I have decided to repost the following for my daughter Carrie Ann’s birthday today. I hope you all enjoy: The most beautiful gift that I have ever received was given to me several decades ago for Mothers’ Day. To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting anything beyond that which I had already been given. There […]
I have decided to repost the following for my daughter Carrie Ann’s birthday today. I hope you all enjoy:
The most beautiful gift that I have ever received was given to me several decades ago for Mothers’ Day. To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting anything beyond that which I had already been given. There was the crayon- scribbled picture from my two-year old son, Steven, taped to the water-glass full of stubby-stemmed dandelions partially submerged in the cloudy water, displayed proudly on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. There was also the box of chocolates from my husband Rolly by the bedside, where it had already been opened and indulged in by all three of us before 8:00 AM. (This was well before my anti chocolate “Rah! Rah! Carob!” child-rearing attempts.)
We had decided that we were not going to be excessive in our gift giving to one another because of the tightness of our budget. The fact is, we were in “subsidized housing.” (parent subsidized.) We were living in a little farm-house on a second farm which my parents had recently purchased. It adjoined the home farm and gave them some additional crop-growing acreage.
Later in the morning, I hopefully planted a colourful paper packet of peas and another of string beans in the soft sandy soil out behind the tall red-painted shed. Moving slowly along on my hands and knees I carefully placed each seed into my straight shallow trenches. Meanwhile, Steven gradually moved from in front of me…. to beside me… to behind me, with his small collection of dinky toys. Glancing backwards, I realized that the straight rows were now intersected by other curving ridges and roads. Many of the bean seeds were now loaded on to a tiny truck and, here and there, strewn into newly created ditches! “Growing things sometimes requires a lot of creativity.” I thought, as I sighed loudly. A cascade of pear blossoms fluttered down from the tall tree nearby as if in response.
In mid afternoon we put on our Sunday best. I only had one dress that actually fit me at the time, but it was a pretty one that my Mom had bought for me several months before and I felt great in it. We headed around the corner to Mom and Dad’s where all my siblings pampered me and waited on me hand and foot. Apart from our own mother, who had given birth to all eight of us, I was the only other Mom present. By five o’clock we were all sitting down to a full course turkey dinner with all the trimmings. It was topped off by my sister Marsha’s specialty–Red Devil’s Food Cake with Boiled Meringue Icing. We all crowned our portions with generous scoops of vanilla or chocolate ice-cream.
At six o’clock, as I was enjoying that last bite of cake, I felt something quite peculiar. Nothing painful, just a ping, a wee bit like a garter had just broken and snapped loose…except it was in entirely the wrong place for that! I was a bit shocked and decided that this would be a good time to bolt from the kitchen table and run up the stairs to check out the situation. As it turned out, that was exactly the right response. By the time I reached the bathroom door I was within arm’s reach of the bath towels needed to mop up the puddle. My water had broken! Because I had not experienced that prior warning “ping” when Steven was born, and I was still a few weeks from my due date, I had not at first realized what was happening. Over the din of dinner hour I was finally able to get someone’s attention with my “Hey! … Hey! … Hey! … Someone! … Please send Rolly up here! … OK? ”
Within two minutes I was en route to hospital and making jokes about how this wasn’t really Mothers’ Day anymore, but Labour Day. I did insist, though, on a quick stop at home first because I wanted to remove my mascara. “You don’t want me to look like a racoon afterwards, do you?” I pleaded with Rolly. As I wasn’t in any pain, he indulged me. While it was true that the nurses had brought me my lunch on the day that Steven was born (after they told me that my baby wasn’t going to come along for hours and hours) and then he was born one and a half hours later, I still felt no need to hurry. When we got to the hospital, after the fifteen minute ride, I was excited, but not stressed. That, however, would soon change.
The walk from the side parking lot of the hospital to the door was no different than any other Sunday stroll until we went through the “Doctors’ Door”.
“You can’t come in that way! That’s the Doctors’ Door!” a bossy nurse loudly chided.
“My wife is in labour!” my normally quiet husband shouted.
Suddenly the nurse was all sunlight and sweetness, as she gently assisted me into a wheel chair and took me to a room to change into the blue gown and slippers hospital wear. She sent my husband in the opposite direction, as this event took place in that pre husband-involvement era of child-birth. As I was still experiencing no pain, she left me to disrobe privately. True, there was a little pressure, but no discomfort. Just as I was bending down to take off my sandals, and debating over whether I should sit down on the plastic chair provided (I still had my twenty- one year old farm girl’s strength and flexibility even while pregnant) something unexpected happened!
“Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!” I yelled.
As the door flew open it was not necessary to say more, because clearly visible to her, as it was to me, the umbilical cord had dropped out! More shouting! This time from the nurse to someone in the hall to summon the doctor. She then dropped to her knees and seemed to make an attempt to try too put everything back in place. Unfortunately, she was met with a little protruding foot. More shouting, and a gurney arrived. Then, somehow two nurses helped me to climb up on top of it.
“We need you to stand on your head!” one of them said excitedly.
“She’s kidding!”, I thought. But then they tested out my twenty-one year old body’s capacity for movement while pregnant as well as extremely stressed. I was certainly not lying down, as in the typical TV hospital scene, as I clattered along the hallway but, rather, in something like a downward dog yoga position!
Rolly was nowhere to be seen, still signing papers to admit me when those requesting consent for an emergency C-section to try to save our baby’s life were suddenly handed to him. Just in front of the operating room doors, the surgeon came jogging up alongside. “Is everything going to be OK?” I asked him plaintively.
“We’ll have to wait and see”, he answered. I remember praying from that point forward, until they put a mask on my face and asked me to count backwards from ten.
“Ten, nine, eight” is all I remember. Then I woke again… immediately… (or so I thought). But by then it was already dark outside and in the middle of a thunderstorm. Rolly was holding my hand, and he had his head resting on the bed next to me. I told him, ” I think I was dreaming. In my dream I was choking , and I was throwing up. Someone was pushing something into my throat and hurting me.”
I wasn’t sure of where I was or why. Then I realized by the terrible taste in my mouth and the unpleasant state of the long locks of hair near my face that what I had at first thought was a bad dream had not been a dream at all.
“We have a baby girl!’ he said reacquainting me with the reason why I was lying in a hospital bed at all.
“Is she OK?” I asked tremulously, “Because, they said they were afraid the cord might be wrapped around her neck! They tried to get me to stand on my head to keep her safe.”
“She’s perfect. She’s beautiful.” he said …. and we both cried. “Shall we call her Sheri like we planned?” he asked.
I gave it the briefest consideration and then said “No. Let’s call her “Carrie” after the street she was almost born on, the street in front of the hospital. And let’s give her the second name Ann after my sister Marsha Ann. That’s a really pretty combination.”…. and so we did….. and she is the most beautiful Mothers’ Day gift I was ever given, because our God is so very good.
The woeful sound rose in the crisp early morning air, strengthening in volume as it grew from a cry to a wail, as I approached the driveway from the back yard.
I hurriedly passed under the overhang of the workshop, en-route, and then rounded the corner. From there I could both hear and observe the struggle going on—“No Mummy! No! I wanna go home! I don’t wanna get out! I don’t want you to go to work! I wanna go home!”
“But Ethan, you have to get out. Mummy has to go to work. You need to cooperate!” Apparently, the negotiations had already been going on for some time—but to no avail.
Ethan, my heart’s delight, my three-year-old great-nephew, whom I am privileged to babysit on Thursdays, had apparently dug in his heels (if there was any place on his car seat that he could possibly have dug them into.) If he wasn’t physically doing that, then it must simply have been the power of his will that held him there. He was immovable, determined, anchored— a beautiful, lovable, but, nevertheless, stubborn little linebacker, firmly holding his ground against his strong young mother, his determined old aunty, and the ticking of the clock. Sadly, the latter waits for no man— or in this case, no little man.
I had heard that this stubborn streak existed in Ethan, and that it had occasionally emerged in the past, but I believed, until then, that surely it was an exaggeration. I had never witnessed it before. This incident put me in mind of my own son, forty years earlier. When he started kindergarten, for three mornings in a row, he wrapped his arms tightly around the light standard on the corner near our house, and refused to be dragged away from it. This memory seemed like eons ago until that very moment with Ethan. Strangely, it brought back that same mother’s pain.
With one of us pushing Ethan forward from behind, and one of us pulling from in front, we finally dislodged him from his seat. Realizing that he was defeated, he tearfully turned himself away from us, put a knee down onto the carpet and backed himself slowly out and onto the gravel driveway.
His mummy then kissed him, and hugged him, and reassured him lovingly of her imminent return, but his persistent sobs prevented anything he tried to say to her from being understood. Finally, he took my hand— tears still streaming down his face.
We waved goodbye together and I quickly turned with him, to preempt him from having any last-minute thoughts of running towards his mother’s car as she backed it out of the driveway. “Aah! Poor Mummy,” I thought.”I know how you feel.”
I decided we would stop and snuggle on the garden bench, against the wall, under the shop overhang, on the way to the house. Maybe I would be able to decipher then what it was he was trying to say, amidst those gasping little sobs.
My own heart was pounding with both empathy and exhaustion as I seated myself. He snuggled in close as I reached towards him to wipe away a big tear rolling towards his chin.
Suddenly— Boom!— Siri, our family’s big golden retriever, bounded up from the backyard and leaped right up onto the bench, positioning herself on her haunches, right next to Ethan. Like a loving mother dog she began licking his face with great enthusiasm.
“Siri’s kissing me! Siri’s kissing me!” Ethan cried. And, for all intents and purposes, I do believe she was!
For some reason, in my belief that words are important, that words can solve everything, I had just been out-manoeuvred in my attempt at communicating— by a dog! Siri had let Ethan know all that he needed to know, without asking a single question, or waiting for a single answer—“Everything’s gonna be alright!”
Could it be that Siri remembered the pain of being separated from her own mother when she left that big barn on the farm where she had been raised?
Or was it just in her nature to be loving towards this little boy, who has been patiently trying to teach her to obey him, with his commands of “Sit! Siri, sit!” or “Up! Siri, up!” and his handful of dog treats that he asks us for the moment that he sees her?
Or perhaps this was simply something that I like to call a “God moment”— a moment when God puts whatever is necessary for us into our path, just when we need it the most.
Whatever it was, it was beautiful.
There is nothing more precious than the snuggling-in and holding-on kind of hug a three-year-old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain out of the blue.
Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his— a game he always delights in.
And then, I had willingly taken a seat on the too-small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared— somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.
Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table— a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway— collected for Daddy.
A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!”. This he accompanied with the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together beneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed their other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier— all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.
We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and berm around the three acre yard with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest my perpetual “dirty rascal” position, even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands while teetering four feet off the ground on slippery granite, his chubby little fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own.
Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all, but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
For a few minutes today I had a total out-of-body experience. While that was happening I was lying on the floor in the middle of the living room, inhabiting another body altogether. The thing was, my living room no longer looked like my living room at all either. I am usually such a “place for everything and everything in its place” kind of person, whereas this room was the total opposite.
The beautiful tree-embroidered throw pillows that I had taken so long shopping for, until unexpectedly finding them in a high-end consignment shop, the perfectly coordinated quilted ones that my daughter had just given me, and the two costly coverlets that were also treasured gifts, were all jumbled up on the floor in a tussle. Mixed in to the muddle was a scattering of multi-coloured stuffed toys, some worn-out crocheted throws that had seen better days, and the most special component of all— my little nephew Ethan’s treasured “blanky”.
I was no longer “Aunt Vonnie”. By some amazing feat I had somehow become a bird! A bird, not only in Ethan’s imagination, but amazingly, in my own as well. I had by some unaccountable surrender of my will become a rather large miracle of totally unexpected, late-in-life, fowl fertility!
The last thing I remember of my human existence before that fowl transformation was pecking away on my computer keyboard where I had only moments before— or at least I think it was only moments— been showing Ethan pictures, on face book, of all of his aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Then he got down off his chair and started playing away on the floor, behind me. I decided to answer a few emails, and the next thing I knew, I was being summoned.
“You, lay down here, Aunt Vonnie! You are a bird; dis is your nest. Now, you get in de nest! You are de Mummy bird!.” That’s when I turned around and caught my first glimpse of the newly constructed “nest”. It was a work of art! It was all that a three year-old’s beautiful mind would imagine a nest to be. It was…………..um……. it was um…..well…. After the shock of how much my living room had changed in what felt to me like all of thirty seconds, it was delightful!
I did as I was told. I lowered my rather inflexible creaky-kneed self to the floor ungracefully, and rolled myself into the nest. After that Ethan shoved the walls in around my awkwardly large form, patiently restacking pillows, and repositioning blanket mounds to form a rather free-form nest, shaped a lot like a giant amoeba. Then, suddenly, he put his finger to his lips and said excitedly, “Shh! I hear peeping!…. It’s pecking!…Peep! Peep! Peep!”…… “It’s pecking! It’s getting out! Your baby is getting out!”
All at once, he handed me his stuffed doggy and said “Here it is! “Here is your baby bird!” I giggled under my breath. Apparently this was a rather near-sighted bird mid-wife who had come to my aid! What a “Switched at Birth” story this would make in Birdsweek magazine!
Just then, Ethan suddenly decided to become a mother bird himself. He squatted down and began to do what he thought would be the appropriate sound effects to accompany the laying of an egg…. a really LARGE egg by the sounds of it. Finally, he turned to me and said (as kindly as could be expected of any future bird-mother during a difficult labour, under rather over-crowded circumstances) “Aunt Vonnie, Get out of my nest! You are not a bird anymore!”
And so I cooperated. I surrendered my warm and cozy abode to someone who needed it more.
There is nothing more precious than the snuggling in and holding on tight kind of hug a three-year old will sometimes give when it comes unsought for, unrequested, just plain right out of the blue.
Sure, we had been playing hard outside all afternoon together, what with racing back and forth in the bright sunshine across the brown lawn, as he gleefully stepped on my poor slow shadow’s head numerous times to my once on his, a game he always delights in.
And then I had willingly taken a seat on the too small bench at the window of his pretend hamburger joint, a little playhouse under a backyard spruce tree. I “enjoyed” with gusto the takeout fries and burger he prepared, somehow magically transformed from the pieces of cedar mulch and the dried out pine cones he hurriedly gathered for my order.
Later he picked a fist-full of yellow miniature daffodils, and nodding Snowdrops and placed them on a crumb-covered plate on the patio table — a gift for Mummy. Next to it was a scattering of small coloured stones from the driveway, collected for Daddy.
A screeching flock of black grackles dispersed in a flapping rush at the sound of his shouts of “Go! Go! Go!” accompanying the clatter of two old dented cake tins that he banged together underneath the locust tree each time the birds returned. The bespattered backyard deck, under the tree’s budding branches, revealed the noisy grackles other annoying habit, and he did not want them to mess on the table where his treasures lay. Beside those lay the pile of coloured paper clips and magnets he had abandoned there earlier —all but the red ones, his favourites, which were protruding from the cracks between the deck boards under his chair, next to his yellow bulldozer.
We capped the afternoon with a game of King of the Castle played on every boulder and landscaped berm around the three acre yard, with me doing all of the boosting up and him doing all of the boasting down: “I’m de King of de castle! You’re de dirty rascal!” I chose not to protest the unfairness of my perpetual “dirty rascal” position even as he clung tightly to my uplifted hands, while teetering four feet off the ground on a slippery granite rock, his chubby fingers drawn into tight little fists around my own bent ones.
Looking up into his laughing eyes, as he looked down at me from his elevated position, I said to him “You know Ethan, you are growing bigger and bigger every day. One day when you are all grown up you will be as big as this all of the time, and then you will have to look down at your old Aunt Vonnie all of the time.” Just then he let go of my fingers and bent down a little to get his arms around me. He snuggled in close and gave me a hug so tight it practically took my breath away. Or perhaps it was not really so very tight at all; but it had the same effect. I realized then, that I had just experienced one of life’s unforgettable moments. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I love to write and I have taken great joy in putting pen to paper since my early childhood. Perhaps I should say that in those days, in the Fifties, it was, at first, a big, fat, red carpenter’s pencil, stubby and flat-sided, and the paper was usually old paper grocery bags, the insides of empty cereal boxes, or anything else that was of little value. (I learned by bitter experience that wallpaper doesn’t fall into that category.) That first pencil, I “borrowed” from my father, who often kept one tucked behind his ear as he worked out measurements or put down marks where he wanted to saw next, whenever he was working on a project. God provided fathers with ears, not just to hear, I’m sure, but also to keep them from cursing at their children. Where else would that pencil be safe from covetous little fingers? Well, in truth, my dad was not a cursing man anyway, but just to be on the safe side he still kept his pencil there.
Once I arrived on the scene, there were two kids in our family; but by the time I married and moved out of the house, there were eight. In large families, it is always difficult to maintain ownership of any of your things for very long. A favorite doll gets quickly adopted by a little sister (if it doesn’t lose an arm or a leg in the transaction); that first bottle of “grown-up” perfume becomes an everlasting drawer-scent in a dresser —soon destined for an unappreciative brother’s use. Unfortunately with another little bed, moved into your room, it just takes up too much space. Your most treasured books end up as a pile of scissors’ fodder ( even for blunt-tipped ones, no less!) Dresses are inevitably borrowed, unasked, or even shortened, unasked, when a sister has a “really important occasion”, and the family’s finances are tight. “Lost” “snagged” “ripped” “gouged” “broken” “stained” “spilled” and “run-over”— these words are the true driving force behind a child becoming a writer. When you are young, your writing is just about the only thing that nobody else attempts to lay claim to. It is the only thing that is truly your own.
So it was, that my love of writing evolved. I moved on to thinner, longer, yellow pencils, of course, to ancient nib pens for learning perfect handwriting “the old fashioned way”, in a one-room schoolhouse with a crotchety teacher; to refillable fountain pens with blue, black, or turquoise ink; to ballpoints; to fine-tip markers and then eventually the computer keyboard. Perhaps you noticed that I left “typewriter” off my list… a deliberate shunning, actually.
My first attempt at learning to type was in Grade Ten; I was anxious and uncoordinated from the outset. It didn’t help that I was two weeks late starting classes— an accepted practice among farm families in the tobacco belt. Generally parents required their older kids’ help until the harvest was complete and the school boards accepted it. Although in all other subjects I quickly caught up, unfortunately, in typing I never got up to speed. Literally! On my final exam I got a humiliating 26%! When I told my parents “My fingers got jammed in the keys!” in all likelihood it was a false memory of that event; it is more likely that it was actually a panic attack. But that 26% isn’t a false memory! It still appears on an aging yellow report card, in a rusty old tin box in the back of my crawl space.
Even more traumatic than the mark was the fact that it was used to factor my academic “Final Average” for that year. This was the cause of deep mortification, and teenage angst. To this day I sometimes use it as an excuse for the throwing of plates and silverware at my siblings.(Back then, of course, not now— I’ve finally mellowed out some.)
Like me, several of my siblings love to write and, in fact, they write very well. Sometimes they write poems, and sometimes stories of shared family history. At other times it’s simply a story to make everybody laugh, or to lift someone in particular up. And some of them write in an attempt to make things better in the world at large. Each of my siblings mean so much to me that words cannot really express it. But just let one of them try to borrow one of my stories, and say that it was they who got bitten on the leg by Aunt Grace’s chihuahua, or yelled at for loudly singing a hymn in the schoolhouse bathroom, or that it was their eye that the baby robin pooped in— then plates will fly! Mark my words: Plates will fly!