It had rained off and on our entire day of waiting for the baby to arrive. I wondered if it had rained the day I was born. What kind of sky had stretched over my grandparents’ apartment where I was born on Mariposa Avenue in Los Angeles? I wondered if my father had gazed at that sky, uncertain then – as I was now – of what was happening and what the outcome would be.
My Dad did his waiting on the day before Thanksgiving. What kind of smells wafted through that apartment? Was someone making cranberry sauce or stuffing in the kitchen? I wondered what my parents were like then. I felt close to them in a way I never previously had. A whole set of indistinctions about them began to clothe themselves in definition.
Certainly my Dad’s first encounter with childbirth had included a definite surprise. He went to a Thanksgiving service at his wife’s family’s church later that morning. It included a time for congregants to express gratitude for blessings. At the appropriate time my Dad stood to announce to the entire congregation that he had received early that Thanksgiving morning the blessing of twin sons. Only one baby had been expected. My arrival as Number Two was his great late November surprise.
I smiled at a mental picture of my father, more than ten years younger than I was now, standing in that church service. And receiving congratulations afterward as I, the unexpected one, slept soundly in a laundry basket hastily converted into a bassinet. My brother, the first born, took my Dad’s name while I was named after my maternal grandfather.
Standing in the hallway I realized that I had not thought about my own birth since childhood. Musing about it gave me a warm sense of linkage with my own family so far away from East Africa. Especially with my father. For the first time, I realized, I would be related to my father, not only as a son, but as one father to another.
In the waiting room the loquacious missionary had fallen asleep. I did not go into the room, but waited outside. I remembered that when I was small, I’d had frequent dreams about fleeing from something across a dark, barren plain. I would cry out as I fled, the whatever-it-was gaining on me. I would wake up in bed, and my father would tiptoe into the room. He would hold and comfort me and chase the dream away.
I remembered, too, that at one point my Dad had a daughter in boarding school and two sons away at college. My architect father, who was an excellent ballroom dancer, had paid tuition bills with the same grace he brought to a waltz. When I was in college, I had supposed that one act was as effortless as the other.
I knew better now and wondered how he had done it. Perhaps my mother – Tootie, we called her – had helped. I believe she had some inheritance. Interesting, I thought, what you took for granted as a kid, what you never thought to inquire about. I knew I was not much of a dancer. But I hoped my children would think that bills got paid with my father’s grace.
I thought now of my brother, my identical twin, my best friend. He was Paul, but in the family we called him Bob, after Robinson, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Bob and I wrote long letters to one another two or three times a month. He had opinions about everything and would have had one about what our baby should be named. “Just don’t name him Scott! It’s too trendy.” That was the advice he had given our sister Polly – without knowing that she had already chosen that name for her son.
I wondered yet again what the baby would be: girl or boy. Donanne and I had agreed that she would name the baby if it were a girl. I would name it if it were a boy. Donanne seemed partial to the name Annefred, a combination of our names. That would follow the tradition of her family. I could not quite imagine an offspring of mine bearing that name. But the opportune moment to discuss this matter had never arrived.
At the end of the corridor the white doors of the delivery room opened. A Kikuyu nurse hurried along the hall, grinning. I ran toward her.