Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Just Wondering

The older I get, the more I think about things. All kinds of things. Don't we all do that though?

I think a lot about how the roads I've traveled over the years have landed me where I am today -actually, today I am in the same house (just a different room at the moment) as I was 64 years ago on this very date. How many of you were born at home? And how many of you still live in the same town where you were born? How many of you still live in the same house where you were born, for that matter?

Yep, I was born in this old house 64 years ago this morning!

But something I have thought of more and more recently is what thoughts may have been going through my Mom's mind 64 years ago this morning. Having had three children myself and now, being the very proud grandma to three more children, I'm not referring to the thoughts a woman has when in labor under what folks would call "normal" circumstances. I know when my oldest was born I have no recollection of anything from about 4 in the afternoon until shortly after 9:30 p.m. when she was born because they gave me medications to knock me out. When my son was born, all I remember about that delivery is that everything the doctor or the nurses told me to do, initially, I did the exact opposite. "Bear down" they said and I grabbed the bedrail and lifted myself up (or tried to do that.) "Don't push yet" and I did the reverse. Some would say that's maybe the story of my life right there -always do the opposite of what people tell you to do though, so I guess that's no big surprise. And with the youngest, who arrived within 20 minutes after we got to the hospital, I didn't really have time to "think" about anything at all -other than wondering where the heck the doctor was. Seems as Mandy was entering the world, my doctor was running up the back steps of the hospital, trying to get there in time to welcome her in the regular manner pertaining to delivery. They had a race I guess to see who would make it into the delivery room first and Mandy won!

My Mom had told me a little bit about what happened when I was born but it never dawned on me to ask her what she thought about during that time span.

The evening, prior to my birth, Mom and my grandparents (her parents) had gone to the hospital to visit my Dad. I don't know how long he'd been a patient at the hospital but I know he'd had two surgeries between July or August sometime and October -neither of which had been successful. It had been determined apparently via the first surgery that he had cancer -of the stomach -and though Mom never spoke much to me about his illness -the diagnosis, surgeries, etc., -apparently from what she had said, the second surgery was such that the incision never healed at all. That, plus the fact that back in those days, a diagnosis of cancer was usually considered to be a death sentence to begin with so I would imagine the last two months prior to my birth, most likely both my parents were aware that my Dad wouldn't be around much longer.

But that night, about 8 p.m., Mom said that her water broke there in the room as she stood by my Dad's hospital bed. I recall when Mom told me about this, she spoke very calmly and matter of factly about this as well as the rest of the events of that night. And knowing her, I can picture that as she wasn't one to get rattled all that easily. Maybe it was her own training as she was a registered nurse and was conditioned to stay calm. Or who knows, maybe it was just her nature too. But anyway, she said after that happened, she and my grandparents left to come home but along the way, they had other stops to make.

First, Mom drove to the home of my Dad's sister -my Aunt Lizzie -to tell her she was going into labor and on her way home. Why do that? Well, as I understand it, my Dad's family was keeping a vigil of sorts and that every night while my Dad was in the hospital, someone -one of his sisters or brothers -came to the hospital and stayed with him if Mom wasn't going to be able to be there. So Aunt Lizzie then apparently went out to the hospital to stay by my Dad's side until they received word of my arrival.

After leaving my Aunt's house, Mom stopped in Morrisdale -a small town along the route home -to leave word there for the doctor that she was in labor. Doctor James Cornely was the family physician and she needed to get word to him the best way possible -in person -since there was no telephone in the house here at that time either. After leaving Dr. Cornely's office, she then drove to the home of her best friend from her days in Nurse's Training at Philipsburg State Hospital to tell her too because this friend was to come and be with her, take care of her and of course, of me, once I arrived into the world. After talking to Irene McKinney Lucas and making their final arrangements, Mom and my grandparents finally arrived back home.

And, in the true tradition of the Swedes they were, what did they do then? Well, they made a pot of coffee, sliced some homemade bread Grandma had baked, along with some cheese too, and sat down and ate!

When Mom related those events to me many years ago (she's been gone for 29 years, this week, as a matter of fact,) I remember laughing at her when she told me about the coffee and late night "meal" she and my grandparents had. Gee, when I had my first child, the doctor had told me to NOT eat anything at all once I went into labor and here she was, eating bread and cheese, drinking coffee -and who knows what else might have been in the fridge or cupboards that Grandma might have brought out to munch on then too -maybe something leftover from supper, most likely though, some kind of sweets went out on the table -cake, pie or maybe cookies. Since this happened on a Saturday night, odds are that there was either cake or fresh pie that Grandma had baked earlier that day because Friday and Saturday, she always baked bread and some kind of dessert too.

Mom said that although her water broke around 8 p.m., she didn't start having contractions until about 10 p.m. and that she was in labor then for roughly 8 hours. During that time, she said she walked around the bed -pacing back and forth -which she attributed to the relative shortness of her labor. Sure was a lot shorter time span for her than it was for me with my first! I went into labor at 6 a.m. and Carrie was 15 hours working her way out! And Mom always said after Carrie was born that had they let me walk while in labor, she was sure it would have hurried things up a bit. However, knowing what I know today about that daughter, I doubt that would have worked. Carrie, as all of us in the family know and joke about -tease her all the time about this -is the "late" child! I say she was a week late arriving into the world and she's been late for most everything, ever since too!

But the thing is here, I've really been wondering lately what thoughts might have been going through my Mom's mind as she was walking, pacing, working through the pain that way, about this child about to arrive that she had to have known then she would be raising alone.

Did she think about how she and I would survive without my Dad? Did she think about where she and I would live? She'd been staying with her parents here since July or August that summer when she and my Dad moved back here from Niagara Falls for the initial surgery and had the surgery been successful, would they have stayed here or would they have gone back to Niagara Falls? Did she think about maybe returning there when I was a little older then? Seven years later, she did in fact go back to Niagara Falls and worked there for about 15-16 months, living with her younger sister and her husband but I wonder if that thought may have crossed her mind back on that day, 64 years ago.

I know she certainly was not the first, nor was she the only woman to give birth under circumstances similar to hers. How many women during the 40's had children and the father never knew about the child at all because he was serving somewhere in Europe or the Pacific with the armed services during the war and didn't survive to return home? But what thoughts would cross one's mind knowing that with bringing one life into the world, there would also be an exchange -or in many cases, had already been such an exchange -of another life, one that would have been such an important part of the newborn's existence -would not be there to watch the child grow?

Unlike so many other children born during the war years, my Dad did have the opportunity to see me -once. When I was ten days old, Mom took me into the hospital so he could see me -his only child, his daughter. And seven days later, he died.

I can't begin to fathom all the emotion that must have been deep within my Mom during those days -the last two months before I was born and the first months after my birth too. Although she and my Dad had dated for somewhere close to ten years before they married, they had only been married for 14 months when he died. When I was a child, I used to ask Mom why they had waited so long to marry because I felt if they had married sooner, I could have had what I wanted more than anything -a brother or a sister! Mom had always said my Dad felt he couldn't marry until he was sure his Mother and youngest sister were taken care of -that my Aunt was finished with college and teaching so there would be someone then who would take over to see to my Grammy -his mother.

If Mom and I hadn't stayed here -with her parents, in this house -I doubt I would have the feelings I have today about this old house and how much it means to me.

It's funny too because a cousin of mine who is three days younger than me and I have often talked about our memories of our grandparents and you see, I was always "Grandpa's Girl." I was very attached to him, adored him in fact and my cousin - well, not so much. Over the past 9-10 years -since I got my first computer and that cousin and I began communicating frequently via e-mails and instant messenger -he confessed to me that he was always very afraid of Grandpa, thought he was "mean." I was shocked when he said that to me as to me, our Grandfather was so soft-spoken, so sweet -never raised a hand to me and no one had better lay a hand on me either was his way -so thinking of him as "mean" was just totally out of my realm.

I remember too when Grandpa died and they had him laid out here in the house -in the living room. And all my aunts, uncles and cousins were here so figuring out where everyone would sleep was a bit of a problem. My younger uncle and his wife had taken their children over to her Mother's home in Altoona so that took care of four small children. But that still left 7 other children, plus Mom's brothers and sisters and their spouses, my grandmother and her older sister from Erie, who had come to be with Grandma -for a total then of 13 adults to find a place for all to sleep. A few went to our neighbors across the road -I think that dropped the total down to 9 adults and 7 children -still a lot to bed down in a house with three double beds, a sofa in the living room and an old couch in the sunporch that folded out to a double bed. I do remember my Mom had decided that this cousin -the one my age -and I could sleep on the living room floor, directly in front of our Grandfather's casket. I wasn't very keen on that idea and thankfully, my one uncle (Ralph) spoke up and told Mom she couldn't make me do that so I lucked out and got to sleep in my Grandparents room, between Grandma and her sister, Aunt Selma! But my cousin, Ray -not so lucky, as he ended up on the living room floor, and yes, you guessed it, in front of the casket of the man he had been terrified of for the 12 years of his life!

But that way my Mom -her way of thinking -that there was nothing "wrong" with a child sleeping on the floor in front of the casket of a grandparent -whether it was the kid who adored him, worshipped the ground the man had walked on or a grandchild who had been pretty much scared to death of his grandfather!

My Mom was all about "you just do what you have to do" and don't ask questions about the ifs, whys and whats of any given situation and I suppose, as stoic as she usually was, that was how she was thinking the morning I was born and for the rest of her life too.

Now, I wonder what will happen with my kids, and especially with my grandkids, when I am no longer here. But mostly when I think of that aspect, I wonder more in terms of what will each of them be like, how their lives will fare out for them. Will Alexander go to college, marry, have children too? Will he stay close to his Aunt and Uncle and cousins? What will happen with Maya and Kurtis? Will they grow to be adults who will be able to fend for themselves? I think that is the aspect I worry about the most -Kurtis and Maya -that is. Alex, I think is going to be one terrific young man some day -in the not too distant future too, come to think of it! Maya, if things keep going the way they have been, should be okay too. And Kurtis -well he's too small, too young and hasn't made that much progress as yet to really think that far down the road but still, I worry about him and whether he will eventually be self-reliant.

However, I'm optimistic about him and tell myself daily that he will be fine. Whether he grows up able to live independantly or not, he will be fine.

Because I'm sure there will always be someone -his parents or siblings or his aunt and uncle -to see to that!

And God will take care of that!

Doesn't HE always?


Dave said...

Happy Birthday!

janeywan said...

Well happy happy birthday!

Dianne said...

Happy Birthday!!

terri said...

Happy Birthday, Jeni!

I love your "family" posts. I like being able to see "Memory Lane" through your eyes, reading about the way things were in years past. You have such a strong sense of family. I don't think you need to worry about your grandkids. You will instill in all of your kids and grandkids alike, the importance of relying on each other and they will all do just fine.

Vic Grace said...

Happy Birthday Jeni. A sad but inspiring post too. Your Mom must have been a strong woman and how wonderful to have the family all around.

Debo Blue said...

I didn't know whether to cry or just keep reading, so I kept reading.

Like Terri wrote, I love that your words paint the pictures for us. I can "see" your mom walking in that small room, her feet shuffling on the wooden floor waiting for the living memory of her husband to be born.

I know I said it yesterday but again, Happy Birthday Jeni.

Mary said...


I hope you had a wonderful birthday. How wonderful that you are still living in the same house as you were born in. That is something that doesn't happen much anymore.

I enjoyed reading about your childhood and your thoughts about Maya and Kurtis. I know that Brandon will someday be able to fend for himself, but worry about his meltdowns which don't happen often, but do happen. I wonder who will console him and help him out when things are stressful.

Thank you for an enjoyable read about your family. I enjoyed it.