Wells Fargo gives $22,000 to Suicide Hotline… A gift the bank can use too.

 

It all started when I saw that this past February, Wells Fargo had donated $22,000 to establish a suicide prevention hotline in Idaho, apparently the state with the fourth highest suicide rate in the nation.  I find that statistic a little odd, but what do I know.  I’ve never even been to Idaho.

 

The United Way for Treasure Valley phrased it as follows on their website:

 

Wells Fargo stepped up Tuesday with a $22,000 gift to help establish an Idaho Suicide Prevention hotline.

“Wells Fargo is pleased to invest in this important community initiative to address a critical need in our state,” said Dana Reddington, Idaho Region president for the banking firm.

 

Wells Fargo “stepped up” with a $22,000 “gift.”  Is that how that should ideally be phrased?  I suppose it’s fine.  But, having spent the last few days writing and talking about Norm Rousseau, who took his own life this past Sunday after a protracted battle with… no, not cancer… much worse.  You know, we can in many cases cure certain kinds of cancer.

 

Norm’s protracted battle was with Wells Fargo, and no one has even come close to finding a cure for them.  So, on Sunday morning, just a few days ago, he lost the will to continue the fight after staying up all night trying in vain to fix the engine in a motorhome he was hoping to house his family in after being evicted on yesterday morning.

 

Look, I only spoke with Norm once for about an hour, so I shouldn’t really speak for him, but I just wanted to say that I’m pretty sure that he would have gladly traded his battle with Wells for… maybe not pancreatic, but let’s say prostate cancer… for sure.  I think so, anyway.

 

In fact, I’d probably make the same trade at this point were I given the choice.  I’m thinking that the cure rate for prostate cancer for a male in his 50s is much higher than the cure rate for a battle with Wells Fargo these days.  I don’t know… maybe I’m nuts… it’s not my core point here, so just forget it.

 

Anyway, I understand Wells Fargo wanting to give a gift that establishes a suicide hotline… it’s a gift the bank can use too.  And I do understand giving that sort of gift.

 

I’ve been married for 22 years, and although I hate to admit what I’m about to say, I’m hoping some of you guys have done it as well.  Maybe not the women, I really don’t know.

 

So, I was thinking about my birthday, it being only a few weeks away, and what I wanted to ask for in the way of a gift.

 

 

When my wife and I first got married, I always bought her birthday presents that were clearly hers alone… jewelry, clothes, I don’t know… a new tennis racquet, a mountain bike, golf clubs… those sorts of things.  Nothing that I had anything to do with as far as usage went.

 

But the longer we’ve been married, I’ve noticed that I’ve started drifting towards gifts that aren’t really just hers, but sort of ours… kind of.  I’m not entirely certain, but it’s possible that one year for her birthday I may have bought her our new breakfast nook table and chairs set.  That wasn’t cool, I thought to myself.

 

I shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing, right?  That’s not the way you stay happily married, or even breathing and walking upright, depending on your spouse’s comfort level with firearms.

 

It occurred to me that I might just be turning into my father, perish the thought… and that could not be considered anything short of terrifying.    Turn on the sirens people… crash positions… we’re going in hot and hard.

 

Truth be told, I couldn’t even remember what I had bought her last year for her birthday, and that was not giving me a very reassuring feeling.  Maybe since we need a new air conditioning unit for the house, maybe that’s what I should want for my birthday this year.

 

When I was really a young boy, maybe six or seven years old, I remember my father asking me if I wanted to go with him to Sears one evening after dinner.

 

 

I jumped at the opportunity of course, after all, a trip to Sears meant two things: A chance to sit on and pretend to drive several different riding lawnmowers… and a bag of hot cashews from the stand that sat in the middle of the store on the bottom level.  Good times.

 

So, we get to Sears, my father and me, and I head straight for the riding lawnmowers.  Remember that part of Forrest Gump when even though he’s already a zillionaire, he goes back home and the City Fathers give him “a fine job,” and he’s riding a lawnmower around this field cutting the grass?  Yeah, well I understood that part of the movie.  I completely agreed… Forrest looked like he did have a fine job there.

 

So, anyway… after a few minutes when my father had run out of patience with the lawnmower engine sounds I was making with my mouth, he said let’s go and we headed on into the store.  The smell of hot cashews used to hit you right as you walked in the door of the Sears where I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and both my father and I were huge fans of the toasty warm aromatic nuts.

 

So, we got us a small bag before heading off for the guaranteed-to-be-boring part of the excursion, at least as far as I was concerned.  The part when we’d have to actually shop for whatever it was he wanted to find… the reason we were there, you might say.

 

He explained that we had come to buy my Mom a birthday present, which was the next day.

 

“Let’s get her a board game, Dad,” was the first thing that came to my young mind.  Well, why not… it was something I understood and knew I could get some utility from… and heck, she’d probably have liked it quite a bit too, especially if there was spelling involved.  Mom loved to spell anything anytime, and she was darn good at it too.

 

But, Dad said no. He had something else in mind, as we headed on over to the dreaded, “Housewares” department.

 

 

Housewares was the section that had the most things I didn’t understand, and I braced myself and took a deep breath, just as I might have done were I about to be placed into solitary confinement while doing time on Alcatraz.

 

We got there and I did a 360 to take in my surroundings.  Sure enough, I was absolutely surrounded by “Housewares,” and an old man who could have played Santa Claus at Christmas if you spotted him a fake beard and some hair, waddled over to offer his assistance to my father while doing a quick comb through of his thinning hair, completely ignoring me, of course.

 

This was the 1960s, and I was still to be seen, but not heard in many circles.  Unlike today, when we let our 8 year olds pick out the family car.

 

I heard my father say something about a chair of some kind… but after that it was pretty much just a blur.  For a boy my age during The Wonder Years of the 1960s it was genetically impossible to stay attentive during conversations of such banality.

 

Soon they had focused in on a particular chair.  It was metal with yellow vinyl, sort of a highchair with steps that slid out from underneath, a feature my father was saying would be highly valued by Mom, who was only 5’3” and apparently couldn’t reach certain things without a step ladder.  I hadn’t known about her shortcomings before that day, as she was plenty tall to reach everything I needed her to reach.

 

So, it was probably only a few minutes later, although it seemed a good hour or two, and we were paying with Dad’s Sears charge card, and then heading back to our station wagon, a 1963 Plymouth, dressed in a sickly hospital green color that my father said he liked, although I didn’t see how that could be possible.

 

We pulled around and there was that aging rotund and balding salesman, waddling towards us and carrying a decent size box, inside which, I assumed, would be the chair even though the box didn’t seem large enough to hold the chair.  As he was loading the box into the wagon, the man told my father that there would be, “some assembly required,” to which my father replied, “Sure.”  Dad actually seemed happy to hear of it.

 

My Dad owned a small grey metal Craftsman toolbox that he kept in the front hall closet that was strictly off limits as far as I was concerned.  He’d pull it out any time those words were spoken, “some assembly required,” or whenever there was some sort of disaster in our hundred year-old home.

 

Dad faced each job with an air of confidence that said clearly that he was unquestionably capable of handling any job that was thrown his way and he would do so with whatever was in his small grey metal toolbox.  It was a toolbox akin to Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, if you remember the movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.  It was as if he was expecting to be able to reach in and pull out a belt sander and a table saw.

 

The problem invariably was that whatever he needed he didn’t have and whatever he thought he could do, he really couldn’t, at least not in the time he had thought that he could.  And if hung around too long or stood too close, he’d end up blaming me for whatever wasn’t in his toolbox, growing more frustrated by the minute until he got the job done, which sometimes required a two or three day affair.

 

After the first couple of hours, there was no talking to him, and when the project had finally been completed he’d sit in front of the fireplace or television and sip what I later learned was Jack Daniels, but what he used to call Dry Sherry.

 

 

My father was, after all, a Harvard man.  And you can tell a Harvard man… but you can’t tell him much.

 

So, being a child of above average intelligence, as soon as we walked in our front door, I shot upstairs to my room, claiming homework or a bath was calling, the sort of tasks that I knew would trump helping Dad assemble the chair, or anything else he had in mind… so he went to work in the basement assembling Mom’s birthday surprise.

 

Yes, my brilliant, PhD, Harvard, college professor father had just thrown down maybe $19 on a metal stepstool/chair in yellow vinyl from Sears.  And he was so proud the next evening when, finally assembled after maybe six or seven hours of hard work, he presented it to her after we had finished dinner.

 

Mom had made cupcakes, as she was prone to do, and she started to light a match in order to light the little candles, one in each cupcake, except for the one that was for my little sister, Karen, who wasn’t even 2 years old at the time, and to my way of thinking, clearly didn’t qualify as any sort of human member of our family.  Certainly not one who needed a cupcake.

 

Mom struck the match but it failed to light and that was all the chances Mom got on things like lighting matches.  Dad reached out and took them into his much more capable hands.  He struck the match… nothing.  Mom smiled and looked away, you could tell she couldn’t have been more pleased at that moment.

 

Next match was the pressure match and lucky for Dad it was a winner and the candles were soon aglow as we sang…

 

 

Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday dear Barbara/Mommy… Happy birthday to you!

 

I grunted as Mom gave Karen her own cupcake, sans candle.  “She can’t eat that, she doesn’t even know what it is,” I said with the sort of superiority only a six year-old older brother can muster.

 

“She can lick it,” Mom said smiling at the useless drooling infant that had Zwieback toast crumbs all over her face and in her hair.

 

I looked at the thing they called my sister thinking, “Later, when no one is looking, I’ll drag you down the stairs head first, you little parasite,” or at least the six year-old version of that sentence.

 

Karen grabbed the cupcake, squished it a little, mashed it icing side down onto her highchair… and promptly threw it straight onto the floor.  Yeah, she was small and didn’t say much, but I knew she had done that just to torture me.

 

“Maaaaaam,” I yelled out as I jumped for the cupcake, hoping against hope that my mother would at that moment take leave of her senses and allow me to eat it off the floor.  No such luck.

 

“Hand it to me,” she said in that voice.  And I did… resistance I knew, was futile.

 

 

So, with the festivities now over, we went into the kitchen to examine the gift and there it was… that glorious yellow vinyl and metal, half highchair, half stepstool… sitting poised for action… right in front of the sink.

 

You see, as I was about to learn, Mom was always standing over that sink washing dishes, and so my father thought the ideal birthday gift would be a chair high enough so that she could sit while washing the dishes, the stepstool functionality being an unanticipated bonus.

 

Of course, my Mom, being a mom of the mid 1960s, was beyond gracious at all times.  It was as if she liked everything.  Like, someone could have served her a bowl of dirt, and she’d have said thank you.

 

“Oh, look at that,” she said.

 

Now, even at six years old I was sensing something in her voice that felt like danger had just entered the room.  I swear, the temperature fell by 12 degrees… all of a sudden you could see your breath in our kitchen.

 

Dad was oblivious, explaining every single one of the chair’s highly valued features and functions.  “And, I bought it at Sears,” he explained as part of his wrap-up.  “So, if anything goes wrong, we can return it and they’ll give us a new one.”

 

Dad absolutely adored that about Sears.  He even bought his sport jackets at Sears when they would go on sale, of course, and I grew up assuming it was for the same reason… Sears’ famous return anything anytime policy.

 

“Isn’t that something,” Mom was saying.  She had decided that moment was a good one to start sharpening a giant kitchen knife, but then apparently thought better of it and set it down gingerly.

 

“Well, thank you Julian,” she said in a voice that I would one day learn to call condescending.  “That was very considerate of you.”

 

And that was it… Mom’s birthday was over for another year.  I knew not to ask her how old she was.  I ‘d learned the hard way the year before that a young man doesn’t ask a lady that question.  So, I just gave her a kiss on her cheek, said Happy Birthday Mom, and ran up to my room to see if I could sneak in a few minutes of black & white T.V. before they yelled up… “Turn off the T.V. please,” after which I’d drift off to sleep dreaming of riding lawnmowers and the like.

 

Less than a week passed until one day after school, I heard the doorbell, and ran to see who rang it.  A large truck was parked right in front of our house, on the side it read, “Sears Appliances,” or something very close.

 

“Maaaaam,” I called out.  It’s a man in a truck from Sears.”

 

My Mother came out in her apron, admonishing me for yelling for her to come in front of an adult, and then in her adult voice sweet as pie said, “Oh, hello, yes please, come in,” to the man in the Sears uniform.

 

And two hours later our kitchen had a brand new dishwasher installed… a Kenmore.

 

 

I didn’t connect the dots at the time, but inexplicably Mom made cupcakes again that night, highly unusual as it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, and this time she let me have the bowl of icing to lick and scrape on top of it all.  She was unusually happy and I was in sugar-induced nirvana.

 

After desert, we all walked into the kitchen and Mom started explaining all of the features and functionality of the new Kenmore dishwasher.

 

Dad listened, barely smiling occasionally, and then as I was sensing his patience was running thin he said right in the middle of Mom’s Kenmore demonstration that I was more than happy to watch, “Okay, are you finished?  I’ve got some work to do,” and with that he turned and walked towards the stairs.

 

Mom just kept going on about the Kenmore in a sort of sing-song voice, and as Dad started up the stairs, she was full on singing her words now and kind of dancing after him…

 

“And it’s from Sears… so if anything goes wrong… we can always return it,” Mom sang as if she were Judy Garland playing the role of a housewife in a movie.

 

I thought that I recognized the melody… “Home on the Range,” sort of.

 

Seconds later we could hear the door to Dad’s study close, I thought, perhaps a little harder than usual.  Mom walked back towards the kitchen humming, and without any advance notice, as she passed by me on her way to get started loading the new dishwasher, she set a second cupcake topped with icing right in front of me without saying a word.

 

And somehow I knew as I stared at the icing on my cupcake, there would be no percentage in asking questions.

 

It would be many years before I had any real appreciation for what had gone on that year… the year my Mom had two birthdays.  And the year my father had stared death in the face… and lived.

 

Yes, he was the Harvard man, the brilliant college professor… the breadwinner of our family… the owner of the tools… who never shirked his duty when “some assembly was required”… the one who always drove… and lit our matches when required… the patriarch.

 

But, make no mistake… that night Mom had let him live… let him off with a song about a Kenmore dishwasher from Sears… a song that sounded a lot like “Home on the Range.”  Now that I’m all grown up and married myself, I fully realize that a blow to the back of the head with a shovel would have been much less painful.

 

And I can’t quite remember when I noticed it again, but that yellow vinyl and metal chair/stepstool from Sears remained in our basement for the next twenty years… for all I know is still down there today.

 

Mom was never one to throw important things like that away.

 

I’m like that too.  So, I’m going to remember Wells Fargo’s $22,000 gift to establish a suicide hotline forever, and I hope that not only will you remember it too, but that you’ll also keep forwarding the story of Norm Rousseau to others for years to come, so they can remember what happened too.

 

Because although I only spoke to Norm for an hour or so… I know for sure that wherever you believe he is right now, he’ll smile through eternity if his battle and his death produced that kind of result.

 

Over the last two days, more people read Norm Rousseau’s story than anything I’ve ever written on Mandelman Matters.  And I wasn’t sure how I felt about that until I realized that maybe if his story spread and wasn’t forgotten, then maybe one day there wouldn’t be other stories like his for me to write.

 

And I can tell you that it sure would make his wife happy, give her some peace, even.  Nothing can change what happened.  But, yesterday she said that all she wants is for what happened to Norm never to happen to anyone else.

 

Here’s the link to NORM’S STORY.  Do more.  Do everything possible to stop this from ever happening again.  Stopping even one… matters a lot.

 

Do more.  Give a gift that keeps on giving.

 

Mandelman out.

 

 

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