My mother frequently said that the most important thing in life was health — if you had that, you could deal with the rest. Unfortunately, she often didn’t have it.
I wrote previously that Anita Monash had gotten married in the glow of a period of relatively good health. It didn’t last. Within two years she’d moved to Lubbock, TX and then Chicago, IL; had a son (me); and grown deadly ill in the aftermath of the pregnancy. The latter resulted in a family move to return the Los Angeles area, where her physician father lived. A brief move to Northern California for my father’s job didn’t work out well either; she wound up in the Stanford Medical Center, and I was farmed out at age 4 to live with one of my Dad’s assistant store managers and his family. Soon everybody was back in the Los Angeles area — I even went to Beverly Hills High School and UCLA just as she had — until my father’s career took the family to the Columbus, OH area.
As is common for people who have such severe ulcerative colitis, my mother eventually had cancer of colon, a few months after I left her nest. One of my father’s clients — the Feldberg family behind Zayre — had donated large amounts of money to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, which happened to have the top gastroenterological surgical team in the country, so that’s where she had her colon removed Christmas Eve, 1976.
Actually, this was not her first run-in with something resembling cancer. As a little girl, she’d been taken to Berlin to have a tumor removed that was pressing on her brain. The whole thing was terrifying — she equated the abandonment of being sent off down the hospital hallway to me being shipped out of my home for weeks a generation later. About the only redeeming feature to the whole experience was a fiercely protective poodle, egotistically named Anton by the family friend with whom she was staying, the actor Anton Walbrook.
Even when she felt better — as she largely did after her ileostomy — health was central. Her most energetic charitable activities had nothing to do with fundraising (which she always hated, equating it to “begging”), but rather volunteering through the Ostomy Society to help one new ostomy patient after another adjust to their new lifestyle. (The Ostomy Society seems to be an overall outstanding give-it-forward kind of organization.) In what was actually a much bigger part of her life, she also had a decade-long stint of active elder care. And if that wasn’t enough, she found a few other stray rehabilitation patients to sponsor and help along the way.
Things changed in the early 1980s, when her last parent died (my grandmother) right around the time my father started working essentially on his own, from home. My mother served him in a manner much more common in their generation than subsequent ones; she was the classic super-secretary, who in particular wrote a whole lot of his correspondence and even reports pretty much from scratch. (Actually, that wasn’t a new role for her. Next to my sofa today is a side table she originally claimed from Alton Doody’s office as her fee for helping my father with some Management Horizons work. And of course it’s essentially what she did in Hollywood as well.)
This grew into a fairly significant role in the Peter E. Monash & Associates consulting practice — interviewing clients, giving advice, appearing on TV, and generally living up to the title she concocted for herself of “Retail Psychologist”. Still, my father loved the work more, had decades more experience and reputation, had better health and stamina, was more outgoing, and didn’t run afoul of sexism. And so he was more serious about the work than she was, and more reluctant to retire when the time to do so came.
And that’s where I’ll leave it for now, as I don’t plan to write about my parents’ retirement years or final declines immediately at this time.