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Jan-baby
by Rick Hendrix




Saturday, March 31, 1945. Mama was about to give birth to her first child, my big sister. (I wouldn’t be born for another 9 years.) That afternoon, Daddy drove Mama to the hospital on 4th and Oak in the pickup, a Studebaker. Mama was quickly ushered to her room and began settling in. Daddy’s folks arrived -- they lived in town; everyone was excited. The nurses on duty that evening were friends of Mama’s; this was a small town. Everyone bustled about, getting Mama’s things put away, making preparations, talking excitedly.

The head nurse (I once knew her name but no longer remember; she stayed in touch for years) was at the nurse’s station. Her face was drawn; she was worried. She had already called the doc’s house; the lady who answered said he was out for the evening and would return late. The nurse knew how far advanced Mama’s condition was, so another call was made, this time asking for a way to reach the doc directly by phone. The lady said that she would contact Doc and someone would call back. The waiting began.

Before long, one of the duty nurses came in to report that things were “moving along nicely” and Mama would be ready to go to the delivery room soon. As the nurse left, she noticed the concerned look on her boss’s face; something was wrong. An hour passed with no phone call. Another call to the house resulted in a curt answer that the doc would call as soon as it was convenient. Another hour passed; no call. The nurse took matters into her own hands and called the party she knew the doc was attending. As I said, this was a small town. After a wait of several minutes, a brusque voice came on the line.

“What’s so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow? Who is this?” The nurse identified herself, explained the situation and more scolding ensued. “Who is on call?”

“You are,” she stated. “Besides, she’s one of your own patients.”

The nurse was instructed to give Mama an injection to slow the birth process and with a ‘click’ the phone went dead. Was he on his way?

She’s too far advanced to be doing this, the nurse thought to herself.

Nonetheless, the injection was given. The mood in Mama’s room was changing. Things were taking too long. Glances were exchanged. Worry began to show on faces. Mama could sense worry a mile away. She looked at Daddy. He went down the hall to see what was up.

“The doctor should be here soon,” he was told. Daddy sensed a problem. Another hour passed.

Finally, the phone rang. The nurse answered. It was Doc. With a thick tongue, he asked what the situation was. “Doctor, it’s not good. The baby is in distress.”

“See who else you can get to cover for me. I’m not feeling well.” Again he hung up the phone.

The nurse made the calls, but in small towns there aren’t many to call. For whatever reasons, no one else was reached. The call back to Doc’s house woke him this time. “Goddamn it, I told you I’m not well.”

“You are going to lose this child and possibly the mother, so I strongly suggest you get up here NOW!” was the response from the nurse as she hung up the phone. My daddy heard the exchange of words, felt the emotion in her voice; he had been standing nearby. As he walked back to the room, the tears in Daddy’s eyes were tears of worry, rage and helplessness.

There was another lengthy wait. Finally, the doc arrived, entered through the service entrance, and scrubbed while Mama was taken to delivery. In those days, the daddy wasn’t allowed to be with the mama, didn’t get to hold the mama’s hand, take pictures or hold the baby afterwards. I could sense when my daddy told me the story many years later that it was probably just as well.

The delivery was quick and without incident. My sister, Janis Carimin, was here at last. However, my beautiful big sister was noticeably quiet and lethargic; her color wasn’t good.

Doc? He cleaned up and left. Not a word was spoken to Mama or Daddy, not one damn word, not to the day Doc died. Daddy never allowed him to see or care for Mama or Jan after that night. They drove to Greenville for check-ups. Daddy would quit work early, clean up, and drive Mama and Jan to the appointments.

Jan, or Jan-baby as my folks called her, was beautiful. She was attentive, but quiet. She would lie in her crib and look around, never kicking and reaching; regardless, she held the hearts of Mama and Daddy and all who met and held her. She was special.

Since Daddy had heard the phone conversation at the hospital that night, he knew something was wrong. He didn’t share that knowledge with Mama. He didn’t have to. She knew.

After the first year and a half, the doctors in Greenville suggested my folks take Jan to specialists. In those days, the Mayo Clinic had the best, so Mayo Clinic it was.

Daddy borrowed money against the house he had built, against the small business he and my grandfather owned, and against a life insurance policy. With the money, he bought a used station wagon, fixed it up so Mama could care for Jan while they traveled, and off they went in search of miracles. They slept in the car, bought groceries along the way and eventually found themselves at their destination -- a place of last hope.

Jan was given the best of care. Mama and Daddy made friends they would stay in touch with the rest of their lives. The clinic accepted only what my folks could afford. Times were different. Mama and Daddy were optimistic. They prayed. In the end, the specialists confirmed what my folks had known all along. Their beautiful little girl would lead a different life. So would Mama and Daddy. So would I.

_______________________________


Raised in the Mississippi Delta, Rick Hendrix attended Cleveland High School, Delta State University and Mississippi State University. He has designed commercial grain systems since college, 1976. He started his own business in 2005 as a consultant / designer in the same field. At present, he calls Arkansas home, where he lives with his wife and two daughters (and one semi-Australian Shepherd named 'Skeeter Ray' and two cats who should but don't answer to 'Willie Belle' and 'Tigger').


Write Rick at llhjr@suddenlink.net.

Read another great story by Rick Hendrix: Waking Early.

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