Maria Treats a Broken Ankle


During the summer of 1923, a number of families moved out of the Ginney Block because they had become more affluent. One of those families was headed by my mother's first cousin. They had moved into a small detached house, a bungalow as they used to call them in those days. It was located on Colburn Avenue on the lower west side of Cleveland, near West 25th Street. For weeks following their move to their new home they had extended repeated invitations to visit them on some Saturday or on some Sunday afternoon.

I recall that my parents finally decided to visit the cousin's family on a Sunday early in July after church services. Arrangements for this visit had been confirmed the week before. Since it was Sunday, we were all in our Sunday best. I can still see my father in one of his own recently tailor made three piece suits. It was a handsome blue serge, with a three button coat with narrow lapels, vest, and trousers that tapered neatly and stylishly to the ankles. He wore a pair of highly shined black shoes as was his habit in those days, My mother wore a beautiful white blouse, with a flowing black bow, tied loosely at the collar, a black skirt, with matching cloth belt and a tailored black jacket. My six year old younger brother Art and I completed the party. My brother wore an outfit that we used to call rompers in those days. You had to step into them, because you had to be buttoned up the back.




They sported little white collars that were attached by buttoning them at the back of the neck. The trouser legs came down to just below the kneecaps where they were held tightly over long black stockings by sewn-in elastic bands. I, too, like my father, wore a blue serge suit with a white shirt with a blue tie. It had a double breasted jacket, also with narrow lapels, and trousers that came down to the knees, held with sewn-in black bands just above the knees. I too wore long black stockings. This had been my first communion outfit. Being a Sunday, Maria and other neighbors were sitting outside of the block in kitchen chairs that the ground floor tenants used to bring out to the sidewalk, to sit in the sun on nice summer days. Seeing us in our Sunday clothes, Maria asked, "Dove va?" "Where are you going?" My mother replied, "Andiamo in casa da mia cugino." "We are going to my cousin's house." In her usual crepe hanging fashion, Maria said, "Guardati dai pericolo." "Beware of danger!" My parents merely nodded and we proceeded to walk to the Public Square to get the West 25th Street Car.

We managed to get to the cousin's house without incident, and as expected, we were fed a nice lunch. As the women folk did the dishes and when the men retired to the living room to smoke their cigars and finish the wine left over from lunch, my brother and I decided to explore the front porch which was something new to us. Being a bungalow, it had a nice wide front porch with a swing, hanging by chains from the porch ceiling. We sat on the swing for awhile swinging back and forth until we tired of it.




On the spur of the moment, we decided to play "Stump the Leader." I being the elder decided that we should begin by jumping off the porch, over the five steps to the sidewalk. Being ten years old, I accomplished this feat without any problem. My brother followed suit gamely; however, when he jumped, instead of landing flatly on his feet, his right ankle twisted as he landed. I heard an awful crack. My heart fell as I heard my brother scream with pain as he crumpled to the sidewalk. Needless to say this abruptly ended our visit. I will never forget the trip home with my poor brother crying all the way home on the Street Car. In those days the people of the Ginney Block did not have telephones so there was no way of calling an ambulance to get to the nearest hospital, St. Vincent Charity at East 22nd and Central Avenues, many blocks away from the Ginney Block.

Much as my father disliked the idea, he was convinced by my mother that the only thing to be done was to take my brother to Maria, that she would be able to take care of him. This was to be my second experience in Maria's place. This time only as an observer and not as the patient. Again I recall entering Maria's flat, following my mother and my father who was carrying my injured brother in his arms. Maria asked, "Che successo?" "What has happened?" My father explained quickly, and then asked, "Avete aiuto per povero Arturino?" "Can you help poor Arturino?" Maria nodded and again proceeded to her cupboard over the kitchen sink, this time bringing out a deep bowl. From her ice box she brought forth a half dozen eggs.




From a large metal canister on the counter next to the kitchen sink she produced three cups of baking flour. She quickly mixed the eggs and the flour in the bowl beating the concoction vigorously with a large wooden spoon for several minutes. She then cut up an old but clean bed sheet, cutting out five strips about four inches wide, and around twelve inches long. She smeared the egg and flour mixture on the first strip and tied it around my brother's ankle. She then tied the remaining four bed sheet strips over the first one, pinning them all together with safety pins. My father paid her the usual fee of twenty-five cents and we returned to our flat, very much surprised that my brother had stopped crying and concluded that apparently his pain had eased or subsided. In later years I have reasoned that the wet bed sheet strips with the home made poultice had had a psychological or physically soothing effect, and that Maria's treatment may have resulted in temporary relief. The relief, however, was short lived, because my brother in subsequent days had to be treated by a medical doctor before he finally gained normal use of the right leg and ankle. He, however, was Maria's last patient as far as our family was concerned.