In 1976, I lived in a residence for women run by Hungarian Nuns. I had few friends, but I did become close with a 40-something Irish practical nurse named (I swear to God) Bridey O'Toole. Bridey took care of a wealthy, mentally disturbed woman in Michigan, but kept a room at St. Mary's, so she could come back to visit. On the plane to NYC in 1976, the stewardess (because that's what they called them then) was pouring her a cup of tea when they hit some turbulence and she poured boiling water on Bridey's leg, melting her polyester pants and giving her 2nd degree burns. She ended up staying in NYC longer than she planned to have physical therapy on her leg. Part of her therapy was taking long walks. And, since I had no other friends or any other activity on Saturdays, Bridey and I would take long walks every Saturday; from 72nd Street where we lived to 34th Street and back.
Bridey was a hoot. She had red hair, and a brogue as thick as Guiness. She had 100 or so brothers and sisters back in Ireland that she supported. Before she went to work for the Crazy Michigan Woman, she was the nurse to a retired Jewish Jeweler, she called Papa. She worked for him for 10 years and in his will he left her $10,000 for every year she worked for him. That was a lot of money in 1975. (Not that I would sneeze at it today, either.) For some reason, Papa knew all these famous people (or so Bridey claimed). The two people I partcularly remember her going on about were Don Ameche and Jaye P. Morgan, star (?) of The Gong Show. The stories were entertaining, but I didn't believe them for a second. I was raised by Crazy Irish Women and I'm used to them telling totally fictional stories that they swear are true.
Well, one day we were walking down Fifth Avenue and all of a sudden Bridey gets all flustered and starts running down the street, waving her arms, yelling, "Jaye P! Jaye P" I stand on a subway grate, hoping it will open up and swallow me, while quietly trying to get Bridey to shut up. But, damn, if a woman doesn't turn around who IS Jaye P. Morgan and she says, "Bridey! Bridey O'Toole! How great to see you!", and gives Bridey a big hug. I was floored. It turns out I was the one full of blarney, not Bridey.
On my birthday, she took me to lunch at the Waldorf Astoria. The meal was delicious, but Bridey spent the whole lunch telling me that now that I was 24 I better get married in the next year or I'd be a spinster for life. It was just like having lunch with my sister. We went to the movies afterwards, she let me pick, and I chose "Dog Day Afternoon". We sat close to the front and in the row directly back of us was the Local Chapter of the Black Panthers, fully uniformed. At one point in the movie, Bridey turned to me and said in an Irish Whisper, which could be heard from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, "Debbie, doesn't that man look like he has nigger lips??" I figured it didn't matter if I was a spinster then, because I wouldn't live to see 25. Irish Women are not known for their subtlety.
Bridey stole away in the middle of the night a couple of months later, leaving me a lovely book on Dylan Thomas, because she knew I was a fan. But no good-byes, because that wasn't how she rolled. I never saw or heard from her again.
But I did get to meet Jaye P. Morgan. Wow.