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Sunday, August 30, 2009

They say its my birthday

I don't know, I wasn't there. But I heard about it all of my life. Lots of stories, a premature birth by several months, the incubator, a needle in the head to feed me, nurses spoiling me, when they finally brought me home, I fit in a shoebox. According to my Aunt Joy, they handled me like a "Dresden doll." That means very fragile, easily broken. I know nothing about it, and had a pretty normal childhood.

Then when I'm around 25, my mom pauses one night and asks me for forgiveness. She explained that, what I had never known was that she would not hold me or look at me when I was born. Later when I looked at family pictures, what she said fit. It was my Aunt Shirley carrying me from the car. My Grandmother Spraggins taking care of me for weeks... My parents were gone to Mexico! Mom had borne several babies that had died. She was sure I would die too, and did not want the pain of losing another baby. Did not even want to be in the State! I understood as soon as she told me. I never knew about it, never felt any of that. There were no apologies necessary. And she died a year or so later, and I suppose the truth telling went under the category of unfinished business.

But she wanted me to know. It meant something to her. Maybe closure, or giving credit to my father and others who prayed me through those days. But God had taken care of everything. He had been there when no one else was. I can't explain that, but here is just one reason why I know it:

Around 25 years later I had a breakfast habit, before Cow talk, there was the Coffee Cup. An old family friend, Ken Duggan, who made me breakfast every morning, kind of like my Grandfather Cushman did in Park Place as a boy. It was a real tricky and special relationship. I sometimes would share a table with Dorothy Coburn, a lady preacher who liked to sharpen her skills on me while I ate. I would grunt an Amen over my scrambled eggs. One day she began to talk about her life... 50 years before, as a young Black woman, she had trouble getting a job to teach after she graduated from college. And she began telling me about one of her first jobs. She had gotten the nearly insulting job of mixing baby formula... in the Herman Hospital nursery...

"Did you say Hermann Hospital?" Suddenly I cared. After some amazing comparisons, we established an incredible link between us. Dorothy had mixed my formula, in 1954, during those months I stayed at Hermann, waiting to be ripe enough. She had never met one of the babies she had served during that job, which she was so glad to leave behind. Certainly I had never met one of my hospital caregivers during that dramatic time. She went on to be a popular school teacher in Houston schools. But I may be the only child she served during her professional years that she now calls "Son." Whenever we are seen together, she says "This is my son!"

They say it's my birthday. But when exactly is your birthday? The day you were born, the day you were SUPPOSED to be born, the first day your mom actually holds and loves you, or maybe when she finally comes clean with you, and lifts the fog from the past, or the day you discover a surrogate mother, and you step back, and see God's hand on every little step of the way? I'll take 'em all.

I think I'll go call Dorothy.

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