Grandmother was chewing her tobacco, one cheek bigger than the other. She had a spit cup in her left hand, almost like it was an appendage.
She couldn’t look at me, she had a chew on her heart tougher than the one in her mouth.
“I was there, boy, the morning you decided to come. Yep, your mother just screaming and crying, and me holding her hand. I had me six ‘uns to her one. None were fun! None of birth is easy, but it is glorious. So, ya momma pushed and pushed, sometimes praying, many times breathing and wishing it was over. She was a sweetie, but not much of a fighter you know!”
I could see the memory and pain in her face as truth, truth she needed me to know. Truth for my dying days to remember. Truth no one else would ever tell me unless God wanted to.
“It was before dawn. Light had not broken over the trees yet. I just had a feeling you were close, though Old Doc Stevens kept saying you was a ways away. Hell, I knew better. The sweat had stopped pouring off your Ma, her skin turned sort of gray, she was not breathing deep, but sort of shallow like a puppy might. When she prayed right then, I could barely make out the words. “Please God, please, no more.” Yep, that is most of what she said. She lost her grip on my hands, so I was stronger on hers. It felt at one point like she had slipped away, passed out. But, then another spasm came, and she bowed up like she was fighting the devil. I knew you were there. Nurse Eveline moved from your Ma’s side to just by her knee, and said, “Doctor, the baby is crowning! It is now!” Doc Stevens shook himself, he was tired, he took a big old breath, and said, “Well dammit, let’s have us a baby!”
“Oh, you came into the world, quiet like not a scream, not a cry. And, I thought you were stillborn, right dead! Old Doc picked you up by your bright red heels, head hanging down, and spanked that bottom. You picked up a big breath, held it, let it out, but did not scream. Instead, you reached for another breath.”
Grandmother looked at me then, without a tear in her eyes, this woman of strength and 8 decades.
“Yep, I knew right then that this was a fine one. This baby had some gaul and life. Nurse and Doc were wiping the blood and afterbirth off you, while your mother was trying to get her breath back. You had the prettiest little ears, feet, and hands. I cried seeing you, and you might know I have not shed a lot of tears in my life. I got tough way back when, and still think I got it, but you broke my heart with joy. Your ma could not help it, she was not strong, she was whimpering. I kept squeezing one hand of hers, but my other was reaching out to you. I just wanted to touch a finger or toe, stroke you hair, something, to make sure you were there.”
Grandmother took a shuddering breath to recompose herself.
“Well, ole Doc told me your Ma and you were just fine, you both would live. So, I decided I needed to find your dad and tell him!”
With this, she looked away from me, staring out through the window showing only a partial moon, passing clouds, and a few stars. It was a cold winter day, so there was a frosting on the window.
“Yep, I found him outside. He was in the parking lot, surrounded by the dark, the fire of his cigarette was what I could see. He must have smoked a lot of cigarettes as they surrounded his feet, mostly in a circle. I don’t think he moved 5 feet, though I am sure he had been pacing.”
With this, she looked up, like she had found my father’s face.
“I was happy, I giggled a little. I told him, “We have a fine baby boy, all his toes and fingers, his color is good, he is breathing on his own. He looks strong. I don’t think he has cried yet!”
She looked at her shoes now before she went on.
“Your father, my oldest son, kicked at the dirt in the parking lot and cussed. You know, he was a rooster, he did not want competition. “I wanted a girl! Not a damned boy!” he said.”
“My boy would not even look me in the eyes! He started up that old Studebaker, rammed it into reverse, and spun tires, gravel, and dirt, getting out of the parking lot. That is the last I saw of him for a few months, and of course, it was years before you saw him. What were you? Ten when you saw him? I ain’t proud of what he did, but it is the truth!”
“I went back up to your Ma as quick as I could, but she was out, her arms settled into the sheets like she was dead. I don’t think she woke up till noon that day. But, I saw you, with a few other babies, and your little arms and legs were just a going like you were swimming the Red Sea trying to catch up with Moses! The other babies were squalling, but not you.”
My Grandmother looked at me then and said,
“You had a rough start. No doubt you did. But, you came through just fine, and I held your Momma’s hand to keep her in this world! I wish my son, your father, was a better man! No doubt you do too! But, you did alright! You came through it. You still don’t squall much, and you still swim life like you are drowning, but you do fine!”
Her eyes were now boring deeply into mine.
“I hope you forgive your father someday, and try to give him some push-pull, and try to understand why he did what he did! There is no child that should be cussed coming in, all should be loved.”
Grandmother is long gone now, but I so love her for giving me truth.
The funny thing about her, as when my mother died years later, and all day well-wishers passed through the funeral home to sign the logs and say their peace, at the end when the sun was going down, it was my grandmother that would not leave my mother. She stayed with her all day, all night, and when I came in the next day, she was right there with my mother, holding her hand.
This woman full of strength, without a lot of tears living decades, stayed with a person that might have been the gentlest and weakest person my Grandmother knew.
You want the definition of strength? Of love? Respect?
I got one for you.