I have a guardian angel. I think he is male, though you could not tell by looking at him. He has golden wings and wears a plain white gown. He does not concern himself with politics or other important things, but every so often he rescues me in the most amazing way.
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Belgium. Two years later they decided to send Jews, including me, then a seventeen-year-old teen, to concentration camps. My family decided to hide instead. I was forced to leave my beloved high school and work as a mother’s helper.
When the Germans finally left Brussels two years later, I was much too old to return to high school. I took advantage of a special law that allowed war victims to enroll in institutions of higher education even if they had not graduated from high school. The deal was that they had to pass a high school equivalency exam after their first year in college. I passed my first year at the Institut Meurice Chimie with flying colors, even though I hardly knew any math. In fact, the only thing I remembered of high-school math was Pythagorean’s theorem governing right-angle triangles. During my equivalency exam the professor invited me to pull a math question out of a bag. It asked me to prove the famous Pythagorean theorem. I passed the exam, which entitled me to continue my education at grade level.
In 1959, long before cell phones, I drove with my five-year-old daughter Judy, her friend Elissa, and my three-year-old son David to Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. We were in the middle lane of the old West Side Highway, surrounded by fast-moving traffic. Suddenly my vintage Ford stopped. What was I to do? If I stayed in the car, chances were that I would be hit, but how could I leave with my brood of three! Suddenly a car pulled up in front of us. Four men spilled out. They were auto mechanics on a lunchtime spin and soon we were on our way.
My fridge broke down two days before we were to leave for a lengthy trip. In exchange for luxurious accommodations in Brooklyn Heights, our friend Michael was to dog-sit for Sasha, our little Dachshund. I rushed to a store to buy a new fridge, armed with the measurements of the space to accommodate it. “You are lucky; I have a bargain for you,” the salesman said. “It is bigger than your old model, but it will fit.”
The next day the fridge was delivered. After its doors were unhinged, it fit into the apartment house’s small elevator. It managed to pass through the entrance of the apartment, but got stuck in front of the kitchen passage. After watching the deliverymen unsuccessfully maneuver the fridge for one hour, I panicked. I ran through the apartment building in search of help. I heard workmen banging away in Apartment 3A. I pleaded. The two guys followed me upstairs. After evaluating the situation they removed the frame of the wooden doorway of the entrance to the kitchen. One of my two new friends was an expert mover. He directed the deliverymen on how to maneuver the fridge into place. Angles and inches mattered, but it fit. The doors were reattached and the shelves put in. The doorframe was hammered back into place. A bucket of white painted materialized from nowhere, and another twenty minutes later everything looked pristine.
I figured that the emergency rescue would cost me hundreds of dollars, but the workmen told me that there was no charge. I guess they were perhaps being paid by my co-op or that the bill would come later. It never did, and my dog-sitter enjoyed a carefree vacation.
That was twenty years ago. I beseech my guardian angel that my refrigerator will outlast me.
Decades ago I wrote: Conception/Contraception: A New Look, which McGraw-Hill published in 1975. It explains humanity’s long quest to unravel the marvels of reproduction.
One stumbling block to the understanding of the exquisitely timed, hormone-controlled process was that nobody could find the mammalian egg. During the seventeenth century, England’s William Harvey, the discoverer of blood circulation, joined the search by examining the uterus of England’s royal deer. A picture of his experiments hung in Columbia University’s old medical library, where I did much of the research for this book. Harvey failed to find the minuscule egg, even though it is the biggest cell in the body. It was only in 1827 that Karl Ernst von Baer, a, Eastern-European scientist experimenting with dogs, finally discovered the mammalian egg. It took another 150 years, and the discovery of hormones, to nail down the details of conception, gestation, and birth. Inevitably the understanding led to the discovery of effective methods of birth control, a technique people had been searching for since antiquity.
The writing of the book was done, and now I had the pleasure of finding illustrations. One night I woke up with a start. I had vividly dreamt of a faded picture of William Harvey examining the uterus of a doe in the company of England’s King Charles I. The picture hung in the medical library of Columbia University; I had completely forgotten about it. The next morning I phoned Columbia and asked the librarian about it. He said that he never noticed it, but agreed to check. He returned to the phone excited. Yes, to his surprise and mine, the picture was there. I included it in the book.
Recently a number of unfortunate events beset my life. I wondered whether my guardian angel had quit. Last December, on an extremely cold day, I took a taxi to the Frick Library in Manhattan. I am still writing books! I left my mismatched gloves in the taxi. On my return trip I was nursing my cold hands as I was sitting on the crosstown bus. I looked up. A departing passenger had dropped a perfect pair of black suede gloves!
Thank you, Guardian Angel. I need you for as long as I live.