About a month ago, my youngest daughter called and said, “Mom, I’m booking you for August 1st to celebrate your birthday.” I said okey-dokey and wondered what she had up her sleeve. I guessed Sarah might take me out to lunch and possibly bless me with a much needed pedicure because the last time we were together she told me I could climb trees with my long toenails. I love surprises, so I didn’t even try to guess what she had up her sleeve.
My “real” birthday was on Friday, and I have to tell you, I am really blessed with a stable of friends who understand I’m a big kid at heart and I love being special one day a year–a precedent set by my parents a LONG time ago. As children we got to choose the meal and type of cake we wanted, as well as picking something we wanted to do on our birthday. For one day, my brothers and sister became the big cheese for the day. My wants were simple: brats, going to Brown’s Lake, and poppy seed cake.
This year, my day started with a call from my brother Mark singing the traditional “Happy Birthday to You.” Then I got a call from my contractor saying he would be starting the construction of the garage on Monday! I thought that was the best news of the day, until I got a call from my long-lost friend Debbie Collins. Our friendship started in junior high school and lasted until we got too busy with husbands and kids. Next, my daughter Sarah brought me a beautiful bouquet of a dozen roses before the FedEx guy brought me my new computer. I figured the festivities would wind up after my dear friend Jackie brought over my birthday supper, flowers, and cheesecake. But the beat rolled on. Linda walked down and shared some birthday cheesecake with us, and of course, she gave me a gift too. What a day, huh?
Sarah arrived on time on Saturday–her booked August 1st. She found me in the back bedroom I call my “studio” putting the finishing touches on my latest painting. I wanted to finish a couple of strokes before we took off so I had my back to her as she came into the studio.
When she asked for a hug, I turned around and couldn’t believe my eyes. Standing beside Sarah was my other daughter Amy.
She had flown in from Seattle for the weekend — just for my birthday. (Daughter on the right.) This was the surprise of a life time. We had been separated for over four years, and it was sheer joy to see her again. Sarah (daughter on the left) and Amy had been working on this surprise for over a month. Like some crazy person on the “Price is Right,” I put my hands to my face and yelled, “Oh, my God!” about eighty times as I gave each of them hugs and kisses. They got the reaction they had hoped to get. Their plans for me included lunch and a pedicure. Afterward we spent a little time on our new patio with a cool drink. Unbelievable! Two best days ever in a row!
I think experiencing bad days like I’ve been writing about lately, intensifies the great days. I’m still smiling that my two daughters love me so much that they wanted to give me such generous gifts. Spending time with them as beautiful adult women now is as much fun as when I was a twenty-something enjoying them grow up.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 Continued
Lacrosse, Wisconsin—March 22, 1940 – Angelo’s old pickup headed straight for the hospital emergency entrance. He ran around the front of the car and opened the passenger door as a shooting pain grabbed Rosalie’s back. He helped her to her feet in the gravel parking lot and walked her to the entrance as another pain hit which nearly broke her in half. This time she screamed. Angelo picked her up and ran to the Emergency Room door. He flagged down a Dominican nun dressed in the traditional black and white garments. “My wife’s having a baby,” he shouted.
She mumbled to herself. “Shhhh – this is a hospital, young man. Sick people are resting.”
“My wife’s having a baby,” he said louder.
“I heard you the first time. Don’t be fresh.” The nun answered and pointed to a sign that read Admitting. “Go.” The nun said and abruptly walked away mumbling to herself, “Honestly, girls having babies are getting younger and younger.”
Angelo swallowed his anger rumbling inside him. As a good Catholic man he realized he needed to respect this nun; otherwise, he would call her a bitch. He found a vacant wheelchair in the hallway and lowered his wife like a fragile piece of his mother’s good china. “I guess we go this way, honey.”
Rosalie nodded and gazed at him with scared puppy eyes as another back spasm gripped her so hard she arched her back and cried. After the pain subsided, he continued to the Admitting Department. He stood in line where a tired-looking, gray-haired woman sat behind a window with a small opening that looked like a porthole. The woman wore a navy blue smock with, “Saint Mary’s Hospital” embroidered over the left breast pocket. Her yellow-stained finger tips rested on the typewriter keyboard. Lingering cigarette smoke surrounded her head like a misplaced halo. Her bright red lipstick served as the only color on her grey wrinkled face.
Angelo cleared his throat. “Excuse me, ma’am. My wife’s having a baby and she’s–
The woman interrupted him.
“Bring her to that door.” She pointed to the door to her right.
“Thanks.” Angelo pushed Rosalie to the door as the clerk unlocked the door and escorted them to a ward of beds separated by long white drapes.
A nurse dressed in white from head to toe met them with a clipboard. The white outfit made her mahogany curly hair and brown eyes appear even darker. Angelo wondered how she stayed so clean when she worked in a place with lots of blood. Her husky voice sounded like one of the guys Angelo worked with on the assembly line. “How far apart are the contractions?”
Rosalie looked up to Angelo as another pain raced across her back.
Angelo answered with authority in his voice. “About five minutes-if that’s what these pains in her back are all about. Her water broke at noon.”
“Very well.” The nurse looked at her wristwatch and noted his response on the clipboard she held.
“What’s your name, sweetie?”
The nurse scowled. “Not you, sir.”
She guided Rosalie to one of the beds, “What’s your name, dear?”
“Rosalie.” She let out a howl as a white hot arrow of pain shot up her back once again. “Please don’t be mad at him, ma’am, he’s just so excited.”
“They all are, sweetie, but having a baby is women’s work. We can manage without men.” She winked at Rosalie and whispered, “Now, let’s get started.” The nurse took a gown and a sheet from the cabinet in the room and handed them to Rosalie. “Take off all of your clothes including underwear and put this on–ties go in the back. Push this little button when you’re done.”
The nurse turned to Angelo, “And you, young man, need to go back to the admitting clerk and register your wife. I hope you brought your insurance card.”
“Then get to it, boy.” She waved him to the exit.
Stifled protest stuck in his throat as he obeyed another bossy woman. Angelo hung his head and went back to where he first started. By now three people waited in front of him. Angelo paced up and down the dull gray hallway like a caged tiger.
“Next,” the woman behind the glass said.
One by one the clerk processed the people in front of Angelo.
“Next!” She yelled.
“My turn?” he mouthed as he pointed to his chest.
“That’s what I said, didn’t I?” She snapped.
Angelo’s temper reached the boiling point. He glared at the clerk with fire in his eyes; if a pane of glass didn’t separate them, he might have slugged her.
She slipped a blank form into the Smith Corona and looked down at the keys. “Name,” she said.
She scowled. “Not you, sir, your wife’s name.”
He bit his tongue. “I’m sorry,” he took a big breath. “I didn’t understand what you wanted. This is our first and I–
She repeated. “Name.”
When the insurance interrogation ceased, Angelo scurried back to the area where he left Rosalie. Her bed was empty. Panic rose in his throat. He spied the nun he met in the hallway earlier and with a shaky voice he asked, “Sister? Where’s my wife? I left her here while I did all that insurance crap and now she’s gone.”
“Your language, young man!” She scolded as she looked down her sharp nose at him. “No need for that tone. Your wife is on the Fourth Floor. Labor Room 426. Follow me.” She escorted Angelo to the elevator, pushed button number four, and left him standing in front of the gray metal door.
“Thanks,” he growled as she walked away.
Angelo found Rosalie laying in one of the two beds in Room 426. An empty bed tightly wrapped in white sheets with square corners awaited the next patient. Angelo hoped no one else would be put in that bed because he wanted to be alone with his wife as they went through Rosalie’s labor.
“Did they tell you anything?” He asked.
“They say I’m three centimeters, whatever that means. The nurse said when I get to ten, the baby is ready to come out. She said it might take all day.”
“Okay. How can I help?”
She reached for his hand. “Just be with me. Nobody told me what will hap–
Before she finished her sentence, she let out a cry that reminded Angelo of a tortured animal.
“Oh, God, “She panted. “That was a sharp one!” She said.
Angelo never thought of the pain his wife would experience to bring their baby into the world. “Oh honey, what can I do?” As soon as his words left his lips, he thought he might be useless all day.
“Just hold my hand.”
When Rosalie endured each contraction, she squeezed his hand like a football middle linebacker. After the pain subsided, she didn’t want to talk because she needed to get ready for the next pain to stab her in the back.
Ten hours passed and still no baby. The nurse said first babies usually took their time and be assured Rosalie was progressing nicely. Angelo wondered how much more pain Rosalie could take. She appeared like she worked all day in a sweaty factory. On top of her weariness, she lost her will to go on. Angelo encouraged her to fight. She screamed while she dug her fingernails into his arm as the contractions came and went. They both needed this baby to make its arrival soon.
Angelo said a silent prayer. “Oh, God, please let this be over. She’s so tired and growing more fragile as time goes on. Please, Lord. I don’t want her to suffer any more. Let the baby come soon.”
The starched nurse who attended Rosalie since the beginning of her labor announced her shift had ended and she left. A petite woman wearing the same starched white uniform took her place. Unlike her prune-faced predecessor, Debbie O’Malley smiled at the couple and spoke to them with gentleness in her voice. “We need to check you, Rosalie, to see how much longer this little babe of yours will make us wait to meet his or her acquaintance. The doctor is here now, and he wants a report on how you’re progressing.” She turned to Angelo, “I’m sorry, Dad, please leave us alone for a minute.”
“I know. I know. I’ll be out in the hallway.” Angelo rose and stretched his legs before dragged himself from the room. As he paced in the hallway, Rosalie screamed again. “Oh God,” he prayed out loud. “Please end this.”
After a couple of minutes, the nurse pushed a wheel chair through the door with Rosalie seated. She hung her head and appeared as white as the sheet covering her.
“We’re off to delivery!” The nurse announced. “Follow me, Dad.”
Another pain assaulted Rosalie; she arched her back almost propelling herself out of the chair. The nurse waited for Rosalie’s pain to subside before she continued to the delivery room. They passed a door that read, “Father’s Room,” and the nurse said, “You can wait here, Mr. Armani. Your baby should arrive shortly. Your wife is fully dilated, and I’ll come and tell you as soon as the baby’s born.”
Angelo kissed the top of Rosalie’s head. He whispered. “It’s almost over sweetheart. I’ll be here waiting.”
Rosalie didn’t say a word; her eyes expressed exhaustion and defeat. The nurse pushed Rosalie through another set of doors marked “Hospital Personnel Only.”
Lacrosse, Wisconsin – March 22, 1940–The Father’s Room didn’t offer any more attractive or comfortable space than any other place in the hospital. Dated “Time” and “Life” magazines littered the only table in the corner of the room. A couple of tin ash trays sat on the table and the stink of stale smoke reminded Angelo he needed a cigarette. He took a Lucky Strike from his shirt pocket and lit up with the lighter Rosalie had given him for Christmas. He took a long drag and exhaled a billow of lazy smoke rings.
Even after a half pack of cigarettes, Angelo couldn’t erase Rosalie’s fearful, childlike expression. He wanted to be with her. Waiting in this dreary room seemed cruel to both of them, but at least here he found a little freedom from her gut-wrenching screams.
He thought nothing would ever scare Rosalie, but having this baby scared her plenty. He looked down at his scratched and bloody arm. He chuckled when glanced at his scratched arm thinking at least he gave some skin in the game. Angelo removed another cigarette from his pocket and held it between his lips. He leaned back so his head rested on the wall, lit the fag, and took another long drag allowing the nicotine to work its magic. He tried to reassure himself the doctor would take care of Rosalie.
When the red-headed nurse returned, she shook a sleeping Angelo. “Dad,” she said quietly. “Your wife is having a bit of trouble and things are taking longer than they usually do.”
Angelo got to his feet and stared at the nurse. His stomach flipped. “What’s wrong? I want to see her.”
The nurse calmed him. “Simmer down. She’s in good hands. The baby presented face up, and Rosie can’t push it out. The doctor gave your wife an anesthetic to remove the baby with forceps.” After relaying this information, the nurse returned to the delivery room.
Angelo sat and cried.
Thirty minutes later the nurse returned to the Father’s Room. Angelo sat in the corner with his head down.
The nurse touched his shoulder. “Mr. Armani?”
Angelo looked up to her freckled face. “Is my wife all right? Is the baby here?”
She laughed, “Your wife is resting, and your little girl is an eight pound, eighteen inch long ball of fire! She’s perfect.”
“A girl! Really?” He found the news surprising. Everyone prophesied the baby would be a boy. “And my wife?”
“Like I told you, she needed to be sedated because of the posterior birth, so she’s asleep. I guess your little one wanted to get a good look at the doctor who delivered” She chuckled at her joke.
Angelo appreciated the nurse’s attempt at levity.
“You’re saying she’s a nosy little one?” Angelo let out a laugh of relief.
“You might say that. As she grows up, you can decide.”
“When can I see her?”
“You can go to the nursery now. Come on. I’ll introduce you to your daughter.”
Behind a thick glass window Angelo read a card above a stainless steel bassinet reading, “Baby Armani.” A plump pink baby swaddled in a white receiving blanket slept. A thick crop of red hair made her stand out from the other infants. She tried desperately to put one of her clenched fists into her mouth. A surge of love rushed through him like electricity. He put his face up against the glass and whispered, “Thank you, God.”
He turned to the nurse with tears in his eyes. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she? We talked about naming her Mary, but she looks like a little angel. I think Angelina suits her better.”
“A pretty name for a pretty baby.” Debbie the nurse said, “Babies delivered by forceps usually get nasty marks on their heads, but not your daughter. I think she just needed a little coaxing to make her appearance.”
“Can I hold her?”
The nurse smiled. “Well, not right now. She and your wife need to get some rest.”
He said, “Where is Rosalie?”
The nurse said, “She’s in recovery and will probably sleep until tomorrow morning. The anesthesia takes hours to wear off. I think the best thing you can do is to go home, get something to eat, call all your friends and family in the morning, and then come back tomorrow.”
“I want to hold both of them; I thought after the baby came, I could give both of them a kiss.”
The nurse said, “I’m sure they both will enjoy your kisses tomorrow. Go home and get some rest.”
Angelo looked down at his bloodied arm. “Maybe going home isn’t such a bad idea after all.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Armani. Your girls are safe and you did great.” She patted his shoulder and left.
Angelo turned toward the glass. “Pleasant dreams, my little girl. Daddy will be back tomorrow.” Daddy, wow! Daddy. I’m really a Daddy!” He blew her a kiss and whispered, “I promise you sweetheart, I will be the best Daddy ever.” He left the hospital dog tired, but strangely energized. Wait ’til I tell my Pa!
Angelo went home, cleaned up his wounds, and went to bed. The clock told him it was four o’clock in the morning and seeing the correct time splashed a wave of fatigue over him. He woke around eight and called his parents and Eduardo to tell them about his baby girl, Angelina. Both new grandpas wanted to rush to the hospital to visit the newest member of the family, but Angelo told them about Rosalie’s ordeal and said it would be better to hold off their visits until the next day.