Biff America: Bridget and Frank – A love story of good health
Vail, CO Colorado
If you have your health you have everything.” So said my grandmum Bridget Sheely.
As a young boy I considered that assertion absurd. Back then, having my health was taken for granted and it certainly wasn’t like having everything. It wasn’t, for instance, like having a mini-bike, pellet gun or swimming pool behind your house – I would have loved to have those things.
But from my grandmother’s perspective, all that stuff was incidental when compared to being healthy. She came from a world where if you weren’t healthy and couldn’t work, you could not survive.
She came from Ireland, alone, at the turn of the century, when she was 13 years old. She married young, had three children, and was abused and abandoned by her first husband. She was forced to move out of her in-laws’ home and leave her children behind.
She got a job in a factory and was allowed to visit her two sons and a daughter one weekend a month. She would walk the three miles to her old home. What she saved on bus fare, she spent on treats for her kids.
She lived a hard life in a world where immigrants were exploited, and valued only as long as they were able to provide cheap labor.
Her salvation came in the form of a man named Frank McLaughlin, a stunted, ugly man with a stooped back and twisted hands. Frank first cast eyes on Bridget, in the early 1900s, at the Brockton Fair. For him, it was love at first sight. Bridget was too young to look past the unsightly exterior into the soul of a beautiful man. Instead she married a handsome man named John O’Malley, who treated her poorly and left her to fend for herself.
Twenty hard years later, Frank reappeared at Bridget’s doorstep and said, “Do you remember me?”
I’ll never know if Bridget was then able to look past Frank’s less than appealing appearance into his beautiful soul or if she had simply run out of options. But the result was a short courtship and a long marriage. After Bridget died in her 90s we found several misspelled love notes, written in pencil, to her from Frank.
“If you have your health you have everything.” My grandmother would say that whenever she groaned while getting up from a chair or when the pollen caused her to wheeze. For a woman who had a hard life and little to no medical care, Bridget’s health was fairly good. Both she and Frank lived past their 80s.
Bridged credited her longevity to LBJ. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Medicare bill that provided health care to the elderly. Bridget had been living with a lung condition caused by years of chemical inhalation from her work in factories. Frank suffered from a weak heart and arthritis.
Between the time they were too old to work and the creation of Medicare, their visits to the doctors were few. After Medicare, they could get their basic health care and still have enough left over from their social security to occasionally take me out for a cheeseburger.
Bridget and Frank, due to genetics and good fortune, lived long and died quickly. Their twilight years were made more bearable by Lyndon Johnson and Medicare.
Of course, this was many years ago, when poor people took what they could get and suffered in silence. My grandparents accepted the fact that a doctor visit wasn’t something they deserved – after all, they were poor.
Just as my grandparents credited LBJ for a modicum of quality of life in their later years, the poor middle class and even some of the more upscale Americans will thank our current president and Congress for their efforts on the recent health care bill.
I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t believe our health care system is not working and I’m happy to say the first step has been taken. Something is dreadfully wrong when even the insured can lose everything due to a serious illness. Our current system is only a little improved from my grandparents’ day.
Like Bridget Sheely used to say, “If you have your health you have everything.” I think it is safe to say, in years to come, more Americas will have everything.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com