years ago tonight, I spent the night with Mr. and Mrs. TUBBS, while Daddy
stayed at the hospital with Mother, and we all excitedly awaited YOU.I still didn’t know how to realize that it
was REAL, somehow---that you’d be coming, though we’d talked to you and
expected you and called you by name (just the one) for ever so long.
since ladies were VERY reserved about such things, even at my age, I hadn’t
been let in on much of the progress and process, though I’d heard a lot from
other girls and their own Moms’ experiences with babies and labor and stuff.
I DO remember two of Mother’s maternity
dresses---they were absolutely beautiful, with the little stretchy panels in
the top of the skirts hiding beneath the sweep of the discreet tops.They were made by the same pattern, same
material---one in a sort of golden umber, and the other a lovely gunmetal-silvery-gray.The top of the fabric was
a soft, dull version of the color, and the other side had a bit of a gleam to
it, like fine satin.The dull side was used for the garments, and
the shiny side on the covered buttons, the cuffs of the short sleeves, and the little
strip on the slash-pocket at the hip.
clothes were popular!I can remember
that they got passed on to quite a few ladies.They were absolutely the nicest maternity clothes I’ve ever seen, and
every few years, you’d see a nice young woman wearing one of them to church or
out around town.I can also only look at it from my own
perspective---the absolutely clear memories of the night, how I spent it, even
the dishes Mrs. T. set on that shiny green formica
was a Saturday, and school was still going on, and I don’t think I went over
there too early in the day, but I WAS home.I took my stuff in a little vinyl-kind of suitcase, printed with little
boomerangs like the counters at Miss Florrie’s Caffay.It was teal and black and white, and held my
shorts and blouse and underthings and my tooth-brush, gown and robe.And though I had worn the robe
only once in my life (the night that Grandpa was laid out in his casket in the
living room, and people were coming and going all night, “sitting up”),I took it with me, because there was a MAN in
the house and he wasn’t kin to me.
think I was outside when Daddy came out and said they were headed over to the
hospital, and I remember going on in after while and getting my bath and
putting on fresh clothes to leave in.Just me at home in the daytime, and we didn’t think anything of it.
and Mrs. Tubbs and I sat on the porch---me with my book, and each of them
reading a section of the afternoon Press Scimitar, while she waited for the
timer to ding on the chicken-and-rice casserole.She had the table set so pretty, with
yellow-flowered dishes and the tea glasses had a green-and-yellow painted-on
pattern like all the juice sets of the Fifties---remember, with the matching
pitcher or juice carafe?And those
crinkly/waffley paper napkins everybody had in the little plastic bookend
thingie on the table.
BUT---MY iced tea spoon was yellow GLASS, and the
handle was a STRAW---just the neatest thing I could imagine.And though I didn’t use sugar in my tea (none
of us did), I stirred and sipped and smelled the slice of lemon sitting
sidesaddle on that pretty glass.We had
the chicken casserole and also for the only time in my life, I had sat at the
kitchen table and shelled English peas while the cook tended to other
things.I saw that scene in movies over
and over through the years, but nobody we knew ever sat and shelled stuff five
minutes before they were about to sit down.At least it seemed like five minutes those peas stayed in that little
Revere-Ware pot---they were still a pretty green when she served them (though
she DID use Mother’s “creamed carrots” recipe and poured a hearty glug of Pet
Milk into the peas and shook them around a minute before pouring them intothe bowl).
made pretty pear salads with cottage cheese and a cherry on top, on a little separate plate,
and the whole thing was so elegant, I just wanted to fix up every meal like
that---maybe that’s partly where my Martha-gene kicked in (and which is
almost flickered out, though if Sweetpea or Caro get going, we really get into the spirit of it).
was still way daylight when we finished, and I helped her wash the dishes
before we went into the living room to watch TV.And at ten o’clock, she and I got intoour gowns and robesand went back to the TV---she with her jar of
cold cream, a bath rag,and a little
bowl of ice water.She sat there with
her legs tucked up beside her on her end of the couch and rubbed the cream for
a while all over her face, then kept dipping the cloth in the ice water and
wringing it out, as she scrubbed off all the cream and makeup.Along with all her eyebrows and
lashes---when I looked over at her, I was startled to see that her face looked
so NAKED.Her brows must have been one
hair thick, all across, for they had the appearance of one of those Lothario
mustaches in the cartoons---you know the tiny little rim on John Waters’ lip?When she’d scrubbed off all the
daintily-arched pencil, she looked like a slick Goldsmith’s mannequin, and I
tried not to stare.Without her glasses
and earrings and lipstick and most of the topography of her face, I hardly knew
LATE MOVIE was the original Black and White version ofD.O.A. with EdmundO’Brien, and despite the filmnoir of it, and
the deep, gripping who-dun-it-and-why, I was simply mesmerized.
must have lasted past midnight, but Mrs. T. was different, somehow, from most
family people---it didn’t seem to bother her or hinder her bedtime;she was still sitting there with whatever
came on next, when I’d gone into the spare room to bed.
all during that visit and the night, I’d suddenly get this little bubble of
happy anticipation in my stomach---like the times when I’d been invited to go
to the fair next day with someone, and could hardly wait for morning.Something extremely GOOD was about to happen,
and I could hardly sleep for the little thrill-pangs.I slept, we had breakfast (coffee with
cinnamon in it, and that squeezy-bag butter that I always wanted to smush
around and mix just once, on the toast).
Daddy came and told
me “You’ve got a little SISTER over yonder,” and I went to meet you for the
first time.Mother was still drowsy
(ladies stayed 10 days or so in the hospital, or at least went home with a
hired “nurse” to look after them) and you were right there by the bed in a
little tall metal crib. I
walked over and looked in, and I swear you looked right at me---your little
golden dandelion floof of hair shining and such a sweet little face.Oh, if we could imagine at beginnings, how
momentous and wonderful the living of a thing is going to be, we’d either flub
it up by grabbing at it with both hands and holding it too tight, or we’d be
struck dumb by the import and the responsibility and the sheer wonder of it
I didn’t hesitate a second.I picked
you up and saw those huge
brown eyes looking up at me, and you were MINE from then on.
BIRTHDAY, MY DARLIN’ GIRL---I CAN’T IMAGINE A BETTER PRESENT THAN YOU.