MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 18 – Our Son is Born
Winter was harsh in these lovely old mountains. Spring brought with it a long anticipated awakening of the land, and the first day of May arrived right behind the flowering dogwoods and the nodding yellow daffodils that dotted the remote farmhouses and the abandoned home sites throughout the North Georgia Mountains.
I marveled at the beauty of the laurel and the bright pink of the red bud awakening around each turn of the road as Billy and I drove endlessly exploring and enjoying our last days of complete freedom. Soon, we too, like Mother Nature would be bringing new life into the world, and the carefree days of our youth, we would leave behind forever.
We waited, quite impatiently, for my now enormous bundle to decide to make his appearance, and each new day brought us closer to that magic moment when we would become parents.
Kay and Jimmy’s son was born on the 1st day of May, a large baby, almost 9 pounds, with a head full of black hair. They named him Chris, and Kay settled in to nurse and cuddle her infant while mine remained uncomfortably, at least for me, cradled in my womb.
I was seeing my obstetrician every week now and the baby had dropped. His head was down, just where he was supposed to be before delivery, but nothing was happening. Finally, one evening, mostly out of anxiety, I began having pains that became increasingly severe. Excited, Billy rushed me to the hospital, where I stayed overnight as the pains gradually disappeared. We drove back to Dahlonega disappointed not to be carrying our baby home in my arms, but still happily kicking away in my womb.
"My son will have to be a football player." Billy would say as my stomach jumped from the baby’s exuberant thrusts.
Perhaps he was just as impatient to meet us, as we were to meet him. It certainly never even crossed our minds that he could be a she since Billy was so determined we would have a son, and with all the boys in the family, what else could we have? I felt as if a baby girl would be a miracle, although one that I would enjoy, and that just might melt Helen’s cold heart.
Not only am I short of stature, but also very short- waisted, so my belly was enormous and I could not get comfortable in any position. Sleep became sporadic, arriving mostly from sheer exhaustion, although Billy tried to help by rubbing my back where the pain settled in as if a mule had kicked me! He had put the college administrative office staff on alert for any phone call that came from me during the day, so they were aware of my now overdue condition and would summon him in class at once if I needed him to come home to take me to the hospital. I do not know who was the most anxious, but it was a close tie.
Billy was eagerly anticipating the day when we would be able to make love again since during the last month, it had become more and more difficult, in fact, almost impossible. Although I never completely deprived him since this was, for him, one of the most important parts of our marriage and had become almost the same for me, our son’s thrusts and kicks would start Billy laughing, and we never seemed to be able to complete the act. Instead, we did a lot more cuddling than making love that last month, but just being held in my Billy’s arms was sufficient for now.
"I don’t think my son wants me to poke and prod at him anymore than you want him to poke and prod at you", Billy laughed when once again our attempts to make love dissolved into laughter by the movement of the baby. "I hope this isn’t any indication that he will be jealous of his daddy’s attention to his mommy, but I know I already envy him, and he has not even been born yet!"
Every day was longer than the one before, and each twinge of pain made me hope this was ‘it’. Like all mothers-to-be, I was increasingly anxious to meet our son, and I constantly wondered whom he would look like. Would he have a head full of hair like Kay’s son, or would he have the soft silken blond fuzz I had at birth. Would his eyes be the pure blue of his father’s eyes or the hypnotic green of my own, or something in between? I sincerely hoped for a carbon copy of his father, but that was a lot to ask. I had never seen a photo of Billy as a baby so had little to go on except my own imagination of what I thought he had looked like.
Amazingly, years later when I finally did see a snapshot of him when he was about 18 months old, he looked far different than he did as a grown man, and far different than I would have imagined. In fact, he looked just like his father, but as he matured, he looked more like the Smith side of the family. His looks actually came from the Moore’s, Bubba’s family, and he had their fine features, although he was almost as tall as Gene.
Eventually after his brothers reached adulthood, Billy would have been, by far, the tallest of the four. That too was another question, would our baby be tall like Billy, Gene, and both of Billy’s grandfathers, or like the men on my side of the family who were short, although my own brothers showed indications they might be taller than our father and grandfathers. All I knew for sure was that he would be handsome and strong-willed. Most of all I hoped he would be healthy, and grow into the kind of man his father had become. No mother could ask for more.
May 24th, 1962, was another of those beautiful spring days when it seemed almost a sin to stay indoors, especially in an underground apartment. Even though all the tiny clothes and diapers had long been washed and dried in the spring sun and smelled delightfully like Ivory Snow, I could not waste a moment of the soft sunshine to sleep away my day in the gloom of the apartment. I decided I would spend the day washing and hanging some new diapers Billy had brought home from Moore’s to use as ‘burp’ cloths.
I had not slept well at all the previous night, but that was becoming predictable, and I had a mild backache when I finally rolled out of the bed. While the pain was not severe; rather an ache as if I had done too much cleaning or bending, I was too uncomfortable to lie on my back and I had long given up my favorite position of sleeping on my tummy. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal, and a glass of orange juice, which had been a luxury for us until Billy began working for Mr. Moore, I called Kay to see how she was getting along since her mother had left the day before and she was on her own. When I told her about my backache, she said her labor had started that way and maybe this would be our big day. Discouraged by now I assured her that I doubted it and we hung up when Chris’s mild fussing turned into loud wails as he screamed for his lunch. I still felt strange, not in pain, just achy all over. Could I be coming down with something? That was about the last thing I needed this close to becoming a mother.
Somewhere around 10:00 a.m., the backache started reaching around to the front of my stomach, and now felt more like indigestion. There were no definite pains to time; just an overall nauseous, cramping tummy that was beginning to feel as if a vise was compressing it. Not long before lunchtime, the first real pain hit me, and this time I knew it was not a ‘bug’ but finally a baby, ready to be born! Soon, the pains began coming regularly about 20 minutes apart, although I tried not to be too anxious about timing them since I was afraid if I became excited, they might go away, and I was more than ready to deliver.
Instead, I made three ham sandwiches for Billy’s lunch and called the college so they could catch him in class before he got out on the drill field. I was almost certain I was now truly in labor, although I had thought the pain would be more severe, and was expecting the same kind of agony I had experienced with the abortion. What I did not realize was that I had not gone through the early stages of labor; rather hurled into hard labor by the invasion of my uterus. Now I was in the beginning stages, with pains that were not severe, rather uncomfortable, and came at regular intervals.
Billy pulled up in the driveway almost before I had hung up the telephone, and he told me everyone in his class had been yelling and whooping as he dashed for the car parked right out front of his classroom. He said he had laid a strip of rubber on the road in his rush to get home and was ready to leave for Gainesville the instant he walked in the door. Since I had his lunch ready, I told him he had plenty of time to enjoy his sandwiches, although he was anything but interested in eating, for the first time ever. In truth I think he was too nervous, but I assured him the pains were far enough apart that I was not going to have this baby in the car, and maybe not until well into the night. I also did not know when he would get to eat again, so I sat patiently on the couch as, too excited to sit down, he stood up at the mantle and ate each sandwich in just three, or four bites. He ate much too quickly, but at least I felt better that if he had a long wait, he had eaten lunch, and could probably go to the hospital cafeteria for some supper although I worried they would not have anything he would eat. I was far more worried about Billy going hungry than I was about my labor pains.
Obviously, everything was packed weeks ago, including a tiny blue suit with a real zipper in the pants, and, just in case, a tiny pink dress, although we were certain we would be bringing that outfit home for storage or as a gift for a friend. We were having a son, of that we were certain!
I had already called my doctor so when we arrived at Hall County Hospital in Gainesville, they would be expecting me, and since I was there just a few weeks before in false labor, the paperwork this time was minimal.
In the early 1960’s, husbands were isolated from the reality of labor and delivery. Anxiously waiting for the new arrival and escorted to a smoke filled, sometimes comfortable, but private waiting room just for the about-to-be new fathers, and other family, they were completely out of touch. Most were so excited they rarely used the soft vinyl covered chairs, rather paced the hard linoleum floor, hour after agonizing hour, wearing a scuffed ‘path’ around the room. The wait was far worse on them than on the mothers since we were all too aware of what was happening, at least until we were medicated.
After a quick kiss from my husband, a nurse whisked me off in a wheelchair, and took me into the labor room where she examined me to ascertain how far dilated before she could call my doctor. She took my blood pressure, attached a hospital bracelet to my arm, and made another tiny bracelet for the baby. She then hooked me up to an I.V., and made the call. Much to my exasperation, he left me to writhe in pain until his office closed for the day and he arrived at the hospital, so obviously I was dilating slowly.
When he finally arrived, and after examining me, he calmly said, "If I don’t break your water and give you a little bit of help, you will never have this baby. You are far too tense." As I suspected, he said I was not dilating as quickly as I should, so he was going to "move this little fella along". Dr. McCrum also said ‘he’, so perhaps he did have a way of knowing, or else he called all the babies ‘he’.
Moments later, I felt this gush of fluid from between my legs. I immediately asked if I was going to have to lie in this mess, but assured that I would never know the difference, the nurse put some medication into the I.V. bag and I began a spiraling fall into a deep, dark well.
When I finally awoke, it was quite dark in the room. Disoriented, I had no idea where I was, but Billy was sitting right next to my bed holding my free hand while my other hand still held the I.V. I felt for my tummy and it felt flat and empty so I looked up at my beaming husband and quietly asked, "Where is our baby?"
He then told me that we had an 8 pound 2 ½ ounce son, with light blond peach fuzz on his head. It was obvious he was so excited he could not even sit still. He had called my parents, his parents, my aunt, uncle, and all the new great-grandparents, and I believe he was trying to think of someone else to call! Jimmy had driven down from Dahlonega to stay with him until the baby was born at 10:55 p.m., but he had left to go back home just as soon as Billy was told he had a healthy son.
By morning everyone on campus, and most of the town, would know about the arrival of our newborn. All that I wanted, at that moment, was to see and to hold my son so badly my arms ached, but it would be morning before they would bring him to me. Billy kissed me tenderly, as if I would break, and said he would be back just as soon as class was out for the day. As he softly swept my damp hair back from my forehead, he told me how proud he was of me, and of his son. He said he loved me more than life itself, and then asked me to get some rest. Oh how I longed for him to stay there beside me and to hold me while I slept, but I knew he could not afford to miss one moment of class, especially not now with finals beginning the very next week. This was not an opportune time to bring home a newborn, but both of us were so excited that our long wait was over, we never even thought about exams. Now that he had a family to support, Billy needed to pass them all so he could graduate as soon as possible!
After breakfast and a soothing sponge bath, the nurse brought in my tiny bundle wrapped in a blue receiving blanket. I fell instantly in love, a quite different love than I felt for his father, but a love so deep I knew too, like my love for Billy, it would never end.
Naturally, he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. All I could think to say to my newborn son, as I held his tiny face to my cheek was, "Welcome to the world, Michael David McConnell. I promise you I will be the best mommy I know how, and regardless of anything, I will hold you in my heart and love you forever."
From what I could tell with his bloated features, Michael looked a lot like his father, but he had my nose. His eyes were very swollen, and concerned I asked the nurse who said all new babies looked like that from some drops they put into their eyes in the delivery room, although later I found out that was not always the case. She told me he was one of the two largest babies in the nursery, and I was the youngest mother on the floor.
Opening my gown, I gently nudged his tiny mouth to my breast hoping his instinct would assist me with this foreign process, and his greedy little lips latched on instantly as he began to suckle. Oh how it hurt! This was not supposed to hurt; this was supposed to be a moment of pure bliss. It was, it was not, and the nurse explained that my breasts were tender but would toughen up very quickly. I sure hoped so because this was pure agony. However, not only did my breasts hurt from this little suction pump working away, but I was having severe cramps in my stomach too! When I asked the nurse if that was normal, she asked if this was my first baby, and of course, I instantly said, "yes", forgetting for a moment I had been pregnant with another baby boy. She then said I should tell my doctor since it sounded like afterbirth pain, although this was not possible with a firstborn.
The nurse then left me quite alone with my tiny son, and when she returned to take Michael back to the nursery, I did not want to let him go. I wanted to hold onto him forever and just look at him, count his perfect fingers and his perfect toes all over again, and brush his soft blond hair gently with my hand. I wanted him to fall asleep in my arms and awake in my arms, and I was in love again; this time with a tiny bundle wrapped in blue and my heart would never be the same. I know I do not have to describe these feelings to any mother, but that first baby, the very first moment I realized now I was really a mother, my world changed forever. I would protect this tiny boy with my very life if I had to, and, if I had an ounce of strength left in me, I would never let anything or anyone harm him or hurt his feelings. Nor would I allow him to witness the alcoholic turmoil Billy and I had grown up with – this child would know he was loved every moment of every day, and only those who did love him would be allowed to be around him. This I silently promised him, and myself, and with the determination only a mother can muster, I vowed to keep him from knowing about the dark side of our families.
While one nurse took my son back to the nursery, another asked if I had gone to the bathroom, and I had not, but I had not been drinking water either. She told me she would give me another 30 minutes to drink some, and if I did not pass my water then, they would have to catheterize me. By the time she came back into the room, I had finished the entire pitcher, but I still did not feel as if I needed to use the bathroom. I asked her to give the water some more time to go through, but she left to get the instruments to perform the procedure, and returned with a student nurse following behind. The nurse then told me the student was going to do this and I needed to relax and to help her, and I was her very first patient! That was all I needed to hear, I must have tightened up the instant the cold disinfectant was dabbed onto my genitalia, and when she thrust the tube up into my bladder, I screamed with pain. It felt like a double edge razor blade and I writhed on the bed as the urine poured out of the tube into a cup where the nurse measured it. Never had I felt such pain, as I had been blissfully sound asleep during my hard labor. I decided then, and there, I would never again allow anyone to do this to me following delivery. The nurse said I had a good many stitches since the baby had been so large, so it was normal to have pain, but there was nothing-normal feeling about this pain! After the procedure was over, the nurse sprayed something cold over my stitches, and I felt much better, so much so that I fell into a deep and exhausted sleep.
I did not awaken when my lunch tray arrived, and the nurse had to wake me and insist I eat so I could nurse my baby again. I was not in the least bit hungry. I was far too excited to eat, but I did my best because I wanted my son back in my arms.
Soon enough my tiny bundle arrived howling with anger and hunger, so I gently placed him to my breast and he grabbed on like a plunger! What a hungry little boy! It would not be long before I would be feeding this one cereal and applesauce, which we did at that time almost as soon as they came home from the hospital. Of course hospital stays were at least five days, and sometimes a full week, which was a much safer system than today’s revolving door. The additional time gave the new mother more time to heal and adjust to the new baby. More importantly we had the nurses right there to help us with any problems we had when trying to nurse, although this little one was not going to need any helping hand! I could not take my eyes off my tiny son, he was so handsome, and I knew he would be a heartbreaker just like his father. The feeling of self-satisfaction was incredibly strong since I had given Billy the son he so longed for, and although I knew the man determined the sex; I was quite willing to accept Billy’s praise. This was no wimpy, scrawny baby either. This was a handsome strong McConnell boy.
Billy arrived at the hospital far earlier than I had anticipated carrying a large vase filled with a dozen yellow roses, my favorite flower, but I knew we could not afford this luxury. His pride was so apparent I could not fuss about his extravagance or anything else for that matter. I was not about to spoil this moment for him, the birth of his first son. He was giving cigars to everyone, and although he never smoked himself, he had to take a puff or two, not without choking though. With a huge kiss, he handed me a card before leaving for the nursery to gaze longingly at his boy, as fathers had to leave the room when the baby was with the mother. The doctors believed the fewer people the baby met; the less likely they would be to pick up any kind of germ. It was a cold, sterile way for the new father to bond with his newborn, and many years later, I was glad to see that archaic practice pass into oblivion, since it was obvious Billy longed to hold his son as much as I had. For this reason, I hoped Dr. McCrum would send me home earlier than usual since all was going so well with the baby. Then again, there was a pediatrician to consult, and of course, circumcision for our baby boy, which was not a consideration I relished, but a necessity, or so new parents thought at the time. All little boys were circumcised; at least those I knew about, so of course, our son would be too.
I opened the card after Billy left for the nursery, as there was very strict and very short visiting hours when the curtains were open for the family to see the new addition. It was a typical card for a baby boy, but on the bottom, Billy had signed it, "What a Moose! I love you more than life itself. Biggy"
Now ‘Biggy’ was my pet name for Billy derived from his enormous appetite since it rhymed with ‘Piggy’. He loved it since no one else had ever called him that, and this was my special name for him.
The roses were exorbitantly expensive, but beautiful, and soon baby arrangements arrived from my aunt and uncle, my parents, and my grandmother. However there was nothing from his parents, and I really did not expect them. Women order flowers, and Helen would never have sent any to me, especially since we had son. Commenting later, she said she had not even stayed up when Billy first called to say I was in labor since she knew the baby would be "another nasty little ol’ boy". However, her ugly comment did nothing to sway Billy’s enthusiasm for HIS firstborn son, Michael David McConnell.
We were both anxious to get our little one home to his crib, where we could have total control of his care and Billy could hold him as often as he wanted. It took many guarantees that I felt fine, carefully hiding the twinges of pain from the sutures, but I finally persuaded my doctor to allow me to go home that next Sunday. Since I was young and strong he acquiesced, but made Billy promise to bring me back to the hospital the instant I started to bleed heavily or have any severe pain, and Billy solemnly nodded his head.
He spent Saturday evening cleaning our apartment after getting off work at the store, and arrived early at the hospital on Sunday morning to take his ‘family’ home.
Together we dressed our baby boy in his new blue suit with the zipper in the front and wrapped him in a soft blue blanket my grandmother had crocheted. I wore my robe and gown, since certainly we had no plans to go anywhere except straight to our apartment, and for the time being, nothing else fit except my maternity clothes. I did not want to even see them, much less wear them again. At least not until Billy received his commission and he was at last able to support his own little family, then, and only then would I consider having another baby.
Billy drove the car slowly and carefully as if he was carrying crates full of eggs, and I appreciated his care since I was sore. Even though I was sitting on a foam doughnut cushion, I felt every crack and rut in the road, but when Billy saw a rough spot ahead, he slowed to a crawl. It took us at least twice the usual time to make the trip and I was quite relieved to see Crown Mountain just ahead of us and knew that on the other side, lay Dahlonega, North Georgia College, and best of all, our home. I let out a sign of relief when Billy pulled into our driveway, and then slowly and carefully he helped me out of the car before retrieving the sleeping baby. Sitting was not going to be comfortable for weeks to come.
Just having left their church service, our new neighbors, the Presbyterian minister, and his wife were waiting for us to arrive. They said they could not wait to see the wonderful little boy Billy had been bragging so much about, and, according to Billy, was the biggest baby in the nursery. They oohed and awed over our baby as I stood in misery, wanting nothing more than to get inside and lie down. I had no idea I would be this tired, but my mother had reluctantly agreed to pay someone to come in and help us for a week since Billy had finals.
Mr. Moore had kindly told him to take time off from work until exams were over, and we adjusted some to our new addition. Both of us knew he could not afford to miss too many days since we had become dependent on this additional income, as well as the groceries. Soon, though, Billy would be out of class during summer break, at least until the second session of summer school, but then he would be working full-time at the store.
My days went by in a haze of pain and weariness. Billy was intrigued by my many stitches and liked to play ‘doctor’ using the spray we had brought home from the hospital, which helped relieve the burning tenderness. He was curious to see my stitches, and satisfied that the doctor had performed his duties well, he continued to nurture me through that first pain-filled sleepless week. The first thing Billy wanted to know though was how long before we could once again have sex and he was anxiously waiting for the required six weeks to pass, marking the days on the calendar! For the moment, as much as I loved him, sex was about the furthest thing from my mind, remembering the pain of the catheter and aware of how much smaller the tube was than a penis! Would I ever feel normal again?
Although my breasts felt engorged with milk, it seemed as if Michael simply could never get enough. He wanted to nurse day and night, and left very little rest for me, and he was not gaining weight so we were beginning to worry about him. We finally decided to take him to his pediatrician for his six weeks check-up a week early hoping he could offer some guidance and a solution to the endless nursing. The doctor said that while I had great quantities of milk, it simply was not rich enough so he suggested in addition to breast milk that we add a canned milk concoction to supplement the nursing, which we did. Only this led to even more problems as the baby began having bloody stools and screamed constantly, drawing up his tiny legs to his chest while I cried helplessly. Once again we were back in the doctor’s office, who this time concluded that Michael was allergic to cow’s milk and put him on a soy base formula and told me to forget the breast feeding since I had nursed the most important first six weeks. To say that this delighted Billy is an understatement, as he had never gotten used to the idea of sharing, not even with his own son. He had even enjoyed tasting the milk when we showered together, proclaiming it very sweet like saccharin, and he enjoyed playing with my then enormous breasts, no longer sore as Michael’s constant nursing had toughened them up. However, he had not adjusted to my nursing the baby, which was normal for young first-time fathers according to my obstetrician. The pediatrician had his nurse bind my breasts so the milk would dry up more quickly, but I had no idea how painful a process this would be – it was almost unbearable.
We added rice cereal and applesauce three times a day to Michael’s formula regimen, and all of a sudden, we had a happy, well-fed baby, who was rapidly gaining weight and becoming a little butterball. He was also waking up only once during the night, which was a relief for both of us since one, or the other of us had been sleeping in the rocking chair with Michael over our shoulder before his feeding problems were resolved. Now we fed him his cereal and fruit about 9:00 p.m., followed by a warm bath, and then a bottle while I rocked and softly sang the old hymns I had learned as a child –
"Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so."
The pediatrician had solved the baby’s problems, but it took weeks for my breasts to dry up, and in the meantime, they turned as hard as a rock. I could not bear for Billy to touch them or for the water from the shower to run over them, and I ran a fever for days. Finally, we were well on the way to overcoming the first new parent problems, and Billy was getting excited since soon it would be time for my six-week checkup at which time I would hopefully be given the new birth control pill.
After Michael was down for the night, or at least for a few hours, we would sit on the couch necking and petting, almost getting there but knowing it was still too early, and we would both be frustrated as we went to bed lying in each other’s arms. Finally the checkup time arrived, the doctor proclaimed me healthy and in good condition, and he gave me a sample of the new pill. Now Billy and I could resume our nightly and sometimes daily love making, this time with only a 1% chance of conception, which made both of us feel secure our trysts would not produce another heir. My breasts had almost gone back to normal size, much to Billy’s distress, so he teasingly said he would just have to keep me pregnant so he could have large breasts to play with while we made love. I was not quite ready even to think about another baby, at least not yet, and of course, he was not serious, knowing that one baby was quite enough until he finished school and received his commission.
The night following my six-week check-up, when Billy arrived home I had candles lit and the baby asleep. I was wearing his favorite baby doll pajamas, although they were still a bit tight, but within minutes, they were off and we were both naked on the daybed in the living room. We made love for hours, supper forgotten, until the cries of our infant son reminded us we were no longer alone. Now this tiny tyrant ruled our world! I hastily pulled on my robe and went into the bedroom to change what I knew would be a very wet and dirty diaper while Billy pulled on his pants and went into the kitchen to heat the bottle.
He enjoyed giving Michael his bottle and I wondered if that was one reason that he had not been enthusiastic about my nursing, since he could have no part in feeding his son, so while I re-heated our now quite cold supper, I left him to feed and rock Michael. This scenario became almost a routine each evening when Billy came home from work, and when possible, he came home for lunch, and for sex. Once again, he was insatiable! Now it was even better because with me on the pill, we felt ‘safe’ for the first time, and so far, we were. I had thought perhaps with Michael’s arrival, Billy’s sex drive would be somewhat sedated, but it just seemed to make me even more desirable to him as he caressed my body and said I had more ‘curves’ now like a mature woman, not the teenager he married, although I was still only nineteen. I thought I was fat and I was determined to get back into my clothes as quickly as possible, but it was not as easy as I hoped.
My goal had been six weeks but it ran into three months, and finally I was back to normal, but then the weight continued to come off as I worked hard trying to keep our home perfect and a sanctuary for Billy, all the while keeping our precious son dry, fed, and content. I was pleased, but Billy was not, and he would bring home candy from the store whenever he could. I would wait until after he left for work, then take two or three pieces out of the box and flush them down the toilet. No, I was determined not to allow motherhood to keep me fat!
Finally, we settled into a comfortable routine, and one evening, Barney, Billy’s cousin, called, and told us that Pop was in the hospital again with another perforated ulcer, this time complicated by a severe heart attack. The doctors did not expect he would live. We felt it imperative we have photos taken of Michael to carry to the hospital so Pop could see his first great grandchild. We dressed Michael in one of the little gowns made by Bubba, the only time Billy allowed his son to wear a ‘dress’, propped him up on the large pillows on the daybed and used an entire roll of film taking snapshots. I also took pictures of Billy feeding the baby and close-ups of father and son, and Billy took the film to Dr. ‘D’, who had a photo lab in his house and had taken photos of me at Billy’s request. Billy explained his grandfather’s serious illness and asked Dr.’D’ if he could rush the development, and we had the prints back the very next day!
The following Sunday we drove to Atlanta and straight to the hospital so Pop could meet our son, at least through the photos. He was in intensive care, so we could not see him, and even Bubba had only 5 minutes each hour with him. When we arrived, the entire Smith family, except for Helen, was sitting in the waiting room across the hall from the I.C.U., and the hospital allowed us to take the baby inside with us. This proved to be a happy distraction for Bubba who, like his parents, fell instantly in love with our handsome little fellow. She took the photos into Pop and told him what we had done just so he could meet the baby, and she said Pop just beamed with joy by our act of love and caring. I like to think that seeing his first great-grandson gave him an additional incentive to live, and he gradually recovered and went home to Bubba, much to the relief of the entire family.
Bubba sent Michael a beautiful silver cup when he was born, framed one of the baby’s photos and placed it on a table in their living room. She told us she hoped the thought of watching this little boy grow up, just as they watched Billy grow up, might give Pop a new lease on life and help him regain his strength more rapidly. I do not know if this truly had anything to do with it, but Billy and I always liked to think it did since Pop became stronger as each day went by, and eventually became a very important person in Michael’s early life. No one will ever know for sure if this new birth had anything to do with Pop’s recovery, but I just know that both of us were delighted with the love shown our son by his great grandparents, which was a welcome relief after Helen’s obvious disdain.
Finally one Friday night, not too long after Michael was born, Gene called and asked if he could come up on Sunday afternoon, after church, and bring the little uncles to meet their new nephew. Neither he nor Helen had shown any interest in visiting; although they finally sent flowers to the hospital but the card read "Griffin Sales and Service", (I am sure it was not Helen’s idea). Gene also wrote Billy a letter, which started by saying, "Now you will know what it means to say ‘my son, my son’." He also included a small life insurance policy he had taken out on the baby, and we were supposed to pick up the payments just as soon as Billy received his commission. We knew then that Gene did not live in the world of reality since Billy’s salary, as a 2nd Lieutenant would be just $100 more per month more than he was sending us now! Moreover, we would be leaving behind or benefactors in Mrs. Harris, with her minimal rent, and Mr. Moore and the endless supply of groceries.
I did not expect Helen to accompany Gene and the boys, so I was not disappointed, rather relieved, when she did not come. Gene made the excuse that she had a cold and did not want to expose either the baby or us so she stayed at home, but Billy and I both knew better. The boys’ excitement over their tiny nephew more than made up for Helen’s discontent and they all took turns gently holding him and said they could hardly wait until he was big enough to play rough with them, and I knew that would not be too much longer. He would be just another ‘little brother’ for them to play with and they were delighted the baby was a boy. The visit went well, mostly because of Helen’s absence, but ended all too soon for the boys as Gene said they had to get on the road so they would not be too tired for school the next day. I guess I was overly optimistic since I hoped Gene would take us all to The Smith House for dinner, but no offer was forthcoming. They left as quickly as they had come.
Gene had pronounced Michael, another happy, healthy, strapping McConnell boy. Both Billy and I hoped, with time, his mother would come around and realize the baby was her flesh and blood too, and his father would become more anxious to be close to his first grandson. Why we thought that would happen when he was such an absentee father, I do not know. We both knew that sometimes a relationship with a grandchild could be more fun than with a child, not being responsible for discipline, but it’s a good thing neither of us held our breath on that one! In spite of everyone and everything, Billy and I were determined our son would have a happy childhood filled with the love and presence of both parents - parents who loved each other and did not drink, fight or get physical with one another. We knew we would have to make up for our son not having concerned grandparents, but we hoped between Pop and Bubba, and Gram and Poppa, he would never miss them.
We may have been young but we were both very mature and very responsible, just as we had been when we were taking care of our younger siblings. We both knew exactly what we did NOT want for our child. Even if it meant he did not see his grandparents very often, we would never expose him to Helen’s contempt, Gene’s coldness, my mother’s indifference, and my father’s violent binges. If possible and when he was old enough to know about these things, we would make sure he was never around when they happened, even if it meant shutting his grandparents out of our lives. Billy and I vowed that our children would never be ashamed to bring their friends home with them, and they would grow up in a happy and loving family, regardless of where we lived.
Now we were three – a real family with a Mommy, a Daddy and a baby boy, and I could not have been more content. I cherished each moment spent caring for my tiny son, and for his father. What more could I ask for? Life was perfect!
Postdated May 4, 1961
Dear Mama Bond,
Just a short note to let you know the latest news. First, I thought that I was going to be a mother Sunday, p.m. Billy started timing pains at 5:15 p.m., and by 2:00 a.m., they were three minutes apart. I did not want to go to the hospital because I did not think that the pains were bad enough, then that infection has been painful before, and the doctor said it would get worse the last month. Billy wanted to take me at 10:00 p.m., but finally at 2:00 a.m., I persuaded him to go to bed. We were not in bed five minutes when the pains got so bad that I wanted to go. Well, as might be expected, the car was in the shop, so we had to call Tommy (a friend who Billy and I stayed with when his wife had a baby recently). All the way to Gainesville, the pains were regular and hard, and continued to be so all during the prep, which was horrible. A student nurse just about cut me to pieces (while shaving me). The head nurse came in and tried to see if my cervix was dilated, and I was so tense they naturally pumped me full of tranquilizers that did not wear off until Tuesday. By morning, nothing had happened, and the pains (not as severe) were starting to get irregular. Dr. McCrum examined me and offered no explanation or medication whatsoever, and he was just as rude as he could be. By the time I got home, I was bleeding a dark brown blood, which finally stopped Wed. (not stopped but turned yellow). Wednesday was also the first day I really felt like doing anything, and then, not very much. I still hurt, but as long as I rest every hour or two, I feel all right. Billy has been wonderful – hanging out clothes and putting up with sandwiches. I am supposed to go back to the doctor a week from Saturday if the baby does not come by then. If I were not so far along, I would change doctors first.
Well, the car bill came to $140 – where we are going to get it, I do not know, but since we have an excellent credit rating at the grocery store, I imagine we will take advantage of it, and pay them when Billy goes to work this summer. Do you think that you could do me a big favor, and tactfully ask Mother if instead of giving the baby a present, she could give us $20 to have help for at least the first week? If not, Billy insists on borrowing it because a doctor told him I should do nothing for three weeks to avoid trouble in later life. I think maybe if I have help for a week, I can convince him I can take over from there. We already owe the man Billy wants to borrow from, and I hate to do it again until we pay him back.
Well, our best friends had their baby on Monday night – 8 lb. 13 oz. boy and a month early at that! (Boy! Was I naïve) I thought that surely I would be next! Both mother and baby are doing fine and are coming home Saturday. The kitten is for them. Please do not forget to bring it when the baby comes. Daddy said he had saved one.
How is all the family? Is Mother feeling better? Please write soon with all the news. Take care of yourself and come to see us soon.
Love from both of us,
Diane & Billy