Read an Excerpt
The following was recorded by my mother in my baby book, under the heading milestones:
first steps: Nine months! Precocious!
first teeth: Bottom two, at eight months. Still nursing her, but she doesn't bite, thank goodness!
first says "mommy": (blank)
first says "daddy": (blank)
first waves bye-bye: As of her first birthday, she is not much interested in waving bye-bye.
At age eighteen months, the baby book provided a space for further milestones, in which my mother wrote:
She's still very active and energetic. Her daddy calls her "Zippy," after a little chimpanzee he saw roller-skating on television. The monkey was first in one place and then zip! in another. Has twelve teeth. I'm still nursing hershe's a thin baby, and it can't hurtbut I'm thinking of weaning her to a bottle. There's no sense in trying to get her to drink from a cup. Still not talking. Dr. Heilman says she has perfectly good vocal cords, and to give it time.
On my second birthday:
Still no words from our little Zippy. She is otherwise a delight and a very sweet baby. I have turned her life over to God, to do with as He sees fit. I believe He must have a very special plan for her, because I'm sure that terrible staph infection in her ear that nearly killed her when she was a newborn must have, as the doctors feared, reached her brain. She is so quiet we hardly know she is here, and so unlike many of our friends, we can speak freely in front of her without fear she will repeat us. Little Becky Dawson walked up to Agnes Johnson in church last Sunday and called her Broad As A Barn. You know she heard that at home. We are very grateful for our little angel on her second birthday.
This entry was made on a separate piece of paper:
I've been thinking about first words, and so before I forget, here are some other important ones:
Bob: Me (Mom Mary thought this was so cute; she says she first thought he was saying ma ma ma but really he was saying me me me)
My first word, of course, was Magazine.
The other day I overheard Melinda saying her night-time prayers, and she was asking that someday her little sister be able to tie her shoes. Bless her heart. We all hope as much.
Under favorite activities, Mom recorded:
God's Own Special Angel: Our Miracle Baby!
Far and away her favorite activity is rocking. She has her own rocking chair, and Bob rocks her to sleep every night. She is now refusing to take naps in her baby bed; if I try putting her down she doesn't cry or make any noise, but holds on to the rail and bounces so hard and for so long that I fear for her little spinal cord. She is not content until I put her on her rocking horse, where she bounces hard enough to cause it to hop across the floor. Eventually she grows weary and begins rocking, and then the rocking slows down, and finally she puts her head down on the hard, plastic mane and falls asleep, and I am able to move her to her bed.
Dr. Heilman is finally recognizing that all of this might be due to the fact that her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck three times when she was born. I'm not sure why that has caused her not to grow any hair, however. She does have a few precious wisps, which I slick together with baby oil in order to put in a barrette or a ribbon.
Also she loves to go camping. Went fishing for the first time when she was only three weeks old! Her daddy is starting early! She carries a bottle with her everywhere she goes (which is everywhere). Everyone thinks I should have weaned her (she is now 30 months), but I just don't have the heart to take anything away from her.
This letter, written in my mom's tiny, precise script, was placed haphazardly in the middle of the book:
Dearest Little One: I don't know if you'll ever be able to read this, but there's a story I think you should know. When you were only five weeks old, just a tiny, tiny baby, you became very ill. You ran a terribly high fever, and would not stop crying, night and day. The doctors said you had a staph infection in your ear, and that there was nothing they could do. Dr. Heilman was out of town, and we were sent to his replacement. He told us you could die at home or in the hospital. We took you home, and I didn't sleep for days. In desperation your father called our dear friends Ruth and Roland Wiser, and they drove down to Mooreland from Gary. Gary, Indiana, sweetheart, which is hours and hours away! Your father locked me in the Driftwood, our little camper, and Ruth and Roland stayed up all night, taking turns walking you so I could sleep. The next day I took you back to the doctor. He told us there was a new kind of medicine, an antibiotic, that might possibly help you, but he was not reassuring. He said there were twenty-six varieties of this medicine (the same as the alphabet); that probably only one would do you any good, and that he couldn't possibly know which one to prescribe, because they were so new. He showed me a sample case of them, little vials lined up along a spectrum, and then he just reached in and plucked one out and told me to try it. I could tell he knew it was hopeless.
We took you home and gave you the medicine. You cried yourself to sleep, and I, too, fell asleep rocking you. Just before I nodded off I told God plainly that I was letting you go, that I was delivering you into His hands. When I woke up you were silent, and I knew you were gone. I felt something damp against my arm, and when I pulled back your baby blanket, I saw that the infection had broken and run out your ear. Your skin was cool and covered with sweat, and you were sleeping deeply.
When Dr. Heilman came home he told us that the resident had been rightthere was only one medicine that would have saved you, and he plucked it blindly out of the case. Dr. Heilman calls you his "Miracle Baby" now. Olive Overton, my dear friend from church, says that she knew you before you were born, and that it took you some time to decide whether or not you wanted to stay in this world.
I thought you ought to know about Ruth and Roland. What they did was what it means to love someone. We are all so grateful you decided to stay.
The last entry is dated four months before my third birthday:
This weekend we went camping. After dinner little Zippy was running in circles around the campfire, drinking from her bottle, and Bob decided she'd had it long enough. He walked over to her and said, "Sweetheart, you're a big girl now, and it's time for you to give up that bottle. I want you to just give it to me, and we're going to throw it in the fire. Okay?" This was met with many protests from Danny and Melinda and me; we all felt that there was no call to take something away from one who has so little. The baby looked at us; back at her dad, and then pulled the bottle out of her mouth with an audible pop, and said, clear as daylight, "I'll make a deal with you." Her first words! Bob didn't hesitate. "What's the deal?" She said, "If you let me keep it, I'll hide it when company comes and I won't tell no-body." He thought about it for just a moment, then shook his head. "Nope. No deal." So she handed over the bottle, and we all stood together while Bob threw it in the fire. It was a little pink bottle, made of plastic. It melted into a pool.
Now that we know she can talk, all I can say is: dear God. Please give that child some hair. Amen.
Somehow my first wig and my first really excellent pair of slippers arrived simultaneously.
Now my hair, my actual human hair which grows out of my head, was slow in coming. I was bald until I was nearly three. My head was also strangely crooked, and it happened that the little patches of wispy bird hair I did have grew only in the dents. Also my eyes were excessively large and decidedly close together. When my mother first saw me in the hospital she looked up with tears in her eyes and said to my father, "I'll love her and protect her anyway."
When my hair finally did come in, when I was three, it did so with a vengeance: thick and sprouty and curly. And not those lovely loopy curls only ungrateful men get; it was more like fourteen thousand cowlicks. In fact, left to its own devices, my head looks like a big hair alarm going off.
We tried a variety of hairstyles in those early years. The really short haircut (the Pixie, as it was then called) was my favorite, and coincidentally, the most hideous. Many large, predatory birds believed I was asking for a date. I especially liked that style because I imagined it excused me from any form of personal hygiene, which I detested. I was so opposed to bathing that I used to have a little laughing reaction every time a certain man in town walked by and said hello to me and I had to respond with "Hi, Gene."
After a year as a Pixie, my sister decided what my hair needed was "weight." Melinda executed all the haircutting ideas in our house and, in fact, cut off the tip of my earlobe one summer afternoon because she was distracted by As the World Turns.
The weight we added to my hair made me look like a fuzzy bush, a bush gone vague. I decided to take the scissors to it myself, and had just gotten started when my dad brought home my new wig, which he had won in a card game. I can imagine that some eight-year-olds would see an implied message in the gift of a wig; all I saw was hair, long and straight and mahogany colored, like the tail of a horse. It wasn't actually a wigit was called a "fall," and it attached to the middle of my head by a comb, and then fell down my back.
Now because it was a fall and not a wig, there was a problem with all that front part, like the bang part, and those side areas that swooped up into little points, but I decided to take what I could get. I had never before shown any interest in my physical selfmy sister swore I had no prideso when I asked her for bobby pins to help hold my new hair on, she gave them to me without so much as a snicker.
I was admiring myself in the bathroom mirror when Melinda came in and asked me, a bit sheepishly, if I wanted her old house slippers. She had outgrown them, and had never really liked them anyway. I turned and looked at her suspiciously, thinking this was surely a trap, but she was genuine.
I wore my new hair into her bedroom. Her room was painted the color of the best sky, and next to her bed she had a wicker chair and on the chair was a homemade, stuffed clown. It was a very benevolent-looking thing, but once when she was away at a friend's house I snuck into her bed and it began talking to me in the dark, so I kept a wide berth.
Without ceremony, she gave me the slippers. They were made of the most fabulous, long, fake fur, and when worn, made the human foot look like a pink, oval biscuit. The fur kind of sprouted up off the top of the slippers and hung down to the floor. They made a delicious little snicking sound as I walked, too. I remember no house slippers before or after this pair.
Yes, I had beautiful long hair, and yes, I had beautiful slippers, but I was still myself, and there was only one thing I could think to do to keep from bursting. I decided to go play rodeo on my bicycle with the purple banana seat and the sissy bars. It was my stallion, and we had been down a dusty road or two. As I climbed on and started speeding down the street, I could feel my sister's newfound respect fading like an old star, but I couldn't stop. I turned the corner of Charles and Jefferson as if nothing could touch meI rode faster and faster. As I rode past the Kizers' house, where all the mangy foster children lived, one of them shouted, "Nice wig!" And I yelled back, my face bent close to the handlebars, "It's my real hair!" And then another block up, Ruth Kennedy shouted did I know I was wearing my slippers, and I yelled, "They're my actual feet!" And it was a long time before I went back home.
My dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I'd have to think about it. I questioned some friends, and discovered that these were the options available to me: ice skater, cowboy, teacher of little kids, large animal veterinarian. I didn't really, in my deepest heart, want to be any of those. I began to fear that I might live my whole life without gainful employment, as most of the rest of my family had.
Dad told me to think about what I enjoyed doing most, and how I wanted people to see me when I was grown, and I set my mind to that. I was deeply, tragically in love with Telly Savalas at the time, and carried his picture around in an old wallet my grandma, Mom Mary, had given me. My love for him made me dissatisfied with my own life.
I was in a state all during that career time, and then one night, just before I fell asleep, I realized what I wanted to be. The next morning I jumped down the stairs, skipping every other one, so that my mom called me Herd of Elephants. I went outside, where my dad was puttering in his tool shed, and told him I wanted to belong to the Mafia. He asked what did I mean when I said that, and I said like in the movies, and he nodded.