Saturday, November 12, 2011
Although I was glad to go on the hike last Thursday, the date kept bothering me, since it would have been my son Chris' fiftieth birthday, if he had lived. I wasn't really as carefree as the picture makes out. It's been almost ten years now since Chris died in August 2002, and I find that anniversaries, especially big round anniversaries like fifty years, won't stop bothering me without some introspection. I sure know where I was fifty years ago. I wasn't hiking and skydiving and being surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I was in Puerto Rico with my first husband awaiting the birth of my first child. I wrote about that time in detail here, at the beginning of this blog when I needed to examine carefully all the pieces of my life. Today I'm trying to dispel the melancholy of the past week.
I just re-read what I wrote in that link and find that it brought it all right back into the present. I was so young and inexperienced, not even nineteen when he was born. I remember being terrified about having to experience childbirth and knowing so little about the process. There were no internet search engines, no computers to connect me to the wider world, only whispers and conjectures from one female friend to another. I lived in a ramshackle house off base surrounded by Spanish-speaking neighbors, so my only source of information was from other Air Force wives in the same situation.
The wild ride in a fellow soldier's car in the middle of the night to the Air Force Base Hospital is a dim memory, but what I remember the most was the doctors and nurses putting me onto a table and strapping my arms and legs down so I couldn't move! The first thing they did was shave my pubic area and then put an ether cone over my face. I remember trying to stop them but it was no use. The next thing I knew I had delivered my baby and he was somewhere else away from me. In those days, especially in military hospitals, the mother was considered to be a nuisance and the doctors and nurses routinely knocked out the mother so they could do the important work. Today it seems almost brutal, and the wonderful experience I had in a regular hospital with my second son makes me realize it actually wasn't done everywhere.
After I was released from the hospital and back in our home, there is a moment frozen in time when Derald and I had our arms around each other as we gazed into the crib at this miracle of life. He was lying on his stomach (which is now rare with a newborn baby) and he looked so incredibly perfect and so tiny. (He actually weighed 7 pounds 7 ounces, a healthy size, but what did I know?)
That child grew to be a big man who loved and was loved throughout his life. He was married when he died, to Silvia, a German woman he met while serving in the Army, which had become his life. The terribly painful time when I went to Bamberg Air Force Base to attend his memorial service, when I saw my son for the last time, in a coffin wearing his dress uniform... it is still painful to this day to recall that memory. But I learned how loved he was in his life, how much his fellow soldiers loved him, how much Silvia loved him, and I know he died surrounded by the same love that started his life.
And he is still loved today. Silvia still misses him, I still miss him and wonder what life would have been like for me if he had lived. All the different decisions I would have made if I had had a grandchild, if Chris was somewhere still in the world raising a family. It is a shock to realize that any child he might have had would be grown and I could be a great-grandmother without any stretch of the imagination.
No more than a hundred years ago, living to be forty years old was considered to be a complete, full life. Chris had begun to turn gray and was distressed by the fact that he was beginning to lose his hair. He struggled to keep his weight under control because he loved to eat. The Army required him to keep it down, or he would have been quite a bit heavier, I suspect.
Fifty! I remember when I turned fifty and now my son would have passed that milestone. And then on Friday of this week, the world marked Veterans' Day, or Remembrance Day, and I thought of my son and all the other members of my family who have served their country. I have nieces and nephews who are still in active service.
It all started with my parents, who met when Daddy was a young handsome soldier who saw a beautiful brown-eyed girl across the room at a party. As he made his way over to ask her to dance, the future expanded and the possibility of my existence was born. I am grateful.