Our daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Baruch, are expecting their first baby in July. We have grandkids already. One, Justyce, is already zooming her way to young adulthood. The prospect for the arrival of a newborn is damned exciting.
As I think about this new granddaughter, the season is Spring and outside the daffodils are smiling the color of the sun. Down the streets, pear trees’ white blossoms balloon the moods of commuters. Pink and reds and purples emerge. It is a season of birth, re-birth, new growth.
Then I think about the old days and how mothers produced sons and daughters that were cold as stone when they emerged from the womb. Youngsters died of measles, mumps, smallpox, scarlet fever before they had a chance to mate, get drunk, find Jesus, get old. Those were the days of small farms where women and men hoed rows of corn and dug their spuds. Milked cows, sheared sheep, cooked oat cakes over cast iron stoves that threw heat like the halls of hell. Chores galore; stirring dirty clothes in a big cast iron pot full of boiled water and harsh lye soap. Candle making, quilting, sewing; all created a dire need for lots of hands. Lots of children were needed to help out on the farm
In 1971 my father and I took my son, James, to see the movie Man In the Wilderness, set in the Northwest during the early 1800s, with Richard Harris and John Huston. The characters in the film were fur trappers and one of them, the Richard Harris character, voyeured a Native American woman giving birth to a child. Out in the thick woods, she just squatted, without help, as her man kept watch from afar, I suppose to keep grizzlies and wolves from attacking her as she birthed that baby.
At the time, I thought that scene was a little over the top in terms of dramatization. I remember my now-long-deceased friend Richard Madewell scoffing, “That’s all a bunch of BS to sell movie tickets.” I tended to agree. Son James, who was about three years old, seemed more interested in the bear that attacked Harris’s character and didn’t have much to say about the on-screen child birth.
That was back in the honky-tonking days of my youth. I spent spare time down at the bar on Main Street where the skid row drunks sat on the high curb and waited for the sun to come up and the bars to open. My watering hole was a rough location, a bar as old as any of the businesses in town.
Big fans beat the air around the pressed tin ceiling with its fancy curlicues and circles. We listened to Dire Straits and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, tunes from the Allman Brothers’ Idlewild South.
We downed flat draft beer and shots of cheap tequila, Bloody Marys, Spañada, wine coolers, bad Scotch and VO with Seven, not to mention more nefarious substances. We shot nine ball and eight ball, got in fights, in shootouts. We got drunk, and not drunk. Hippies, cowboys, college professors who taught Español, drug salesmen of both the legal and the not legal, ag teachers, baseball glove vendors, miners, cotton farmers, plumbers, sheepherders, butchers, house painters, short order cooks in Mexican food restaurants, wives, daughters, they all made their way to sit on the tall stools at the ancient bar.
Some wild individuals denizened the joint. One pair I recall—it was just around the time I went with father and son James to see Man In the Wilderness—showed up one day and joined right in. They usually arrived for tamales and red beers…that was breakfast. He had long, stringy hair and wore a beard a foot thick. He donned a stained and battered New York Yankee hat and claimed to be from Manhattan but his deep Texas accent belied that. His mate was wild, too, wore fringed buckskin shirts and trousers, blue and red and yellow beaded buckskin moccasins that looked like they were made before Geronimo went to Florida under guard of the United States Army. She claimed she made all her own clothing and I did not doubt that.
For some reason they liked to drink around me and I’d have to be pretty toasted to stand the scent of lard and mesquite-coal smoke that hung all over them. She bragged about cooking over one of those old cast iron stoves my grandmother used back before my mother was born. I didn’t doubt that, either. They rented a falling-down adobe building with rotten wood floors that was about as old as our town. The adobe sat behind Ronquillo’s Radiator Shop…I think I remember this right…at the corner of Sacaton and First. I always knew it as the Prickly Pear House because a prickly pear sat out in front of the old adobe. The cactus had big flat paddles wrinkled like the face of my grandmother and probably as old.
This particular wild bunch would also show up in the afternoon and drink their favorites….shots of Jose Cuervo with draft Coors back. One, two, three.
I always thought it was strange that she drank like that…as well as smoking unfiltered Camels and no telling what else…because she was heavy with their first child. Heavy….hung out like a hot air balloon. But one, two, three, down the hatch, she’d laugh and dance to Dickey Betts’ guitar riffs in “Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Awkward and scruffy, she shuffled and puffed on her smoking Camel.
One hot August afternoon under the cooling click of the ceiling fans, a few of my friends and I sat and sucked down cold glasses of draft as the two of them, both of this wild pair, pirouetted and wheeled to the tunes blaring out of the juke box.
She suddenly stopped and yelled, “Honey, it’s time.”
Without another word they stomped out the front door. A moment later his thick-bearded face showed back in the doorway as he yelled, “Be right back.”
The barkeep chuckled and mumbled, “Right. She’ll be lucky if she and that kid survive, as much poison as she puts in her body.”
Two hours later they were back. That hot air balloon was suddenly gone and the leather blouse with the fringe on the seams looked almost big enough for two of her. She held a red, wrinkled baby in an old wool blanket. Her man began handing out cheap stogies with a cigar band that announced, “It’s a Girl.”
I said, “They let you out of the hospital that fast?”
She twanged, “Didn’t need no hospital. Done it myself.”
We all looked to her man. He grinned and nodded, “I watched, but that was all. She just squatted and spurted that young’un out.” He grinned and hugged her. “She’s one hell of a woman.”
The baby squalled and the mother giggled. The father let out a roar, “Barkeep. For my lady-love, a Jose Cuervo and cold Coors back”
He spun around, his long hair whirling like a jigging woman’s skirt. He yelled, “I’m a daddy.”
I sure hope Sarah and Baruch experience a different kind of delivery.