Heileen - Ch. 8

Chapter Eight

            December came, and with it the lights and colorful shop windows downtown.  Putting aside for once my unwillingness to move from the house, I spent a couple of afternoons walking around the streets with Trisha – and later with Paul – and enjoying a bit of social life.  Together we went to the movies, ate at one of the soda shops, met with friends, and did some shopping.  The windows were all decorated for Christmas, bulbs flashing.   Garlands hung from the walls, and wreaths from doors.   Many shops had one of those new transistor radios going, or – better yet – a brand new stereo music recorder, and I remember my favorite rock and roll songs playing alongside Christmas tunes.   It had finally snowed, and a white thin mantle covered the streets.  I was jolly and merry, and would have hopped my way around had my bulk permitted it.  
            We bought some presents for the members of the family.   There remained for me to find a gift for my husband – but what?   Upon much thought, I resolved I would make him a shirt - no small accomplishment for an unskilled teenager.  It was difficult, all right!  Not just for the actual making of it – Ann helped me a lot, as with everything.   The difficulty lay in keeping it a secret from Paul, who – luckily – was away from the house most of the time.   So I carried it with me to school – taking advantage of recess to work – and I worked at home before he came back in the evening, or at night, when my back – or my bladder – forced me to get up.  I would then sit on the sofa in our little sitting room, and concentrate on my stitching.   Broomstick would get up with me on those occasions, and curl at my feet – a very nice thing since the house was colder at night.  I had asked Trisha to buy a length of checkered woolen cloth, and had used one of Paul’s old shirts as a model.  Now I just hoped I would finish it in time.   Christmas was exactly four weeks after Thanksgiving, and I regretted not having thought about it before.  
            But before Christmas it was time for Mary Ann’s birthday.  She was born on 12 December 1957, and this was an important day for her.  It was on a Friday, so it was decided we all meet on the next Sunday at Mike and Laura’s house.   We spent the day there, arriving slightly before lunch, and staying for dinner, too.  The three grandparents fiercely contended with one another for the baby, who – of course – was more than happy to take advantage of it.   She had grown quite tall for her age, and was beginning to walk.   She would grab a chair in the living room – which was carpeted – and would push it forward, using it for balance.   In a few weeks she would certainly run around the house!   Paul and I had bought her a small rag doll that she kept carrying about and showing to people.  She didn’t talk yet, but uttered the cutest noises, that only her mother – sometimes! – understood.  To me it was like going forward in time, when it would be Wanda’s turn to scamper around the house and try to talk.  
            Preparing for Christmas meant again a lot of planning and work; three important occasions in less than five months – and all at our house – represented no small accomplishment.    The weather was cold and it snowed almost every day – although always lightly – so that it was nice to stay indoors.   And with all the cooking going on, the kitchen was warm and cozy – the windowpanes covered with steam.  Paul and Kevin decorated the Christmas tree that year.  Kevin and Frank had gone to the wood a couple of days before, and had come back with a medium size fir tree, that was now standing proudly in our sitting room.  There were plenty of bulbs and plastic globes in the attic, and I had a thing or two I had brought from my house that I wanted to hang from the tree.   And of course we had decorated the whole house, putting a wreath on the door and garlands on the windows.   Mother and Father arrived on Wednesday evening and stayed all through the weekend.   The next morning was spent in church, of course, and then the guests started coming. They were the same as the last time, except for Brenda, who would have lunch at her house with her relatives.
            Mary Ann was making steady progress, and would now scuttle around the house on her two quick legs.  She would also spend a lot of time under the tree, either tugging at the decorations, or trying to open one package or another, and had to be watched at all times.   She had woken in the morning to find a present under the tree at her house, but she knew there were more for her here, so she couldn’t – obviously – keep still.  As for us, we were as curious as she was, and we barely waited for everybody to arrive before unwrapping the presents.  That day I received a lot of things for the baby.  Mom and Dad presented us with a brand new baby carriage.   I knew it must have cost quite a lot of money, and was dumfounded.   Paul gave me a wonderful little poodle carved in wood.   Poodles were the fad of the time.  You could see them everywhere, and every girl had at least one poodle skirt – that is a skirt with an appliquéd poodle on it.  I had had one myself for a couple of years.  I wondered whether I would wear it again in the spring – or would feel it to be too frivolous for my new status.    Paul was very happy to receive his brand new shirt.  I had finished it just the day before, and I must say I was proud of myself.  Even Broomstick had his present – in the form of a bone so big he could barely lift.  With that in his mouth, he retired to a corner in the kitchen, where he happily spent the rest of the day chewing on it.
            After the opening of the presents it was time for lunch.  Ann was kept busy going back and forth from the kitchen with the dishes.  As for myself, I remember I did not feel well.   The baby had been restless all night long – making me restless as well as a consequence – and I felt strained and edgy.   Everybody could see that something was wrong, and kept asking about my health, but their kind concern was making me even more nervous, if possible.  I did not want to leave the table for fear of appearing unkind, but I knew I could not last long in that condition.   Eventually I did stand up from the table, and was accompanied by Paul to our room, where I lay down for a while.  
            Mom found me there a couple of hours later, when she came to look in on me.   I had just woken up, and was lying on the bed with my hands on my belly.  The contractions were coming and going at long intervals, and I spent the rest of the day in my room, with people going back and forth, inquiring about my welfare and giving advice.   Paul was by my side most of the time, and left me only to say goodbye to the guests.  I must admit I was taken by surprise.  Even if I knew that the baby could be born anytime now, I was not ready for it.   I guess nobody is the first time.   And the pain… If it’s true that over the years the body tends to forget how intensely painful labor can be, labor it was anyway – and a very long and slow one at that.  As time passed, I was not nervous anymore.  I just understood that things were going very slowly and relied on Mom and Ann to do what was needed.   It was a long night.   As the last of the guests departed, Paul came back to me and spent the night holding my hand. I would grasp it as the contractions arrived, and let it free again as they ceased; I must have left indentation marks on it, so hard I was squeezing, and I remember Paul complaining about the pain in the hand a few days later.    After some time I grew tired and even managed to doze off intermittently – at least I think I did.  Also Mom and Ann spent the night by my side, while their respective husbands were trying to get some rest.  Broomstick was banished from the room and kept whimpering in front of the door, which was kept shut most of the time.  We went to the hospital in the morning, when my contractions were judged close enough to one another.  By then I just hoped it would be over soon.

            Robert Thomas Bothwell was born on 26 December 1958 at 11:50 in the morning.   He had arrived a couple of weeks in advance, but was healthy and full of energy.   After all the waiting and wishing the baby were born soon, I did not feel ready to cope with it, and I must admit I even felt a bit left down – I had so much gotten used to calling him Wanda, that it was now hard to realize he was actually a boy.   His father was of course very proud of him, and could not wait for the time when he was brought to me for nursing, so that he could hold him in his arms and admire him.   What enthralled him most were his tiny feet – so small and yet so perfectly shaped.   He would remove his little socks and lose himself in contemplation.  It was difficult for me at first – my breasts were small, and so were my nipples, and it was hard for the baby to suckle.  Moreover, at first I had little milk of my own, and I hoped I would make more soon.   Baby formulas were not common – the first ones were being developed just then – and I hoped there would be no need.
            After three days we were both back home.  Mom and Dad had left the day before, with the promise to visit again as soon as possible.   Mom had spent a lot of time with me, giving all the advice she could think of, and I could see she envied Ann the privilege of being with her grandson.  Paul was a very apprehensive father.   Probably we are all so with our first child.   He would get up at night and stand over the crib to catch the baby’s breath, or would hold him and rock him long into the night after his last meal, even when I felt it was time for Bobby to lie in his crib – and for me to finally get some sleep!   We had put the crib next to our bed.  The day we had come home, I had taken Windy from its place on the shelf and had put it next to the baby.   I was a Mom now, and did not need a teddy bear anymore.  It would be his first toy.
            I recovered quickly from the birth, but was always tired.   That’s what I remember most of that period.   Even when children are good and sleep at night, they still wake you up a number of times.   They need to be fed frequently, and washed, and changed.   And you have your own life to live, and work has to be done around the house.   Even with Ann’s help, the first months were difficult. With what I hoped was the correct nutrition, I managed to produce enough milk for Robert, who was growing well and fast.   Mostly – though – I seemed to have lost all sense of time.  There never seemed to be enough hours in a day to do everything and still find time to sleep properly.  At the same time, the days – if taken one by one – all looked the same and seemed to slowly drag me along.  
            I was so taken by my new duties as a mother that I completely forgot about my birthday.  That year the tenth of January was a Saturday.   Paul had invited some friends to dinner – among them Trisha, Paula and Mark – but I thought nothing of it: maybe they just wanted to see the baby, or spend some time with us – it was a weekend night after all.  After dinner we all gathered in the sitting room in the back, where we could be closer to Robert, who was sleeping in his crib in the bedroom.   After a while Ann rose and went to the kitchen, coming back a few minutes later with the cake and seventeen candles.   I felt so grateful tears came to my eyes.   I hadn’t realized I was living just for the child and forgetting about everything else.    This instead was just for me – a seventeen-year-old girl who tented to take things a bit too seriously.
            Going back to school was very difficult. I have to admit that, were it not for Paul’s family, I would have probably dropped out.   It was a strange situation: I was a married woman and a mother, but – in most respects – remained the teenager I had been a year before.  As such I was quite subject to the will of others – notably my parents and Paul’s.   And so I went back.  I did not mind leaving the baby with Ann for a while – I knew I could trust her – but I felt as if too much was being asked of me.   I would wake up in the morning and nurse the baby, squeezing my breasts afterwards to collect some milk for the eleven o’clock feed.   I would then rush to school, come back for lunch, feed the baby again at three, do my homework, work in the house, feed the baby at seven, have dinner with Paul and the others, nap a while on the couch, feed the baby at eleven o’clock at night, go to bed, and nurse again at three in the morning. If you felt breathless just by reading the sentence, imagine how I felt! I doubt I could have made it without everybody’s help.  Paul was a very good father, and did everything to help me whenever he could, but he was there only at night, so much of the work fell on Ann.   As time passed – though – things settled into a kind of routine, and it was easier for me.   I think it is safe to say that by the end of February things had gotten definitely better.   Robert needed now to eat five times a day; in a couple of months he would soon go down to four, and then I could start to wean him.   Paul and I had lost the awkwardness that comes with inexperience, and I had learned to take things with less stress.  
            I was beginning to understand what Mother had meant by saying that only becoming a mother yourself can you understand what it means.  You have to experience it all, starting from morning sickness – going through backache and swollen ankles – to the pain of labor and the following tiredness and sleepless nights.   At the beginning I think you do it out of ignorance of the cost, and because that’s what’s always been done.   After a while – though – there grows a link with the being in you, and you don’t mind the pain anymore (well – maybe some of it!), nor the sleepless nights.   And when the biggest part of it is over, then maybe you feel ready to start it all over again.  That’s what my mother would have liked to do and couldn’t; perhaps it was going to be different with me.  I promised myself I would write her a long letter as soon as I had time, and tell it all to her.   I never finished it tough, and it never got in the mail.
            Trisha and Paula began to spend many afternoons at my house, taking turns with the baby, and helping me with the homework.   It was fun studying together – the three of us in the sitting room in the back – little Robert in his crib, and Broomstick on the floor next to him.      He had grown a lot in those few months – putting on weight and muscle – and it was hard to see in him the thin hungry puppy he had been on Thanksgiving Day.  He was very fond of his new little friend.  He would spend a lot of time next to the crib, and later – when Bobby would dangle a hand from its side – he would be there to lick it. 

            At the end of March it was finally time for us to visit my parents.   What with the work and the winter weather, they had not come back to our house anymore, and were eager to see their grandson again.   As for myself, I was more than curious to see their house.  It was, after all, the house where I would have lived had nothing happened.   So we left on Good Friday afternoon.  We planned to stay over the weekend, and come back on Monday.   I packed everything for the baby and Frank accompanied us to the bus stop in town.   It was hard to convince Broomstick that he could not come with us, and he stood for a while on the curb, looking at the leaving bus and barking furiously.  My parents’ was a nice two-story house just outside the city.   There was a small garden around it, where my mother had planted rosebushes and other flowers, and a garage in the back.   The house itself consisted of a kitchen, a large living room and a bathroom on the ground floor, and two bedrooms and another bathroom on the first floor.   We would sleep in the second bedroom, which – as it was not going to be my room after all – my parents had transformed in a small sitting room with a sofa bed.  That’s where we slept, leaving little Robert in the baby carriage next to our bed.
            My parents were delighted to see the baby, and were thrilled to see how much he had grown.   He was now three months old and was starting to smile at people.  He had the most charming smile; you could forgive him everything because of that smile, even the most restless night.  And he was good – even on the bus he had slept almost all the time in my arms.   Mom and Dad insisted we leave him with them for some time, and so we had time for ourselves, which we spent exploring the city.   The town was the seat of the University, and it attracted a lot of young people, who came to study.  That’s where Dad had started college, and Mom had had her nurse training.   We went to visit the campus, and I must say we felt attracted to it.   It was all very strange.   Until a few days before, I hardly felt like going to school and get my diploma.  Now, though, after seeing the library and the different classes – and all the young people who were staying at the campus – I understood that studying might not be the boring activity I had thought it was.  These people seemed to really have a purpose in life.  Moreover, they seemed to enjoy what they were doing.  The city itself was lively and very interesting.   There were more things young people our age could do, like going to the theater.   There were many movie theaters – not just one as in our town – and dance halls, bowling rooms, museums.  My parents told us that it was not difficult to find a job here, and that many were doing so.  I was beginning to understand that maybe they had been right in moving, and that they had wanted me to have a different perspective on life – a better one in their opinion.  They introduced us to their neighbors, many of whom were young couples with small children, and we spent time with them talking about our experiences with children.  It was very instructive.   In the evenings we would gather in the sitting room – Paul and I on the couch, Mom and Dad on the two armchairs – and we would talk about the past months.   Mom wanted to know everything about Robert: if he slept at night; how much he ate; if he had had any fever.   She encouraged me to tell her everything, reliving in tiny detail the days spent nursing and rocking him to sleep, and the nights – luckily only a few – when he had kept us awake with his crying.  Dad – on the other hand – wanted to know everything about the farm.   He had been a farmer most of his life, and now missed living in the country.   They had left less than a year before, but it felt longer to him.   Paul had to do his best to recollect the details.   Mom and Dad had kept in contact with the Tailors, of course, but it was not like running the farm themselves.   The animals had been left there – except for Champ, who had been mine to start with, and who was now living in the stable next to Pearl.   Here there wasn’t even a small patch to plant vegetables in – they had become citizens.  Of course that had been what they wanted.   Thinking about it, I wonder how I had never noticed they were planning to leave.  A move like that takes time to organize, and surely they must not have rented the house without seeing it first!   They told me they had been thinking about it for at least a year, before getting in touch with people in the city and applying for jobs.  And they had taken advantage of my weekends at Trisha’s house (now that I though about it, I had to admit I had spent quite a few nights at her house) to drive here and assess the situation.   The house hadn’t been hard to find.  The company Dad was working for had suggested the name of the owner, who had been happy to rent it out to them.  The move itself had taken quite some time, and it had been hard for them since they were working already, but the people on the farm had been of great help.   And the neighbors had helped, too.  There seemed to be a very strong relationship with the families living nearby, although they were in general of a different age.   Some of them had come in during the weekend to clean up or do some chore or other while Mom and Dad were at our house, and many had helped Dad with the little works that had to be done around the house.   All in all, they were happy with their new accommodation.   They liked the work they were doing.   Dad used to drive to work every morning, accompanying Mom to the hospital on his way.   The company he was working for was a fairly big one, and he worked together with other four colleagues in a large office.  Mom was very happy about her job; she said it made her feel useful – something that had never really happened to her.   Also, she felt somewhat in control: although she was just a nurse, she felt she could have power over disease or pain in some measure. 
            We left on Monday morning with the wish to see one another more frequently.   Frank picked us up in town, and Broomstick delightfully wagged his tail back and forth and frolicked round us in welcome.

            As the weather turned warmer Paul stopped working in town and remained on the farm again.    So he would pick me up at school, and it was common to see him and the baby waiting for me outside.   He would come with the truck, and Broomstick would ride in the back as always.   He would then put little Robert in his carriage, and walk with him for some time, while waiting for me.   They made a nice trio – the two of them and the dog.  Everybody knew them, of course, and many parents – the ones who had come to pick up the younger children – would stop and chat with him, enquiring about the baby’s health, or my progress in school.  The older students, then, would come looking for us on their way out, and stopped to say hallo to their former high-school friend and admire the child.  If we had time or were in the mood, Paul would drive to town and stop at Michael’s house.   We would have lunch there, and then drive back with little Mary Ann with us.   Other times I would be invited to Paula’s or Trisha’s house.   He would then drive me there and leave Robert with me, and would return home and work on the farm.   I would walk home from Trisha’s house in the evening, or find a ride from somebody. 
            Even the mood of the school seemed to change along with the weather.   I found myself talking to people that had snubbed me before, and even Mr. Bartlett – could you believe it? – was so kind as to let me change place in class and move closer to the front.   I was working hard to prepare for the final exams, even if my grades remained somewhat low.  Sometimes I found it hard to concentrate on a difficult lesson. On those afternoons, when it was difficult to commit any notion to mind, I would rise from the desk in our sitting room, take Robert with me and walk with him for a while around the property.   We would go visit the animals in the barn, or say hello to Dad in the field; sometimes he would even give us a ride on the tractor.   After an hour I could return to my studies with a lighter heart and greater peace of mind.  Also Mary Ann would spend more time with us. She was very fond of her cousin, and liked to stay by the crib and simply look at him.   She was walking now, and with the good weather it was nice for her to stay outside and enjoy life on the farm.   Laura would come to us for lunch or right after it, and leave her daughter with us until the evening.   That meant more work for us, because a toddler needs a lot of attention, but Ann loved it.   She was a very good grandmother.  As soon as the time was right, she started to work in her vegetable patch again, which was promising an even better yield then the years before.   She also kept herself busy with the preparation of cheese and the baking of cakes.   She had become very active in the community, and it was not uncommon to see her outside the church on Sundays selling her products for charity.   And then of course there was always the market on Saturdays.  She used to go there maybe three times a month.  A friend of her had a stall, and she was welcome to occupy a small corner of it.   The people in town appreciated her cheese and yogurts, and it was a very good occasion to chat and spend a few hours away from the house.     Robert was still too young to be kept long at the marketplace, and so I would accompany Ann, but then go back to the house.   As time passed, though, my visits to the marketplace became more frequent.  
            Paul turned eighteen in April.  The family gathered for the occasion on the porch in the evening – a very mild one for the middle of April – and enjoyed yet another of Ann’s many delicious cakes.   I was getting the hang of it myself, and would bake some on occasion, although mine would never rival with Ann’s.  Mike and Kevin were with us, of course.   Kevin and Brenda seemed to be getting all the more close to each other.  We wondered when they would announce their marriage.   Also Mark was there.   He had a new girlfriend, Sara, who never left his side and kept whispering endearments to him.   We thought she was rather too mellifluous, and judged they would not last long as a couple – he was generally very straightforward and didn’t like this kind of behavior.

            I could not wait to go back to the wood.   I was too busy now to be able to do it – what with little Robert and the school.  Moreover – although the winter had been mild, and spring was promising to be so, too – I felt it was not time yet to venture far from the house with the baby.   Later, though, when school was over and the weather warm, I promised myself I would find time for it.   I really missed the long walks I used to take; it felt good to be alone with myself and in communion with Nature.  I was sure Robert would love that too.  I felt I needed to show him the places I had known.  Sometimes, when we were alone, I would talk to him about the wood.  Of course he could not understand what I was talking about, but it was good to open my heart to him.  It’s so much easier to talk to young children; you don’t expect them to understand or give an opinion, and so you don’t feel embarrassed by what you say – your thoughts can wander, and you can let them out freely.  Wood or no wood, I could still enjoy the warmer weather, and did so whenever I could.   I would open the back door to let fresh air in, or, later, move the desk outside and do my homework there.  Ann had taken on her more work than she was supposed to, so that I could take care of Robert and study properly.  And I can’t deny I really needed that; I hardly had time for anything else as it was – I wondered how I would have managed without her. 
            And so June arrived, and, with it, the end of school and the final exams.   Later, after the years spent in building a family, I have felt somewhat guilty of my grades, which were none too flattering.  At the time, though, I was happy it was all over, and that I could go on with my life.   I was after all the wife of a farmer; what did I need good grades for?   Trisha and Paula – who had the advantage of being just teenagers – managed of course much better than I.    They were now looking forward to a well-deserved carefree summer, before they started to think seriously about their future.   They were very busy these days with their new boyfriends, and their visits became less frequent.  I must admit I resented that a bit.   I had gotten used to seeing them around the house.   They were my only source of distraction, and I missed that.   Also Robert seemed to miss them, mostly Trisha – whose presence he was very accustomed to.  Little Mary Ann, then, would frequently enquire about her – blabbering “’Isha, ‘Isha” incessantly.   Sometimes I wish I were like her – free to call out single-mindedly to my friends.

Copyright 2003-2012 Adriana Oberto

Nessun commento:

Posta un commento