Tag Archives: strangers

People Like Us (PLUs)

26 Mar

In 2000 my youngest brother died of brain cancer. Lisa and I flew from Austin to Philadelphia for the surgery that we hoped would give him more time. We were sitting in his hospital room saying our goodbyes when a request to meet with the doctor caused us to extend our stay. The trouble was, hotels were booked all over the city due to something or other and we had already checked out of ours.

Michael was sharing a hospital room with a crotchety old man named Charlie who had recently had back surgery. His wife Esther showed up every day on her bicycle with a mouth watering picnic basket because he refused to eat hospital food. Lisa, who loves old people had befriended him. She even assisted him onto the bedside commode.

As a result, when I inquired as to whether they had a spare bedroom that we could use for a few days, we were handed the keys to another one of those life-altering experiences.

We lugged our suitcases the dozen blocks from the hospital to their brownstone, hopefully following Esther’s directions correctly. On the outside of the house there was a plaque stating that the building had once been the original French Embassy dating back to the American Revolution. OMG, what had we gotten ourselves into?

We climbed the stairs and entered into what felt more like a museum than a home. We couldn’t have known that Charlie was a foremost collector of Americana. Walking from room to room we cried over and over, “look at this!”. I so wish that I had a camera, but this was a time before cell phones in every pocket. The house was dark to protect the art from sunlight. This five story structure, equipped with an original elevator, was out of this world, floor to ceiling.

Charles J. McManus 1922-2011

An obituary worth reading. https://www.philadelphiafuneralcare.com/obituary/4856669

We had unknowingly made friends with Charlie and Esther McManus. Charlie was from old money. Not only would he not eat hospital food, he only carried crisp new $100 bills that Esther went to the bank to pick up. We later traveled to Philadelphia several times to visit them.

Esther was Israelí and an award winning chef. She once made croissants on TV with Julia Child! There was a spread in the New York Times Food Section (How To Give A Dinner Party) framed on their kitchen wall. Once when we visited she hosted a dinner party in our honor. You haven’t lived until a world class chef recognized for her dinner parties has one just for you. It was exquisite.

Esther Press McManus

One time we went to lunch with Charlie (Esther worked and he had a little bistro nearby where he walked daily.) During a conversation he said something about PLUs or people like us. Lisa and I just looked at each other. WE were NOT people like Charlie and Esther but it did us no good to protest.

We even got to eat some of her famous croissants.

With Charlie’s health failing, they began to liquidate the art collection. Lisa took time from her construction company to fly to Philadelphia to help out. One day a representative from Sotheby’s Auction House made a dismissive comment to Lisa who was up on a ladder working to remove a chandelier. Charlie overheard and came up out of his chair to her defense. “Do you know who you’re talking to?! That’s my daughter.” The man’s eyes got big as Charlie proceeded to evict him from the premises.” Many apologies later, all was smoothed over. But Charlie left it completely up to Lisa if the man stayed or went.

Needless to say we were way out of our league here. We lost touch and found Charlie’s obituary years later. It is amazing how four people who unknowingly met in a hospital room could become friends and touch each other so deeply. I will return to the story of Acapulco next week. But for now I hope you enjoyed my little sidestep.



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