Don was gone when Mirinda was born and died. I was canning pickles one night when my water broke six weeks early. It was about 3:00 in the morning. I reached down to pick up a case of canning jars when it broke. At first I thought I had just lost control of my bladder, but I was wearing white pants and there was no stain. I finally figured out what had happened and changed clothes and laid down. Since there were no accompanying pains, I got back up and finished canning. I also cleaned the house from top to bottom in case I had to stay in the hospital for a while. It never occurred to me they would induce labor.
At 8:00 the next morning, I called my neighbor. I hadn’t been to bed yet and was still cleaning when Romia got there. She finally peeled me away from chores and hauled me to the doctor, who promptly put me in the hospital to induce labor six weeks early.
I protested I couldn’t go to the hospital, but they sent me anyway. They gave me some shots and then had me walking up and down the hall in my natty little hospital gown and my red boots.
Romia stayed with me through all of this. They put me completely out when the baby was born. Several hours later, Romia left Mirinda’s side and shook me awake. “Julie, the baby isn’t doing well. Do you want to call your pastor and have her christened?”
They had given me shots to keep me knocked out. I guess that was more convenient than having to deal with a hysterical mother or have me begging them to fly her to Lubbock where they had a neonatal unit that could handle babies with hyaline membrane. I finally woke up enough to understand what she was trying to tell me and Romia called my pastor. He got there and spent thirty minutes explaining to me why babies didn’t need to be christened. I was trying to get my head around all this and having a theological argument with this guy when I hadn’t even seen my baby yet. Romia told him to either do it or she would call the hospital chaplain in. He christened her, reluctantly, at 12:04 a.m. She died at 12:07. I remained on my knees until nearly 1:00 a.m. praying and begging God to save my little girl. The nurses kept trying to get me in bed, but I refused. They demanded the doctor come in and tell me the baby I was praying for was already dead.
“The baby is gone, Mrs. Weathers.”
Thus began my descent into madness.
The nurses brought me food I was too drugged to eat and gave me shots to keep me pills to keep me knocked out. I was in the hospital for five days and never got a shower or washed my hair in that time even though the anesthesia made me so sick I puked my guts out. Romia filled up one of those little plastic pans and washed my waist-length hair in it as best she could.
My friends brought me cemetery plots so I could choose one. They also picked out dresses and shoes for me and christening gowns for Mirinda. I picked out the ones I wanted from the selection they brought me and they returned the others. The first call he got said the baby was born and she was fine so he went on to Washington and delivered his load. She was dead when he called back. It was five days before Don could get home due to airline strikes. He thought he had a plane caught in Washington but it canceled. He drove down to Oregon where they thought he could get one. California was the last stop and they canceled on him there also. The trucking company he worked for had a guy stranded up there with a broke down truck so they loaded it up on Don’s trailer and they drove non-stop to Denver where he did catch a plane.
In the meantime, a lady I worked with and her mother came up to the hospital to sit with me and give Romia some time off to care for her family. If one of them happened to be in the room when they brought a food tray in, they helped me try to eat. Most of the time I was too drugged to hold a spoon by myself so food trays came and went untouched even though I was starving. I tried to feed myself once and simply wound up passing out and knocking the Jell-O in bed with me. Debbie, my co-worker found me lying in the mess with it all over my hair. Once again we did the pan and soapy water thing to try and wash it out of my hair.
Don’s niece convinced me to call my mother-in-law and tell her before the obituaries came out. I asked Ilene to call Vickie, my mother-in-law even though I really didn’t feel like dealing with her. Vickie came up to the hospital with a friend. I don’t know what I expected. Not warmth, but perhaps a bit of sympathy. “I knew you were going to kill that baby,” she said. “You were doing way too much. I knew you were going to kill her.”
Funny thing is, I had spent the previous three weeks taking care of her and my nearly blind father-in-law while she went in to have elective surgery. So, I was taking care of livestock at my house, my huge garden, trying to can at my mother-in-law’s house, hauling Bill to see her twice a day because she got mad if I didn’t, taking care of Don’s nephew’s boys while his wife was in the hospital having a baby and painting and cleaning Vickie’s filthy house so she would have a fresh house to come home to. Even after she got out of the hospital, it was a rat race. Vickie saved all of her hospital menus so she could give me her choices of what she wanted to eat. Don’s uncle came down to “help” so I wound up with three old people to take care of, none of whom seemed to be hungry at the same time. I begged Don to take me home when he got in on a run and he did. We went to Ruidoso to relax for our wedding anniversary. Vickie, of course, blamed the premature delivery on us going to Ruidoso and that godless horse racing.
And therein was my first mistake. It didn’t matter how hard I worked or how much I did, I would never find approval in the eyes of the Weathers clan or my loving husband. It took me 34 years to figure that out.
That afternoon, after Vickie made her joyous appearance, the lady from my Sunday school class came to see me. She had a beautiful plant in a ceramic bootie. “Oh, Julie. I just went to see her and she is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”
My heart stopped. Mirinda had died the day before. How did Jo see her? “You saw her?”
“Yes, I just came from the nursery.”
“Would you mind if I go down with you?”
Sure enough. There was a beautiful little dark-haired baby with Mirinda Dawn Weathers on the name card. The baby yawned and I cratered. Jo asked me what was wrong and I told her Mirinda died the day before. They had left Mirinda’s card on a bassinet when she died and hadn’t changed it. The nurse crumpled it up when Jo told her what happened. I asked her if I could have it. They got a wheelchair and took me back to the room. Jo asked me if I wanted her to give the plant to someone who didn’t have any flowers. I agreed that would be a good idea. Vickie promptly spread the word through the church her ungrateful daughter-in-law went insane and threw poor Jo out of the hospital room. They moved me to a floor away from the babies after that. I never saw the doctor. He didn’t bother to leave any instructions about post-natal care.
Don arrive five days later. I had convinced the nurses not to give me more pills because I needed to finish some funeral arrangements. I was walking down the hall to get some coffee when I saw him. I buried my head in his shoulder and cried. He held me and told me I had to be strong or he would break down too. Thus began another tradition. Don’t cry. Be strong. Handle it.
I had all the arrangements made except picking out the casket and the flowers. We stopped at the funeral home first. The salesman showed us three caskets and kept apologizing for the lack of inventory, but, “business is so good we can’t keep them in stock.”
I told him repeatedly it was all right the brushed pink one was the one I wanted. Still he kept ranting about how good business was. Don finally told him to shut up. He kept trying to shove one thing and then another at us with the caveat, “This is all you’re going to be able to do for the baby. You don’t want to have any regrets.”
I went down the list and pointed out the things I wanted, nothing more. Tally it up and give me the price.
I was very proud of myself for not crawling over the man’s desk and strangling him right there in front of God and everyone.
We went to the florist next. I picked out a $60 cross made of white carnations and pink rosebuds. The florist insisted on showing me casket blankets and all kinds of exotic arrangements, which I refused. “This is the only thing you’re going to be able to do for your little girl. Are you sure you want to be frugal at a time like this?”
“I want the cross. If you can’t handle that, let me know and I will find another florist.”
“Well, of course we can, but I just don’t want you to have any regrets.”
“I only have one regret so far and I am going to fix that if you can’t do what I asked you to do.”
I didn’t feel like putting up with a bunch of yammering people after the funeral, so the women’s group from the church agreed to bring food to our house to feed the incoming family after the funeral. Vickie agreed to notify Don’s side of the family. My mother and step-father were flying in. Dad was at the mine and couldn’t be reached. We didn’t know Vickie’s idea of notifying his family consisted of clipping out obituaries and mailing them. That was probably fortunate since the church’s idea of furnishing dinner was to go to Albertson’s and buy an apple pie. I picked the pie up off the porch when we got home and read the note. Don was bringing my bag in when I set the pie down on the table and drove my fist through it.
“What was that?” Don asked.
“The church dinner for after the funeral,” I replied. “We need to do shopping so I can start cooking later, but I’m too tired right now.”