They Called Her Maddie (Madeline Jacobelli)

By Lou Jacobelli

They called her Maddie.

In February,1937, my Mom was 17. She married my Dad and I arrived in April,1938. Her name was Madeline but she preferred to be called Maddie.

As you would suspect, there are many, many family stories to be told but I would like to relate just two concerning my Mom. I was present on both occasions but have no memory of them as I was a newborn for the first story and 8 months old for the second one.

I was born at 7 months and weighed 2 1/2 pounds. In those days, that was basically a death sentence and the doctors told my mother that I would die if she took me home. Mom was being discharged and refused to leave me alone in the hospital. She signed all the necessary release papers, to protect the hospital, and home we went. “Home”, in 1938, was a small apartment with a gas stove.

The gas stove, if you will picture it, looked like a four-legged table with an oven on the left side and four gas burners on the right side with a drawer underneath for pots and pans. I specifically mention our gas stove because the “pot and pan drawer” is where I lived for the initial weeks of my life as it was the warmest spot in the flat. Mom said that because of my tiny size, she was able to wrap me in soft blankets and place me in a shoe box (my first bed!) and then into the stove drawer to sleep. Mom also said that whenever she would unwrap me to change my diaper, my lips would start to turn blue from the temperature difference even though she would turn up the steam heat till the kitchen was over 80 degrees. One last thing she did to protect me: I had very dry skin so after she cleaned me, she would wipe me down with olive oil to soften my skin. To this day, my wife attributes my especially soft skin to those olive oil treatments 71 years ago.

A few months after I was born, my Dad was diagnosed with TB and sent to Seaview hospital on Staten Island as a terminal patient. He survived that ordeal but did not return home for 18 months. In the interim, it was just me and my mother (both sides of the family had disowned us; an account for another day) which leads me to my next story.

By the time I was 8 months old, Mom’s situation had hit rock bottom. No family support, no available husband, no rent money, no food for her or me. To add to her isolation, a huge snow storm blanketed New York City. I guess she viewed the storm as the final straw; even Mother Nature had turned against her.

She put on her coat, bundled me up, left the apartment and just started walking. The snow-covered streets were deserted. It was very cold and the hour was late. Mom walked until she was exhausted and then just laid us down in a snow bank and we went to sleep. That should have been the end for both of us but Fate intervened in the guise of a kind Irish policeman patrolling his beat. (I’ll bet he spent the rest of his career relating how he found a young girl and her baby just a week before Christmas and rescued them from a snow bank.)

He brought us to a nearby Church and between him and the priest my Mom was given enough money for rent and food. They gave her another chance and lifted her spirits tremendously; she never forgot the kindness of strangers. A great bond was established between Mom and me in that first year. And we went on to enjoy each others company for many more years.

Mom passed a while back but I feel that she still protects me; just like she did way back when.

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