Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Twenty Nine Years Ago Yesterday: Genevieve

   When I was not quite nine years old, Mom was El Preggo with the third of my four younger siblings. It had been a cold, happy winter of family gatherings and more than the normal amount of living room furniture rearranging. A person could reasonably attribute most of this to Mom's strong nesting instincts.

   As I recall, Mom had been displaying signs of labor for most of the Christmas season, and by this week in January 1983 the family's excitement level was not low. We were on happy little pins and needles. I was almost nine, so my sister Angela would have been four and a half and our little brother Joey not quite two. Philip would be born in another three years.

   For some wonderful reason my parents decided to invite me to be part of the birth when it finally happened. Grandma Stubbs, who lived nearby, was all set to watch over the little ones and my parents' friend Debbie and I were to be included in the hospital business. I was extremely happy about this plan, you guys. Anything to make me feel like one of the adults, you know?

   I was asleep when Dad came in to rouse me, whispering excitedly, "Reezie, let's go. Wake up. Your Mom's having the baby."
   I could barely hear my Mom's voice across the bare wood hallway and was listening acutely to my young parents shuffle quietly through the upstairs, not wanting to wake the little ones. I think Grandma had already made it to the house. I remember smelling her perfume when we walked downstairs. 

   Debbie was already there, too. She was a mid wife, but we were still headed to the hospital. We all found the bags that had been packed for a while. Dad helped Mom into the back seat of our cute little white Subaru wagon. She is petite and so she fit perfectly on the narrow bench seat. I sat on Debbie's lap in the front passenger seat. Dad drove. Dad drove like I had never seen him drive before, nor have I since.

   Now, listen. I know I am not the only person in the world
whose Dad is rarely nervous or emotional. but allow me to interject here 
that this particular January night was one of the few times in life 
when I have ever seen this man quite like this. Okay? Okay.

   We lived no more than ten minutes from Baptist hospital in Oklahoma City, and with the absence of traffic in the wee hours of the morning, one might think it would be a breeze to get there in time.

   One might think.

   We drove north west on the Expressway, zooming through nonexistent traffic and slicing the dark with our happy little emergency. I sat on Debbie's lap and did not say a word. In my mind I can remember her smell, too, and feel her long braid against my shoulder. Her lavender vinyl backpack was at our feet. Back then I thought Debbie was a wizened creature of the universe, older than I would ever be, but in truth she was just out of high school, not yet off to college in Vermont. She was wise then but very young. Perspective is a funny thing.

   We all sat stiffly in our seats because of the cold and trembled from the adrenaline. I remember giggling with Debbie and feeling so grown up and special to be allowed this chance to welcome our new family member into the world. Seeing a sibling born is something that just cannot be duplicated.

   "Joe, it's time! It's really, really time!" Mom was nearly shrieking. Now, in Dad's defense, there had already been a few false starts that holiday season. Hard contractions were a fact of daily life since Christmas, so he knew it could be another false alarm. And besides, we lived minutes away from the hospital and he was already driving like a Duke boy.

   Now, in Mom's defense, she had already given birth naturally three times in her young life. She knew what she was talking about. From my front seat perspective that night, my money was on Mom. 

   "I know, we're almost there! Hang on!" Dad was focused on the traffic lights, the stick shift, and his wife in the back seat. I cannot tell you with certainty that he was breathing.

   "No, I'm not kidding! It's really time, NOW!!!"

  "Almost there, honey!"

   "Joe, NOW! RIGHT NOW!! I mean it!"

   Dad pulled off to the center median just shy of north May avenue and hurriedly parked the Subaru. He raced around the front of the car and to the passenger side and pulled open the back door. He arrived just in time to catch his baby as Mom pushed. 

   Just in time.

   I will never for as long as I live forget the moment that Mom's guttural yelling changed over to laughter. Have you ever heard this split second syllable before? Whatever pain and panic she was feeling as we drove was instantly and permanently forgotten, as labor pain often is. Her voice was suddenly all joy and love and peace, elation and celebration in the cold cargo light of the Subaru back seat!

   Then we all started laughing, and Debbie and I hugged in the front seat. I remember staring at my beautiful Momma while twisted around, white chenille blanket slightly bloodied, tiny, messy screaming bundle on her hips. She was curling up to find her baby's face and offered the most beautiful, most consuming smile I had ever seen.

   "It's a girl!!!" Dad said shakily.

   Then I got a glimpse of the gross umbilical cord and turned back to face front.

   I remember very little after that except arriving at the emergency room drive up doors. Dad escorted Mom with the baby and nurses into the cavernous mouth of the hospital, and Debbie and I were on our own for a while.   I was only nine, after all, and very sleepy.

   Being one of the first people to see my beautiful little sister Genevieve Michelle sort of gave me the idea that she was partly mine. Helping to cuddle, change diapers, and entertain tiny siblings is one thing; witnessing that first moment of air-sucking emergence into the world is quite another. It doesn't hurt that she is perfectly adorable and loving in every way.

When I eventually returned to school 
to share the good news, 
I could not pronounce her name correctly.
So for a while my friends and teachers thought
she was named Guinevere.
Here's Guinevere a few years later
on our back yard play set. 

For many years the whole family 
called her Viva Michelle, and Mom still does.
Here's Viva Michelle holding my first born, 
Jocelyn Marie, circa 1996.
I've always thought they look a lot alike, especially as babies.
They are chatting with our great grandfather Papa Joe,
who was among other things a beekeeper.
His wife was a writer.
I should tell you their story sometime.

Gen this Christmas, all grown up and beautiful.
She is a Derby Doll in Los Angeles,
so how perfect that Mom & Dad gave her this fishnet leg lamp!!
The whole room was laughing so hard!!

   Yesterday was Viva Guinevere's first twenty-ninth birthday, and as fate would have it her lifelong best girlfriend Erin delivered a healthy little baby girl right on time, though not in the back seat of a car. What a birthday gift! What a lovely full circle life draws sometimes. Erin & Darryl, we wish you many healthy, happy years with your daughter! Gen, I love you. I always have and I always will.

   I believe deeply in the power of silent wishes and prayers, in specific blessings being honored because we speak them and ask them of the Right Source. Will you please join me in showering my little baby sister in whatever wonderful, specific little blessing you would like to see manifest in her life this year?

Sisters are Cute.
Umbilical Cords are Grody.
Happy Birthday Gen!!



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