Today is a pretty big day for me, because today, I turn 30. I did it – I survived!
So gather round the campfire kids, and let grandmammy tell ya about the time she gone n’ got herself birthed.
It was a relatively mild Saturday, February 11th, 1984 in “Littleville,” Québec – a small English enclave in a sea of Franco countryside, not more than 45 minutes from the New York border. “Kate” and “Ben”, a couple who had been united on and off since they were 13 and 14, respectively, had a dance to go to that night in the local school, but the day was looking pretty open.
Ben: An interesting character. History buff businessman and all-around sports player with a penchant for travel, golf, and beer. Born and bred in Montreal’s tough East End streets to a pipeline-working WWII vet and his secretary wife. Got in trouble in high school from time to time but made it through some university, a subsequent Eurotrip (including a foray into Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia), and into a decent job in Montreal with Shell Oil. Evenings and weekends were spent coaching junior hockey or playing softball with the boys.
Kate: 34 years of age. Hard worker, having held a job consistently from the time she was 16 at Henry Morgan’s, an upscale department store in downtown Montreal. She was now in the ocean shipping business in the old port – she loved her job, its fast pace, and demanding clients. She was proud of how far she had come: from government-subsidized housing with her 5 brothers and sisters in the East End of Montreal, to a new home in a jolly village, with an exorbitant mortgage rate paid for by her and her partner’s hard work. But it was the dream. They had done it.
They got pregnant. It was a perfect pregnancy, Kate having “never felt better” any other time in her life (side note: groan. Mine was not so easy).
Kate was bored. Maternity leave didn’t suit her. She had only been off work for a week or two, but she didn’t know what to do with herself anymore, not being the type to simply lay around the house. She needed action.
Around 11 or so that morning, Kate had an idea. Turning to her husband, who was always game for social outings, Kate did what today would be – oh, the horror! – unthinkable. “Ben,’’ she said, “Get me outta here. I’m like a caged bird. Set me free. Take me to the bar.”
I don’t think those were her exact words per se, but you get the drift. Off to the town tavern they went, and met up with a group of locals who, according to legend, were drinking green beer that fine late morning, despite it not being anywhere near St. Patrick’s day (cue my protestations every time this story is told).
Now, I’m not sure what kind of looks a 9 months begot pregnant lady would have got for drinking green beer at 11 am in 1984…but I imagine it wouldn’t be *too far* from the reaction one in her condition would receive nowadays. Except this was Littleville. Surrounded by some friends and 11 am bar-goers, the coast was relatively clear.
Beer was enjoyed, and the couple returned home to do goodness-knows-what while waiting their evening festivities at the school. It was gonna be great. They had finally, FINALLY convinced their friend “George” to come out and dance. He had never come to one in all the years they’d known him. He was doing it especially for Kate, because as (almost) every man knows, never. refuse. a pregnant lady.
Sometime in the early evening, say 4 or 5 o’clock, Kathy feels a funny sensation. Her water breaks. “BEN!!!!,” she yells, “BEN!!!!, my water broke!” The ever pragmatic and logical soon-to-be father had only one response. “Well, get into the bloody shower, it’s getting all over the place!” They both smack their knees, as this was the last chance to see George dance, and now the dream is dashed. But you can’t stop a train going this fast, so…
Into the shower she got, and into the car they went. Freezing rain. The roads are empty. But god-damnit, Ben is going to get his Hollywood car scene come hell or high water. Red lights are sped through on the seemingly endless drive into Montreal’s main birthing hospital, a rather sinister and gothic-looking place perched on the steep hillside of Mount-Royal. It is about 7 pm. Nerves are high, as they are in these circumstances.
Kate is induced as her contractions haven’t yet started. What follows are her words: “It was like having a steam roller suddenly slam onto my back, crushing it slowly through every contraction. I couldn’t move because they had hooked me up to the monitoring belt. The worst was I could see the contractions coming on the machine. I knew it was coming. Oh God.”
Mercifully, an epidural was administered. But there was a problem. The monitor wasn’t picking up the baby’s heartbeat anymore.
Kate’s gynecologist wasn’t in town. Probably out skiing somewhere in the Laurentians (isn’t that what gynecologists do on their winter off-time)? Another doctor is paged. Kate and Ben wait.
What follows are his words: “That was the scariest moment of my life. Your mom was in the bed, and I was standing, looking out over the Montreal night sky from the window up on the hill, not knowing if you were alive or not.” Their worst fear was happening.
A bright young female doctor arrives. She assesses the situation. She happens to bear my namesake if I am to be a girl. A good omen?
After some poking and prodding, an adjustment here and there to this newfangled machinery, a blip arrives on the monitor. Followed by another. That’s it – the heartbeat is back.
“I think we’ve got ourselves a little gymnast. She must have done quite the somersault and landed in a position unreadable to the machine. She’s doing just fine.”
The relief pours out. The labour continues through the night and into the wee hours of the morning. At 9:23 am on February 12th, 1984, a baby girl is born.
When I ask my father about what it was like, he always had the same response: “I don’t know, honey. I never saw you born. There were too many tears in my eyes.”
Fast-forward twelve years later. Kate, Ben and their daughter are in an old Ford Contour sedan, rolling down a Georgia highway. They had just moved here from Canada not four months before. It was a difficult adjustment, and they missed home. But it was their daughter’s birthday, and while she didn’t yet have friends to celebrate it with, they were going to do something special.
“Let’s go see a movie, and then we’ll go out for a bite to eat.” All agree, so off they went.
They arrive at the cinema. The selection must have been bleak. It is the only logical explanation. To this day I will never understand how, of all choices offered, this was the path taken, but what’s done is done. Water under the bridge. Kathy and Bob decide that, on her twelfth birthday, they will take her to see Dead Man Walking (Kathy had always been an avid fan of Susan Sarandon, even bearing a mild resemblance to her).
I’m not sure, dear reader, if you have ever seen this film. It is probably worth watching. Sean Penn plays a man on death row, his only redemption a steadfast nun, who despite great obstacles practices saintly vigils with the evil dying man until, upon his state-ordered deathbed, he is finally redeemed (at least that is my 12-year-old memory of it – I never could bring myself to revisit it).
Needless to say, the mood was, oh, less than jovial upon our exit from the cinema. I don’t think a word was spoken, the silence interrupted only by some rather loud stomach rumblings.
There had been a restaurant or two in mind, but these were the days before google maps, mobile apps and GPS – no cell phones to consult, and with the sun now set, the dark and empty Georgia roads are getting more and more confusing.
They drive for what seems like hours, the dark cloud of the movie still tangibly above their heads. Hunger growing exponentially by the minute. Moods darkening even further. Until, what is that? A light in the distance? A beacon in the night? They have no choice but to drive into it, like moths to the flame.
They pull into the parking lot. Lit up like a side-road Vegas strip bar, it announces itself unabashedly: “BUBBA’S BBQ PIT” “FAMILY FRIENDLY” “REAL SOUTHERN BBQ”
It was a far cry from what the twelve year old was used to. Back home, Montreal had some pretty awesome international fare. Chinatown, Italian, sushi, and of course, French cuisine. Earlier in the day she had envisioned veal parmesan cutlets, or some spicy Szechuan dumplings – maybe even an oyster or two.
This…this…this was too much.
They enter. It is literally a pit. It looks like a barn. There are picnic tables set up, and portly American families chowin’ down, licking the rib sauce of their fingers. Ben is THRILLED. It’s a real authentic Southern place! We are soaking in its juices, basting in its spicy gloriousness! I think it was on that night my father developed somewhat of a Southern drawl.
Kate and her daughter aren’t impressed. Their moods are foul, thanks to the film, the endless drive, and their ravenous appetites. Desperate times.
Like dejected animals, the females take a seat at one of the picnic tables. Kate looks at her daughter, tears streaming. She feels horrible for doing this to her on her birthday. It couldn’t really have gone any worse for the poor kid.
Ben tries to cheer them up with some stories, chipper as ever, awaiting his charred meaty fare. The troughs come out. The table is set. They take a bite.
And it is…delicious.
I hope I haven’t bored you with these posts. I would love to hear your birthday stories: what made your birthday special? Was there a time that was so cringeworthy you can’t even bear to write about it (if so, DO). A fond memory? A time someone helped you out?
Send it in.
I would like to thank the Academy, and most of all, mom and dad. Thanks for making me, baking me, and caking me. 🙂 Love you guys.