This is how Max's Dad came into the world.
(All the names, places, and events in this blog are entirely fictional). Uh-huh.
We took Mom by the arm into the private domain of the men past the lobby and bar. Doc had been at the bar for his morning medicine. I hollered from the kitchen for him when Mom’s water broke.
“Leah, Sarah...,” he yelled, “help Colleen onto the billiards table.” And to one of the upstairs girls standing at the sliding mahogany door, “Jill, don’t just stand there. Fetch a bucket of hot water and some towels.”
I asked Doc, “What’s the hot water for?”
He looked annoyed at the question, “Just set it on the chair.” He washed his hands in the hot water. I laughed inside because he was about to act as though he knew what he was doing throughout the birthing ordeal. There ain’t much a man like Doc can do but to prepare to do nothing and look the part of a doctor.
Sarah placed the towels next to Doc’s left arm so that he could dry his hands. I was grateful Sarah was there because she seemed to be unshaken by all the commotion and she knew what to do. I let her order us around, “It’s okay, Ma, I’m here... Bring some pillows, Jill, Leah, somebody.”
Jill ran out the door to the linen closet and returned with a pile of pillows stacked in her arms.
Sarah scowled when she’d caught me taking a Cuban from the humidor to whiff it, “Leah.”
This adventure into new territory might as well had been into the Amazon Jungles for me and I wanted a souvenir. But Sarah was the eldest and, at thirteen years of age, she was bossy enough ta’ help Mom hold us all together. I have to admit we would’ve been runnin’ wild if she wasn’t in charge. One of her disapproving nods had the cigar back into the humidor before I could say anything. It was like my hand didn’t give a dang what I thought.
I loved the smell of cigar smoke that lingered in the billiard room. It was intriguing and, truthfully, I savored the aroma of taboo from a foreign land far more than the cigar. It evoked comfort from the spirits of rich tobacco leaves wrapped tightly in a ten-inch stick as thick as the Doc’s cane. Long as I remember, I always wanted to get away... out into the world. Maybe visit Andy in Odessa. It must be like to city it was named after... palm trees and all.
Sarah’s full attention returned to her mother. Jill pulled a sheet over Colleen’s body for modesty’s sake. Mom didn’t care a whit about modesty but, though Jill was an upstairs girl, she must have. She averted her eyes from Colleen and nervously tried for eye contact from the Doc. I knew she had no idea what to do next. Sarah nodded towards the sheets over Colleen’s feet and, with a knowing smile, ordered, “Take your end, Jill, and. fold it.”
Jill had been holding her breath and let it out. She followed Sarah’s lead throughout the rest of the ordeal... which was to do very little beyond standing there and watching.
Mom wasn’t showing anything but a determined grimace with each wave of contractions that had taken control of her body. She had done this five times before. You’d think she’d be used to it. She gave birth to Sarah first... a month before her sixteenth birthday in1904. A year later she gave birth to my brothers, Dwayne, Clyde, and another brother, Andy, who was put out to Aunt Nellie in Odessa. I was next one born and now there was this accident four years after me.
I snuck into the billiards room once looked up Odessa on the globe. I was scared we’d never see Andy again when I saw that Odessa’s on the other side of the world. Sarah straightened me out on that and explained there was an Odessa in Washington.
Mom had accepted the fact that, as long as she was with Dad, her belly would be filling up with one accident after another until she died of toxic shock like she almost did twice before. You could tell when Mom and Dad was doin’ good ‘cause their affection for each other could be measured by births. The first three came in rapid succession and, as Archie was doing well at the tables, the others arrived.
Doc moved down to the other end of the table, crouched holding his hands like a quarterback between Mom’s knees. She turned her head away when Sarah pushed him aside and took over. Doc washed his hands again and tried his best to look important.... like there was a reason for him being there at all.
Sarah told Leah, “This one going to be a girl.”
“Rrrrgh....guhhh!” Colleen pushed.
I asked, “How do you know that?” moving closer to the humidor.
“Because Mom said so. She promised,” Sarah said.
“It don’t happen that way.” I was quick to point out. I’d learned to lift candy from the counter down at the General Store. I had my hands fumbling blind behind my back and found the humidor, “God puts a thing on ‘em no matter what’s promised.”
“No he doesn’t! They have it or they don’t. God’s got nothing to do with it.”
“God like’s boys better than girls. I gots a picture of God in one of Dad’s books up there.” I pointing at the bookshelves with one hand and, while Sarah looked up at the bookshelf, I slipped the cigar out of the fancy jar and tucked it in my apron pocket.
“Push,” the Doc said, adding, “The head’s a breaching... you’re almost there.”
Sarah counted on her fingers, asserting with authority, “It’s mathematic.”
“What do you mean, mathematic?” I challenged.
One, two... two girls and three boys. Gotta even it out.” Sarah busied herself untying a shoelace.
“God likes odd numbers: threes, sevens, twenty-one...” I knew math from Dad’s card games.
“No he doesn’t,” Sarah didn’t care but was a straight A student in math and everything else. She didn’t like to be wrong, “We need to have three girls and three boys, huh Mom.”
“Ain’t threes odd numbers?” I challenged.
“No, I meant three and three make six you dummy.”
“Waaaah.... waaaah..... whaaaaa!” the kid hollered like he didn’t want to be out here.
“I don’t get it,” I craned my neck back and forth trying for a glimpse at the babe’s crotch.
Sarah held the crying baby up and laid it on Mom’s chest.
Doc started to bring a knife to the umbilical cord when Sarah blocked his arm.
“I got this, Doc,” Sarah said, then apologized, “Sorry Doc, but we ought to wait a minute or two.”
“Yes, Sarah, I know... I wasn’t...”
Doc’s must have been used to treating common stuff like gunshot wounds and mining accidents, amputating a smashed limb, or fixing a lumberjack’s broken arm and putting it in splints. If anything would have gone wrong I don’t think he would have had the slightest clue as to what to do. Sarah told me she suspected Doc was a quack and I believed her. No one else suspected him though ‘cause doctors were needed in mining towns. Doctors have offices in big cities like they did in Seattle but his office was just his room in our hotel. He did have a few medical devices; a doctor’s bag with a stethoscope and a bunch of doctor’s stuff he took everywhere. He also kept a machine in his room called a Violet Ray Generator that he used to try curin’ dang near anything. And he had him a 1919 model-T coupe for gettin’ up to the mines and logging camps.
“I know, but I was ready, “Sarah did know what to do though... she had the shoelace ready... tied off the umbilical cord and snipped it off with pinking shears she’d been using earlier.
“That’s not, we gots. It’s, we have,” Sarah snapped. Disappointment was all over her face ‘cause she saw the babe’s little package and jerked the sheet up to cover Max, “Don’t talk like a lumberjack.”
“Is it Max or Maxine, Sarah?” I was eager to know for sure. “I can’t see... I think I saw... c’mon, you saw. Did God put one on it?”
Sarah said nothing.
“Yes! Yes! It’s Max, ain’t it!” I jumped up and down and hollered loud enough to be heard on the street, “I told you so.”
Dad burst into the door when he heard me shoutin’. He stopped in his tracks and glared at Doc, “What were you thinking, you friggin’ quack!”
Doc looked up from washing his hands. I don’t think he knew what got Pa’s goat, “Look, I’ve no control over whether it’s a buck or doe.”
“No, you idiot. It’s the felt! You ruined the felt! I just had it put on,” and without thinking of what he was doing, I saw Dad put a hand in the amniotic mess that had spread over his cherished fresh green felt at his end of the table. He pulled his hand back like he’d put it on a hot grill. “Throw me a god-damned towel!”
Doc returned to his usual bluster, “Where did you want her, on the floor?”
Ma’s eyes were shut. She’d shut off her hearing too but she heard Dad and would have laughed at his powerlessness had her body and mind not been busy. I think a mother can do that after two or three kids... shut off the noise but hear what she needs to hear. The sound of crying was muffled as tiny lips wrapped themselves around the nipple in the midst of the soft cushion of her breast. Max quieted down and began suckling.
She smiled at her husband, “Not a damned thing you can do about it now, Mister Man.”
It was true, as far as birthing went; men are, for the most part, entirely unnecessary... especially these two. It was a woman’s operation and men are better off most of the time standing by with a bucket of hot water or pacing outside the room and staying out of the way of a good midwife. Even the adolescent Sarah was of more help to her and that has been the way of it since Adam and Eve when Sarah says that a girl named Lilith was the midwife for Cain and Able.
Dad saw the lid to the humidor opened a crack and looked around the room. He pulled out a cigar, and ordered, “Get her off that table!” He turned to leave, looked at me. He must’ve read my eyes. I stepped behind Sarah, and, on the way out to the big room, he shouted, “Now! Bring her up to a decent bed!”
Jill shrank back. Her eyes darted in terror at Dad’s demands.
“Leah, take Max. C’mon Mom.” Sarah wasn’t intimidated by Pa. She gently lifted Max away from Colleen’s breast despite his objections.
Mom was already coming off the newly laid fresh green felt and motioned to Jill to help with the other, and said, “It’s okay, Jill. The hard part’s over.”
Sarah handed Max to me.
The hotel was a three story one with an elevator. The first floor was the lobby that opened to a larger room with a roulette wheel a half dozen blackjack and poker tables. The second floor had several rooms for patrons of the hotel and for the upstairs girls. The girls came with the deed to the hotel that Dad won at the poker table and he saw no reason to let go of the hotel’s most profitable assets in spite of Mom’s objections.
I whispered to Jill, “He’s too heavy for me. You take him.”
Jill was happy to be trusted to carry the baby and to have something better to do. Holding Max awkwardly, like he was a treasured Chinese vase, she felt his weight, “He must be twelve pounds!”
I laughed, “He ain’t gonna break. Hold him like you know him.” Then she tweaked his little nose and cooed, “Yes, you’re a big boy, big Max.”
The name stuck and Big Max would grow and live up to this moniker magnificently.