Linda Eckhardt’s life has been dedicated to medicine and domestic stability at home with her family.
Except for the time she went skydiving.
“I was 50 years old,” she says. “And I had met Brian, and he had done it before. I thought he was crazy and I never thought I would do it.” But soon she found herself donning a jumpsuit and a parachute and going up in an old plane without seats that shivered and shook as it climbed above the rural New Jersey landscape.
“You think you’re going to die,” she recalls. “And I couldn’t wait to get out of it.”
Then came a scary freedom when she jumped. “The chute opened and it was fun. There wasn’t much wind, so I landed straight down.”
And, the next day, found out that she had broken her ankle.
The 1999 outing with her boyfriend at the time, Brian Eckhardt, unfurled a new leaf of adventure for Linda, and the couple married the next year on a beautiful lake in rural Canandaigua, New York.
There had been little time for such personal adventure in earlier years as Linda pursued multiple medical degrees, raised a family, and worked as a physician in Pennsylvania once she was a single mom.
Until the 5th grade, Linda grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, “which was not a great place.” Her father cashed in a life insurance policy to move to a rural area in Pennsylvania. He worked for several companies as a buyer, and Linda’s mother took a job at Bendix. The house in the country had cats, dogs, a goat, chickens, and rabbits – at least until they multiplied to 27 bunnies.
In high school, Linda worked at a bakery for a strict German woman, cleaning out the big wall cases at the end of each day. She liked making money so she could buy her own clothes. Her mother, then working as a telephone operator in those days of big switchboards and few phones, would connect Linda on a party line with her friends– and occasionally interrupt to ask if she had done her homework.
Following high school, Linda spent three happy years at a nursing school in Somerville, New Jersey, among 27 students who practiced techniques on each other in the dormitories, or sometimes by injecting needles into oranges. After receiving her nursing degree in 1963, she helped deliver hundreds of babies, including 10 on her own “because the doctor didn’t come in time.” After a year or so, she decided to go to college at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and then got married to a law student, Frank Macioce. He was drafted in 1969, and while he didn’t get sent to Vietnam, Linda followed him in by working as a nurse during stints in places such as Maryland and Georgia. After Frank returned to Vanderbilt to finish his law degree, Linda worked at a new, research-oriented psychiatric facility, where she learned a lot about therapy and how to talk with patients.
The couple moved to New York briefly so Frank could pass the bar exam, then moved back to New Jersey. They had two children. “I enjoyed being a mom most of all,” Linda says. But the marriage fell apart after 10 years, and Linda decided to tackle another challenge to become a doctor. “Being a single parent was more difficult,” she says, as she also had to finish her premed studies, first at Columbia University in New York and then at Drew University close to home.
For medical school, Linda attended the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She got her degree in 1992, the same year that her daughter graduated from 8th grade. For her residency, she did a year of internal medicine, and then switched to become certified in radiology. “I loved it because it was fun, but reading X-rays and CAT scans didn’t have much to do with patients,” she says. “I missed interacting with people.” So she got another certification in family practice and worked in that field for most of her professional life.
Linda took her big plunge from the sky after her younger sister, Peggy, introduced her to Brian, an engineer who had two children from a prior marriage. Eighteen years later, they have a blended family with four adult children and six grandchildren marked by loving reunions and visits. They live in a 150-year-old house on 10 acres in Northampton, Pennsylvania. Sometimes they have 10 or 12 relatives sleeping over, and Brian will set up zip lines in the woods and teach the grandchildren how to shoot at targets in front of a hill in back, using a rifle or a bow and arrow. “Brian is very strict with them about how to handle weapons,” Linda says.
To Linda, her career as a labor and delivery nurse in her 20s shaped her life’s focus as a caregiver.
Her motto reflects her Irish roots: “Don’t give up,” she says, and she learned that early from her parents and siblings and later as the mother of Michael and Lauren.
In retirement, Linda loves to sew and make apple pies. She listens to Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss,” whom she has never seen in concert but whose folksy and plainspoken ballads remind her of her roots as a Jersey girl.
“I am learning to make a quilt now for one of my granddaughters,” she says, a task that involves learning to cope with a new sewing machine. “If that works, I’ll make one for the others, too.”