The Drive to the Hospital

My mother-in-law made my father-in-law follow me for the first five years I lived in Virginia. She was worried that I had no sense of reality, couldn’t recognize trouble, and would end up shot by some deranged person. If I told them where I was going, they would drive slowly behind me as I walked around DC. They thought I didn’t see them, and they were right. I was always focused ahead of myself, full of anticipation of the adventures before me.

It wasn’t long until I became a pregnant walker, heading to a job, living in a neighborhood that was filled with “interesting” characters. Life was full of roach poems, bus rides, and walks to monuments where my soldier husband was lined up with the Old Guard to provide historical presentations, security cordons, and presentations of the gun salute at funerals in Arlington Cemetery. He looked so good in that blue dress uniform, tall, straight, handsome, and a bit out of focus because he didn’t always wear his glasses. I followed him like the puppy I am inside: positive, happy, always looking for an adventure.

Adventures always have a point of risk. The family tried to keep mine to a minimum, after all I was about to become a mother. When I went into labor, my husband panicked, my in-laws panicked, and my neighbors panicked. No one seemed to have ever done this before, this birthing thing.

I found myself tossed delicately into our old blue station wagon that only worked on alternate weekends. Final destination? Walter Reed Army Medical Center, whose name is as big as the facility. Off we roared, exhaust system on auto pilot, hitting every pot hole in Washington, DC. I was not a happy camper.

Up, down, up, down, down, up. It was not a surprise that when we were a mere four miles for the hospital, the car broke down. We coasted into a gas station, and out my husband leaped looking for a taxi or his father to be home to rescue us. I’m sure that the payphone on the corner of the building had never heard such panic. That’s when I decided that in the car I could do nothing to calm him down. So out I gingerly got, trying to move slowly so that the bumps and bruises inflicted by the car wouldn’t mutiny against me.

I stood there for only a few seconds when one of the guys hanging around and ignoring my husband, except for some rather funny comments about a white guy in a black neighborhood having a panic attack, saw me for the first time.

“Oh lady, are you in labor? How far apart are the contractions?”

Enter a new adventure, for he ran to the car and caught my arm.

“Which hospital?” And that’s how my husband turned to see me being stuffed into a mustang by an energetic and rather panicked black man with my suitcase in his other hand.

“What are you doing with my wife?”
“Shut up and get in the damn car. It’s going to be okay, lady. Just breath easy and let me know if the baby decides to arrive before we do.”
“Have you delivered a baby before? What’s your name? Why are you helping us? Will my car be okay or will it be on bricks before we get back?”
“Shut up, man, your wife is having a baby.”

We arrived at the hospital in plenty of time. I hugged my young hero and grabbed my suitcase. Both men tried to grab it back, but this was my adventure. The suitcase stayed in my hand.

“Listen, man, thanks for the help. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Just don’t judge a book by the off-duty color man. You are Army, I’m Air Force. Now, go help your wife deliver that baby.”

It’s a lesson that has followed my husband ever since, and when he forgets, I remind him, pointedly. Our son was born with all of the toes and fingers a mother could desire. It was the beginning of another adventure, one I’m still on.

Born of a Brass Band

Born of a Brass Band

My earliest memory was standing on my father’s feet playing my wonderful horn. He had the big trombone and called me his second chair. Trombones make a tenor sound. The sound lies to the outside world, “Here I am. I shine. I spew, I rock the world.” How could a daughter ask for less? We would stand outside the baseball stadium waiting for the game to end. Chill air ending September and leading into fall bussed with crickets, peep frogs, katydids, and toads. My lips would buzz, my mouth would buzz, my teeth would hold the mouthpiece firmly so it wouldn’t fall off my chin. Dad would look down at me hopping with both feet and smiled with his eyes.The little boy next to me and equal in size to me would be known as the brother with another mother. Dad winked at him. Brother to the stomp, the sousaphone little boy next to me had a grin the size of the Washington Monument. In the spirit of the Fire House Five, we wiggled and blew notes that were adorable and blessedly underlay the large horns playing. We were blissfully awful.

In Washington DC, children would disappear in the crowd and get lost by the vendors selling everything the eye of a child would desire. A popcorn, hot dog, sodas, or clothes. Everything was shiny and loud. We stood as a family in the afternoon sun and Theo would move around with his bright orange bucket.
“Here you go, ladies, help us get these kids to college in fifteen more years. They will need the money for Juilliard. Come on folks you love the sound. Can you imagine all this at a dollar each and more to come? Hey, man, impress your friend their with feet holding the ground and you dancing the dance of the music. Can you hear that sousaphone? He’s not playing for my benefit, We work hard practicing for our performance. We have trumpets, horns, tubas, a drummer, and we are a family band straight from DC for your enjoyment. We got all the permits and call those cops over for a bit of a dance, they look bored. Here we go again, listen to the Blues got Me from Memphis to Here.

The trumpets would slide into the song and I’d watch dad for my cue. Three years old and in love with sound, in love with my parents blues, and thinking I was all grown up, when the world was waiting for me to get my feet where I was big enough to have them touch the ground.
Two hours later, we had scored as much cash as we were going to.

Dad called out, “There’s enough here for the rent, food and electric. Get these two shortstop musicians an ice cream and we’ll meet back at the rooms. Any one got a need for cash, come see me.” Dad had an account in Ma. She took the totals from him, crunched the numbers, slid the bills between her fingers and put them in the ledger. No worries were to be had if the ledger was filled with numbers.