Chapter 48: August 16, 1948 • Sonora ~ I was welcomed into the family two years after Mom’s first breakdown, though not by her. She didn’t want another child, she wanted out. As far as she was concerned, I was a fifth burden tacking on another 18 years to her prison sentence. Another 18 years of not wanting to be a wife or a mother, of not wanting to cook and clean and cry every day.
Just after midnight, Mom gave birth to me by optional cesarean, which was in vogue if you were wealthy; we weren’t. She wanted to have her tubes tied so Dad wouldn’t know, and Mom’s doctor was willing to do it for her; if she had it done while having a Cesarean, no one would find out. It was illegal for a doctor to perform this kind of surgery without a husband’s permission and it could have gotten them both in a lot of trouble, but he’d been my mother’s doctor for years and knew it would be the end for her if she had another child. Mom was not concerned about it being against the law or a mortal sin. She was barely hanging on to her soul as it was.
Plucked from my mother’s womb, I missed the struggle from one world to another with no heroic journey or victorious birth cry. No wonder I wonder how I got here. I was short-circuited in the beginning.
None of the other kids knew Mom was pregnant. It seemed simpler than attempting to explain, although apparently it hadn’t occurred to my parents that questions might arise. Larry was 14 and clueless. Carleen,13, found out about catechism the month before I was due. She knew you had to have sex to have a baby and she could hardly imagine her parents doing such a thing. Betty, now nine, was off climbing fences and protecting the weak but took the news in stride; I would be her next foundling. Claudia, at seven, and up until I came along, the baby of the family. She was happy about this news, but that was before she found out she wasn’t allowed to touch me.
I was born a block from our house in what had been known as the Bromley Sanitarium, a small two-story building on lower Washington Street where many Sonora babies were born. On my arrival home, Claudia, who was curious to see what I was all about, was continually told, “don’t touch the baby, don’t touch the baby,” so she didn’t have much to do with me, deciding early on that I was going to be nothin’ but trouble.
Laying me on the dark mahogany dining table to change me (I was probably about six-months-old), Carleen told Claudia to watch me, then turned to get my diapers out of the sideboard’s bottom drawer. I rolled off the table onto the floor and wailed. Claudia got slapped and hollered at for not watching me. She was watching me all right, she just wasn’t about to touch me.
She was no longer the fair-haired baby of the family, had lost her mother’s attention. She wasn’t one bit happy about any of it, including my arrival on the scene. I sucked two middle fingers on my left hand and rubbed Mom’s earlobe with my right; when Mom gave me cotton balls to rub between my fingers instead, Claudia sulked, “Mom never bought me any damn cotton balls.”
To be continued…
Catherine Sevenau is a writer, humorist, and storyteller living in Sonoma, California. The full memoir is available at Sevenau.com.