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August 25, 2006
I was born four and a half months after Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into WWII.
My father had tried to enlist , but no branch of the service would take him because he had flat feet and was deaf in one ear. He thought that he could do a desk job or cook and so free up someone who could march and hear to fight; but all soldiers must be able to march at need and hear orders, so he couldn’t. Instead, he spent the war working as a welder between the hulls of battle ships,
thereby losing the hearing in his good ear.
My parents were living in Oakland, California while my father worked in the ship yards. Because I was their first child, my great-aunt Julia had come to help. Auntie had no children of her own, but she had worked for a doctor when she was 18 and helped deliver babies. Also, she had experience with my mother and her sisters when they were little. Because of the Depression, my parents were very broke. They had gone out before Auntie got there and bought a plate, bowl, cup, saucer, glass, knife, fork, and spoon for her use.
My parents had saved the money for the hospital, and then had to spend it when my father had an emergency appendectomy, from which he was still recovering. In those days, before health insurance, that meant there was no money for my birth and they would need to go into debt instead of being able to pay for me free and clear.
I’ve been told that when my mother went into labor my father carried her down the stairs, which frightened Auntie that his stitches might tear. Labor was about two hours, and I was almost born in the elevator on April 23, 1942. I was breach. Although in the end my mother had an anesthetic, things had begun in the elevator with just my father and Auntie, who later told me I was her 300th baby. I’ve been told that my father kissed me before I had been washed off and that when they told my groggy mother that I weighed six pounds, she said, “Six of them! I’ve had a litter!” (I think that the Dionne quintuplets were still a big thing in the news in the early 40s).
In the hospital, where they were focused on doing everything the modern, scientific, “right” way, they discouraged my mother from nursing me, and indeed may well have given her, unbeknownst to her, pills to dry up her milk. So, I went home needing a bottle. It was the war. Milk was one of the foods that was rationed. My parents had to trade their meat rations to get milk for me.
It was a start poor in financial stability, but infinitely rich in love. There was never a baby who was more welcomed and loved than I was; no palace ever equaled that tiny apartment, no royalty that young, struggling, loving couple. It was a welcome that set my feet firmly on the path to my future.
Joycelyn is a 64 year old parenting specialist currently working with teens to prevent underage drinking. She lives in Alaska and writes on her blog Maya’s Granny about whatever strikes her fancy, including politics, memories, family, friends . . .
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