Thursday, December 01, 2016

Take Good Care of My Baby

As my mother's life slowly winds down (not to say with certainty that the end is imminent, though yesterday, four days before her 97th birthday, my siblings and I raced to her side, thinking it was), I find myself haunted by the doctor who delivered me.

Having recently fixed on his name at the bottom of my 1961 birth certificate from the US Army Hospital in Munich, Germany, I've discovered, among other things—thanks to Google and—pictures of his wedding and of his gravesite in Quantico, Virginia, a scant hour from where I live. 

Yes, the doctor who delivered me died—in 1968 at age 35, in the Panama Canal Zone (of what cause I don't know), seven years after bringing me into the world in a hospital where my mother always said the American nurses were brusque and impatient, even rude, so unlike the German hospitals where friends of hers had given birth, with weeklong stays, feather beds, and geraniums on the windowsills.

Was Dr. V., this blond 28-year-old Army captain, equally cold? How did he comport himself as he pulled me from my mother? I experienced the touch of his hands before I did hers. 

She has known me for 55 years—knows mainly the touch of my hand now and the sound of my voice. Does she recognize my face in those fleeting moments when our eyes lock, when her eyes are even open?

As it happens, Dr. V. came back to America on the same ship my family returned on, a year and a half after we did. I know this because I found a photo of him and his wife and two children onboard. It was the SS United States, the fastest ocean liner ever to cross the Atlantic. 

SS United States today
Today that enormous vessel sits empty and rusted at a dock in Philadelphia, but still hanging on 47 years after its final crossing in 1969, awaiting its hoped-for second life, an effort I've contributed money to. Save the SS United States! If you've driven along I-95 through Philly, you've passed it. You've also seen it, from above, if you've watched the opening credits of West Side Story, released a month after Dr. V. cupped his hands around my slippery head for the first and probably only time. 

Bobby Vee
Another coincidence: Several weeks ago, I read the obituary of singer Bobby Vee, who recently died. His biggest hit was "Take Good Care of My Baby," a song I've always liked. After reading the article, I did some additional research out of curiosity and learned that "Take Good Care of My Baby" reached number one in the US on September 21, 1961, the day I was born—not in the US but across the Atlantic, into the hands of an intimate stranger who transferred me, kindly or officiously, into the arms (or not) of my exhausted mother. 

These are the pieces of a story I seek.

My family (left half of group) and the SS United States, 1963

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Anonymous The Total Femme said...

Oh, we are so connected, the one of us to the other! A lovely, introspective and poignant post. Thank you for writing, my darling!

2:54 PM  

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