Ike Heller relaxed in a comfortable reclining chair in my living room and demonstrated, once again, his remarkable sense of humor as he contributed to my interview with his nurse, Hilda McNichol.
EDISON, NEW JERSEY, MAY 3, 2013: Hilda McNichol, was Ike Heller's nurse at his winter home in Florida from the beginning of December 2012 to the end of March, 2013, and then she came back to live in Scotch Plains with Ike and Helaine.
“Ike's daughter Audrey recommended me to Ike,” Hilda said. “I had taken care of her father-in-law in Florida.
“I have met Ike's daughters and his grandkids. Ike is a very good man and Helaine is kindhearted too. She's sweet and calm, and she's a very nice woman.”
Hilda also spoke about her friendship with Hattie Palmer, Ike and Helaine's maid.
“Hattie's a darling,” she said. “I fell in love with her the first time I met her. We get along so well. You can call Hattie at any time and you can talk to her.”
Hilda noted that Ike is still very involved in the business. “When he doesn't go to the office, he talks to his employees on the phone,” she said.
‘THINGS IKE SAYS TAKE ME BACK TO MY CHILDHOOD'
Hilda came to America from Jamaica in 1976. She noted that Ike's childhood was very much like her own. “I was also raised on a farm, milking the cows and feeding the chickens,” she said. “There are things that Ike says and does that take me back to my childhood and my father.”
Hilda's father passed away in 1996 and her mother is now 96 years old.
Her father was a farmer, cabinet maker and musician. “He was a very good father,” she said. “He taught us what is good and what is bad.
“Ike reminds me of him. He has a very good sense of humor and a good heart. I have a lot of respect for him and his family.”
‘I SING ALONG WITH HIM'
“Ike tells me about his life on the farm,” Hilda said. “He also sings and I sing along with him.
“It's a pleasure to have Hilda in the house,” Ike said. “She can talk not only to me, but she talks to Helaine. We're both getting on in years and she helps Helaine by talking to her. And she says nice things about me.
“I have to talk nicely too,” he added, “because this interview is recorded and if it I say bad things it would be terrible.”
"It would be a shanda” (Yiddish for shame), Hilda said.
“Where did she learn that word?” I asked Ike.
“I talk Yiddish to her,” he explained, and then he sneezed.
“God bless you,” I told him.
Ike said, “Thank you. I need all the blessings I can get.”
“We're both getting on in years and she helps Helaine, because Helaine's got to put up with me. By talking to her, she can say nice things about me. Helaine needs to hear nice things about me, because I'm a pain in the neck.”
“Hilda told me you and she sing together sometimes and that you talked to her about your childhood, which reminded her of her own childhood when she was growing up on a farm,” I said. “Her family also had a farm with chickens and pigs and cows.”
“We didn't have pigs,” Ike explained. “Pigs are traif (not Kosher).”
“You told me about the time you were milking a cow when you were a little boy, and the cow kicked you across the barn,” I reminded Ike. “Hilda told me that one day when she was a little girl, she was almost finished milking a cow and the cow knocked over a bucket of milk and she had to start all over again.”
“Now please tell me more about Hilda,” I asked Ike.
“The fact remains,” he said, “that she's been with us a long time, living in our house and taking care of me and Helaine.
“She talks to Helaine very nicely. They have long conversations and they're giggling all the time. They are happy conversations.
“Sometimes I listen when she talks to Helaine. She doesn't say any bad things about me; she says only good things, and she lies.
“They sit and talk and I listen. Yeah, I tune in, but I lost my hearing aids.”
Then, as Hilda crossed the room, Ike told her, “Sit down and I won't say anything bad about you.”
‘SHE HAS A MACHINE'
“Sometimes when Hilda doesn't want to put enough salt on my eggs and onions, I tell her she's stingy,” Ike went on. “She doesn't like that. She says salt is bad for me. Where the hell did she learn those statistics?
“She plucks my finger and she tells me whether I have too much sugar or too little sugar. When I have too little sugar, she becomes a pain in the neck. She gives me an argument,then she tells Helaine – she snitches.
“She has a machine,” Ike explained to me. “If you want her to, she'll test your sugar.”
“No thanks,” I said. “My sugar is fine.”
“Sometimes it depends on the tester,” he pointed out.
“YOU GOTTA KNOW WHOSE THE BOSS'
“When Hilda snitches to Helaine, does Helaine give you an argument too?” I asked Ike.
“Yeah,” he replied.
“Poor Ike,” I said. “But it's about time people are giving YOU arguments.”
“You gotta know who's boss; sometimes Hilda is my boss and sometimes Helaine is my boss,” he said.
I asked, “You're nobody's boss, right?”
“Í'm everybody's boss,” Ike replied. “I got 65 people who work for me.”
‘YOU TAUGHT THEM MANY THINGS'
“Some people in your office told me that everyone used to be afraid of you,” I said. “When you walked into a room, everybody kept quiet. But you did a lot of good, because you taught them many things about the business.”
“I taught them what I thought was common sense and logical,” he explained. “You know if a thing is common sense, it's right and if it's logical, it's right. If it doesn't make sense, it's wrong. You don't learn that in high school or in college, or wherever. It's common sense. So I'm doing what I'm doing – and I'm alive.”   I
“You prepared the people who work for you to do what they are doing now,” I said. “And you gave them a great deal of positive feedback. You did that with all the people who work for you. If they made mistakes, you let them know it. But if they did something well, they knew that too.”
‘WHAT MORE CAN I SAY ABOUT HILDA?'
“Now I'm going to be 87 on July 23rd, and we live a good life,” Ike concluded.
“What more can I say about Hilda? She's good. She's very firm about her job, and her job, as she sees it, is to take care of me.
“Yes, she's doing her job – but she's so persistent about it.”