Friday, November 16, 2012

Saturday's child

Inexplicably, there remains outside the Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Mo., no appropriate obelisk commemorating the birth of yours truly on November 17, 1951 – sixty-one years ago tomorrow.

The family into which I was born lived eleven miles down the road in Auxvasse (population 507 as of the 1950 census), where my father ran a general store.

November 17 fell on a Saturday, the one day of the week farm families came to town to load up on provisions. Thanksgiving was five days away, so business was sure to be extra brisk. Not wanting to miss a moment of mercantile action, my father, when my mother called the store late that morning to tell him her time had come, dispatched my 16-year-old brother to drive her to the hospital.

It was snowing. My mother, the world’s most skittish passenger under the best of circumstances, reacts to riding in a car while it's snowing as if balls of fire were falling from the sky. Her screams of terror (from the snow), pain (from the contractions), and fury (at her husband for his cavalier dismissal of her distress) made the drive miserable for my brother, who dropped her off and returned to the store, where dad put him to work. 

Around six o’clock that evening, the doctor called to inform my father I had arrived. Dad announced the news to a store full of customers. One of his clerks was wrapping sausages he tossed up in the air and let plop to the floor, declaring, “I’ll be goddamned – a boy!”

My mother, to this day, is still angry that my father didn’t drive her to the hospital and hang around the waiting room, but I understand. 

Things were different back then. Men weren’t expected to “participate” in the births of their children as were men of my generation who, after weeks of Lamaze classes, learned our role was limited to handing out ice chips wrapped in gauze while encouraging our wives to breathe “he-he-he" as they struggled to expel creatures with heads the size of cantaloupes. 

My father couldn't have done anything, other than smoke cigarettes and pace back and forth, had he gone to the hospital. So he elected to stay behind and do something useful: He worked. 

This past summer, when my brother, sister and I were cleaning out our mother’s house – she sold it after moving into assisted living -- we ran across our father’s leather-bound ledger, in which he carefully recorded each day’s receipts. On Nov. 17, 1951, Dryden's General Store rang up nearly $400. That was huge. 

After he closed up shop that night, my father drove through the snow to visit his wife and new son. 

Wish I could have been there to see his reaction as he stood there in his overcoat, hat in hand, peering through the nursery window.

Come to think of it, I was. But I don't remember a thing.


  1. Tom, you were an adorable baby. I know Ruby is so proud of you. Tell me, how many times when you were a kid did your mother say to you, "I forged through the snow scared to death just to have you, and THIS is HOW you repay me??


    1. Thanks, Carol! That's not me. I was an ugly baby. It's a stock photo. Photography hadn't been invented yet.