I wrote this story four years ago but never shared it on my blog. It was a secret I had held for too long to let it go. Now is the time to tell it.
Memories can be patchy. Some incidents are clear and detailed, others are fragmented and cloudy. Sometimes it is difficult to sort out what is an actual memory and what is the result of hearing a family story told over and over. At family gatherings my adult children sometimes relate stories that are far from my recollection of the same incident. We have shared memories, but our perspectives are different.
The same is true of my childhood memories. When I get together with my brothers, someone always starts a conversation “Remember the time…” and together our collective memory can fill in all the details.
There’s one story we’ve never talked about. It was the summer before sixth grade. I was 10 years old. My brother, Leigh, was about to turn 9 and was going into fourth grade. My youngest brother was almost 4. My mother was pregnant. We didn’t have baby things. There was no crib and no baby clothes or stockpile of diapers. I remember telling my mother that she could have my baby doll’s clothes for the new baby and she told me that she didn’t need them. The neighbors held a shower for her and bought her a stroller.
One afternoon my mother walked through the kitchen with a towel between her legs. “My water broke” she told me. I had no idea what this meant. She and my father left for the hospital.
Later that afternoon I answered the phone. I remember the call because I spoke to “the marine operator.” Back in the days of rotary dial phones and party lines, a long distance call was an event, a ship to shore call was unheard of.
It was an attorney calling and I told him my mother had gone to the hospital.
Late that night I heard my father come home. I got out of bed and met him in the dark hallway. Standing in front of the linen closet by the bathroom door, I was excited to hear the news of the new baby. I remember the conversation.
“The baby died” my father said.
“What was it?”
And I went back to bed.
Later we went to the hospital to visit my mother. I had expected to go to Holy Cross Hospital not far from our house, but instead we went to a small one story building in Van Nuys and stood outside a window to talk to my mother. I don’t remember any of the conversation.
She came home several days later.
There was no funeral.
The baby was never mentioned again. I don’t know what happened to the stroller either.
Stay tuned for part 2 later this week.