Yesterday I made time for a brief visit with my grandmother before heading home from work. I felt the need to stop in and see how she was feeling about something that I thought was an incredibly big deal. Today, December 3rd is a day that has always overwhelmed me in the most amazing way.
50 years ago today she gave birth.
50 years ago today she gave birth to my father.
50 years ago today she gave birth for the last time.
My grandmother has always had the same living room set up. She has two giant comfy chairs, one for her and one for my papa, facing a couch that the parents have always sat on leaving us grandkids all over the floor. On the special days when it is just her and I, I curl up on the couch and she sits ever so quaint on her chair telling stories of the old days and pointing to the different photos that hang on the walls. On her 75th birthday, my dad and his four siblings gifted her a photo of all of them together—something that has not happened since they all lived together back in their youthful days. Now they’re all grown up with their own children, some grandchildren. I have no doubt in my mind that she looks at that photo every single day and thinks about the children she raised.
We spoke of the olden days. We spoke of how proud she was to not only raise 5 wonderful children, but to actually love them. She told me stories about her friends and how it seemed as if they weren’t the happiest being mothers. Even though she had to work to ensure food was on the table, she told me she never regretted having any of her children. She was grateful for each one and thankful to be a mother. Their age gaps worked well–she started having kids young enough to recover easily after each birth, and everyone seemed to get along in a way that kept them strong. No questions asked, they just did as they were told or needed to do. Everyone slept in the same room and took on their own responsibilities as they got older. She laughed when she thought of days where my dad learned to peel vegetables for dinner, he was no older than 5.
“If they could learn to put their toys away, they were able to help out in other ways too. They just did as they were told. Your Aunt thought your dad was a toy doll when he was a baby. He was the same size; she even brought him to show and tell once because her teacher didn’t believe he was so small.”
I don’t know how many people get this kind of one on one time to learn about the most important man in their life, but I am so thankful and so fortunate. I’ve always loved my grandmother. Losing my other grandparents at a young age has taught me to cherish her in ways I am not sure I could describe. Her stories and memories have always meant the world to me. To know who she was before I existed as a physical being is incredible.
She told me details of his birthday.
Weighing only 120 pounds, my grandmother gave birth to my dad. He was born weighing only 5 pounds 3 ounces at full term. She felt great throughout the pregnancy with no complications but he arrived as only a tiny thing.
“The part of the hospital where your dad was born isn’t there anymore. It was between the two wings, a wooden structure. The day he was born was cold. The windows were rattling and the drapes on the inside picked up on the draft. It wasn’t going to kill me to give birth. I was sure I was going to freeze to death.”
Her eyes were bouncing back and forth between me and the photos on the wall. She looked so proud to tell me about him and to know that I actually cared about what she had to say.
“He was so small when he arrived. They had to put him into an incubator because it was just so cold. Your dad’s dad wasn’t in the room. I am glad he wasn’t in the room, I don’t think he would have handled it well. Most dads didn’t handle it well back then. It was easier for them to be called in after the baby was born and we were cleaned up. I was okay with him waiting outside, women handle these kinds of things much better. Now things are different if they are able to do their research and are willing to open up and be aware that it may not be pretty. But even then, sometimes it’s just better for them to wait outside. One time when I was pregnant with your uncle, I had a mild back ache at 6:30 in the morning so I drove myself to the hospital and your dad’s dad was off work at 7:00. At 7:15 I gave birth to your uncle, he was the biggest baby I had, and then the staff called home at 7:30 to let your dad’s dad know he had another son.”
She spoke so simply, yet with such inspiration–bouncing back and forth ever so slightly between memories of each child. She had all the things she needed, guiding herself with the hospital staff, guiding herself time and time again through these life changing moments.
Many months ago she gifted me the books she used to learn about her changing body during pregnancy. The information was factual, not misguided, and most of it is still relevant to what we know about birth today. She didn’t over complicate things; she knew her body well enough to read into sensations. She birthed like a warrior.
50 years ago today, my grandmother gave birth for the last time. 50 years ago today, my grandmother gave me the greatest gift a girl could ask for. Simply, purely, the greatest gift I could have asked for.
Happy birthday Dad. You challenge me to acknowledge myself and all the things I can be, the things around me, and the steps that I need to take to find strength within vulnerability. You raised me with the ability to love to a capacity most cannot understand–sometimes I don’t even understand. You raised me to laugh, you raised me to fight for what I believe in, and most importantly you raised me to be who I wanted to be.
You were raised by a woman who let you be. You were raised in a family that worked together not because they had to, but because the value and roll of each family member was organically created. You were raised by someone that has played a motherly roll for many more people than she can remember.
And I am the luckiest human in the world because I have you both.
Happy 50th anniversary, Granny and Papa Eddie. You are so important to me and I love you both tremendously. May you continue to grow, and may we all continue to learn.
With Love, from Ficus.