Here’s the scene from Gone with the Wind as I remember it, without actually looking: Scarlett, Melanie, India and Mrs. Meade are seated in a tight circle around a table. The clock on the mantel ticks loudly in the dimly lit room. The women have needlework in front of them. There is tension in the air. The gentlemen are at a political meeting behind Mr. Kennedy’s store, or so they tell the constable who stops by to inquire after the menfolk’s whereabouts. Melanie picks up a copy of David Copperfield. There are tiny beads of perspiration on her forehead. She says, “I shall read aloud,” and opens the book. (And I know this isn’t the actual first line, but it’s the one I remember best.) She reads: “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”
So this is where I begin, although I am not one of those people who believe they can recall their initial slide into the outside world. I don’t. The information I have is sketchy, and the one person who could have filled in a few details is no longer around to ask. I was born in the era of “twilight sleep” anyway, and my mother always said I was born in the middle of the night after hours and hours of labor. The older I got, the longer the labor.
While I don’t have any direct recollections of the day I was born, I did hear this story from my Aunt Faye when I was a little girl: “Your father was hoping for a boy, since they already had a girl. He really wanted a boy this time.” I had a vision of my father in the Mt. Zion Hospital maternity waiting room, tossing a baseball up in the air and catching it in a leather glove, in anticipation of tossing the ball back and forth with his hoped-for son one day. I saw him pacing around, punching that mitt in anticipation of a male heir. “Yes,” my aunt went on, to my horror, “He was pretty disappointed to get another girl.” But my father never acted as though he was disappointed. In fact, he was very proud of both of his daughters. I was so sure that Aunt Faye had it all wrong — how could she say these things to a child? — that I repeated the story to my mother.
“Is it true?” I asked my mother. “Daddy wasn’t really disappointed I was a girl, was he?”
“Well, yes,” she said, “he was.”
And I waited for the part where she said that of course now he was delighted to have two little girls.
So, back to a long night in November, 1951. I was born on a Wednesday. Full of woe, according to the poem. This close to being full of grace, and saved from having far to go. But poems are not accurate predictors. I was a happy baby, and never really left the place where I was born.
To be continued.