I always have this urge to bless myself whenever I walk through the old Lincoln Savings Bank on Fifth Avenue and pass the spot where my mother's desk used to be.
Other people see the bank only as a place of business, but for me this is hallowed ground.
Of course it’s no longer the Lincoln, having been sold off years ago as the big banking fish kept on eating the smaller ones until it’s now a Chase branch.
Images of Honest Abe still adorn this fortress-like structure, however, and, as one local blogger told me, “it will always be the Lincoln.” It certainly will be for me.
My mother sold life insurance at the Lincoln and now, with Monday marking the tenth anniversary of her death, the bank has taken on a special meaning for me.
I don’t want to think about that awful day a decade ago when I raced to the hospital in Staten Island after learning my mother had gone into cardiac arrest.
I don’t want to remember how I wept and wailed in my sister’s arms after I learned we were too late, that my mother had died after a long terrible spiral of failing health, of calling 911 when she couldn’t breathe on her own, of taking her to the hospital, bringing her home for a short time, and then taking her back to the hospital again.
Going to the cemetery where she and my father are buried only reminds me that she’s gone. Walking through the Lincoln reminds how she lived.
She was a part-time salesperson, taking the job after years of being a wife and mother. She had no sales experience but soon she routinely outselling her fulltime male colleagues.
My mother really blossomed in this position. Normally a rather shy person, she would often walk around the bank floor in search of potential customers, instead of sitting at her desk and waiting for the clients to come to her, the way the other salespeople did.
“You’re like a shark prowling around there,” I told her.
I enjoyed visiting her at the bank or calling her at the office after I moved to Pennsylvania. It was fun seeing her in the workplace and I enjoyed speaking with her one-on-one.
We shared a lot during these conversations and it’s funny to think that, in some respects, the job actually brought us closer together.
These Honored Dead...
I remember going to visit her on a particularly trying day, when both her boss and my father were giving her grief.
“I’ve had it with men today,” she said sharply as she sat behind her desk. And then she looked my way and gave me the most beautiful smile.
“Present company excepted, of course,” she said sweetly.
She brought her humanity to the job as well. One time a man came in to collect on a life insurance policy for his teenage son who had been killed in an accident.
The man began to cry and my mother quickly joined him. She said she was embarrassed for breaking down like that, but there’s no shame in showing your heart. Banks should have more people like her on the payroll.
All these memories come back to me so easily, despite the passing years, and I would give anything to speak with her again, tell her how much I loved her, and apologize for every stupid, insensitive thing I ever did or said.
That’s not going to happen, though, so all I can do is hold her close to my soul and try to be more like her every day.
The bank has ATMs, so I could do almost all my business without stepping foot in the place. But I go inside because I want to; I do it because I need to see the place where my mother worked so hard, accomplished so much, but still always made time for her family.
The Lincoln has changed a lot since she worked there. In addition to the ATMs, there are cubicles in the middle of the vast floor where my mother used to search for customers and that seemed to go on forever when I was a kid.
My mother’s desk is gone, too, and I’m sure the bank had perfectly logical reasons for removing it. But I like to think that they took that desk away to honor her memory, the way a baseball team retires a beloved player’s number.
If I had my way there would be a plaque marking this location, a fine bronze carving with her image and it would read: “On this spot there once worked a loving mother, loyal wife, and dearest friend, who lived every day of her life with malice toward none and charity for all.”