see her by the beginning of April. She very slowly walked with us to the front door, I kissed her goodbye, and we got into our car parked in her driveway. Then she did something unusual, something she had never, in my memory, done before; mom walked to the living room window which overlooked the driveway and stood there, looking out and waving goodbye. I understood she was thinking this might be the final time she would see me and I waved back and consciously tried to imprint the scene of my mom in the window into my memory, already aware that my goodbye to her might be my last.
Our time in Florida was as enjoyable as we hoped. I thought daily of my mom, called her regularly, and each morning checked the phone to be certain I had not missed a nighttime call reporting that she had become more ill or had died. When my brother visited for a few days in early March he described our mom’s worsening condition.
At the end of March we closed up the condo and began the drive home. As we traveled I thought a lot about my mom and imagined seeing her and simply holding her hand. On the third day in early evening we got off the highway and drove to her home, walked in the unlocked front door unannounced, and entered the family room where my mom sat. The television was on but she was not watching. She sat on a couch, her legs massively swollen, her hair unbrushed, her head down, the oxygen tube stretched along the floor connecting her to the machine in the next room.
When she looked up and saw me her face brightened and became alive, she began to struggle to stand. I hugged and kissed her, sat her back down, and held her hand as I had imagined doing while she excitedly told me that despite my call a couple of days earlier that I would visit a day or two later than that evening she had what she termed a “sneaking suspicion” I might arrive earlier.
As I had expected, her physical condition was much worse than when I had last seen her, worse even than I had anticipated. As the visit ended I asked if she wished to make our regular trip to Crown Market, thinking that she might finally accept that such a trip would be more than she could manage. Her response was immediate and unequivocal.
Two days later I arrived at her home in midmorning. She was up and nicely dressed, her hair perfectly in place, makeup conservatively applied. Somehow she had prepared a special and favorite treat of mine and sat and watched as I enjoyed it, saving some to bring home.
It was a lovely spring day as we drove toward our destination off of Exit 43. She told me stories and facts I had never heard. I asked her if she were afraid of death, of dying. She was not. I asked her if she thought she would go to heaven.
“I don’t know where I’m going but I know I’ll be with your father.” He had died the year before.
Our shopping at Crown Market was as enthusiastic as ever, though slower, my mom leaning on the shopping wagon, her portable oxygen resting in the cart, her feet shuffling along. After we had passed through the checkout I asked, as I always did, if she wanted me to pull the car up alongside the market. She had always refused, insisting on walking across the parking area to the car, but that day she allowed me to pick her up.
We had a pleasant return home even as my mom was clearly fatigued and less talkative. When we reached Worcester she asked me to go to a local market to purchase one more thing. I drove there and parked. She sent me in to get what she wanted; by now more shopping was too much for her. I brought her home, helped her into her house and following her instructions as she sat at the kitchen table put away her purchases.
That was our final trip to Crown Market. She died a couple of months later.
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In early November, 2009, my wife and I leave New Hampshire to begin our drive down to Florida. It is a clear day and the drive is easy and uncomplicated. As we near Hartford I think that this is the first time I have been on this road since my trip with my mom half a year earlier. I silently recall that time, our conversation, my mom’s certainty of being again with my dad. The memory is bittersweet.
I continue driving and as we pass Exit 43 I look toward it, thinking once more of my mom. There, exiting the highway is a truck a considerable distance from New Hampshire where one would normally expect it to be. The large letters on its side spell out the company’s name.
Originally appeared in Heartland Review .