The random word generator on my computer spit out this word today: One.
We were girls, the four of us, chipping away at life in our apartment on East Bruceton Road in Pleasant Hills, PA. George had left for college, and then a two-year mission in Brazil, so it was that way for a number of years: Mom and her three little girls, the tail end of her seven children. During those years, when I pushed and pulled myself into growing-up, I read Little Women in my bed at night by the light of a bayberry candle. My book was an old hardbound copy with thick soft pages. I had bought it at the annual discarded book sale at the Pleasant Hills Library. Its age commanded I flip the switch at the end of my bed and read by the light of a candle, the means by which I imagined Louisa Alcott had written it. The act itself bound me to the women in my household somehow, though they never knew it. My bed was tucked against the wall of my bedroom, with Libby’s bed doing the same on the other side of the room. I had rigged a contraption on the wall so I could turn out the light without having to get up. It involved string and eye screws and paper clips and tape. I could light my candle, arrange my pillow and blankets under my head just so, open my book to the marked page, then reach over and pull the string, which tugged at the switch by the door down at the end of my bed. The room would shift to a box of flickering shadows and I was soon up in the attic with Jo writing the script to her next masterpiece, or racing up the stairs to Beth’s bedside, her hair all matted with sweat and that sweet little Beth-smile assuring me she would be alright.
The scent of Bayberry candle, to this day, takes me back,
My days and nights were filled with women. So when that man-creature came home from four years at Yale and two years in Italy and proceeded to steal my woman-heart, I was on unfamiliar ground. Very sweet, exhilarating ground…but rather unknown to me as a freshly graduated eighteen-year-old Mormon girl in a community of males with other beliefs. (How I did enjoy his kisses!) (Still do!)
So my four sisters dressed in those frothy pastel colored bridesmaid dresses they would never again wear in their lives (except for Ann Marie’s wedding) and I stood in the middle of them in my lacy white dress with the hoop underneath the train. My world changed.
The next year, on David’s birthday, I gave him a copy of a little paperback children’s book called, Just Me & My Dad. I had stapled to the final page a little yellow carbon-copied paper from the BYU Health Center with the word “positive” handwritten next to the place that read “pregnancy test”. Eight months later we found ourselves walking through the aisles of Grand Central, the store in Orem which no longer exists, pausing every fifteen minutes so I could cling to the edge of a shelf and breathe my way through a contraction. At 10 pm we decided to walk around the hospital just in case, trying to make it to the magic midnight hour so we wouldn’t have to pay for another day in the hospital if we didn’t need to. Dave kept track of the contractions, their length and space between them, on a yellow legal pad, the increments of time filling three columns and three separate dates. Just after midnight, on November 19th, I finally laid on crisp white sheets on a bed. I focused on a fly trapped in the casing of the light over my bed: blew on that thing like there was no tomorrow in the Lamaze fashion of the day, intensely focused on the fly as my whole body focused on the baby knocking at the door. I had decided not to have an epidural. I was still the girl who thought Little Women should be read by candlelight to get the full effect, after all. Something about the intensity of the pain made the event take on a sacredness I would never have imagined. Perhaps it was the unity of purpose. Perhaps it was the way I tried to make Dave’s hand fuse to mine, and the way he let me, whole-heartedly. Maybe it was just the stillness of the hour, when the rest of the world was sleeping. Just after 3 am there was a grunt, and a sigh, and a quivering cry in the quiet of the room. In those days we never knew what we would get. It was like Christmas morning every time. So exciting and mysterious. I wonder if kids these days are missing out because they know the gender early enough to prepare the nursery and fill the closet with appropriate attire. In those days they sold a lot more yellow and green crib sheets.
The doctor held the wailing creature by the feet and pronounced a blessing on my head when he told me I had born a son. The nurse, (my former college room mate, Beth,) wrapped a warm blanket around him and placed him on my chest. David bent over and laid his head next to our son, forming a sort of triangle between our heads. His tears fell onto my gown. My tears streaked my cheeks, one hand touching the flesh of the new little boy my body knew so well, the other clenched with David’s. All was quiet and still, save the sound of our throbbing exhales and inhales as we tried to contain in meager human bodies the divinity of what had just occurred. Bless that doctor and nurse for letting us have that moment when time stood still. I have experienced many, many sacred things in my life. Holy events, in holy places. None have matched the sweetness or depth of that moment. I still consider it the most spiritual experience of my life.
That was the pivot; the sharp tip of the compass that draws the circle of our lives seems to rest on that point in my heart. I know it should logically rest on the day Dave and I knelt at the altar, and in many ways that is the truth. But emotionally, and I suspect David would agree, the turning point was that moment in the hospital when our son pressed the seal of our union into the book of life.
We did not know, on that day, that this would be our only son. For many years we did not know this. Three more times we dipped into the valley of the shadow of death and came up with holy treasure. All three times the nurses glued pink bows in their silky hairs when they wheeled them into my room. They have become my three little girls, and I am their Marme, and I cherish their sisterhood now; grateful for their goodness, their devotion, their well developed talents and testimony. They are such a gift to me, my girls.