When we make breakfast on the hospice floor at the Bay Pines VA Hospital, we meet all sorts of people. Most people think hospice must be a very sad floor, but there is so much humor there, in between the sadness. I have fond memories of quite a few patients and their families. One of my favorites is a man who my husband christened Robert De Niro. The man looked just like him, with his jet-black hair. Our version did admit that he missed a spot on his temple last time he dyed it.
We got so used to calling him Mr. De Niro that I can’t even remember his real name, but I will never forget him. He was in his eighties and had just learned that his cancer was stage four. The week before, he’d been living life and had no idea that he was so sick.
Our Mr. De Niro had the largest fan club of any man I’ve ever met. Our kitchen was filled with people who came to visit him. His daughter would answer his cell phone as if she was his secretary. “Dad, it’s Jimmy from the hotel. Dad, it’s the bartender from Kelly’s. Dad, it’s the mailman. Dad, it’s Joe from Mazarros Restaurant.” He had non-stop phone calls from people who’d just gotten the news.
One morning, I was making breakfast for the crowd and when I asked his son-in-law what he would like, he asked my name. I told him, “Anne.”
It’s a very difficult name to remember, you know. He called me Angela, Amy, and Anna.
I finally said, “Just call me Babe!” From there on out, I was Babe to the entire crew.
More families came to breakfast that day, and before I knew it, they were all calling me Babe! The new folks had no idea that it wasn’t my real name.
“Babe, can I have more bacon?”
“Babe, can I have two eggs over easy light?”
“Babe, do you have half and half?”
“That was a great breakfast. Thanks, Babe!”
Later, as Mr. De Niro got weaker, we’d see the family gather together. I was so impressed that he made such a difference in so many people’s lives. I decided that this was how I want to live my life. What a great legend he left for his family and friends! I told his son-in-law that. He hugged me and said, “Thanks, Babe.” I wiped a tear.
After all these years, I’m finally a Babe!