I’VE ONLY EVER MADE ONE New Year’s commitment. It was soon after I learned I was conceived during the wee hour following a New Year’s Eve celebration welcoming January 1, 1946.
“I don’t remember your birth,” my Mom dodged as she ironed blouses on my fiftieth birthday while detailing the deliverances of my siblings. “Your’s was like a used car after a New Year’s Eve dalliance.”
“Excuse me? Dalliance? I was a dalliance?”
My folks didn’t display evidence of a demonstratively affectionate union. The serrated edge, sepia wedding photo buried at the bottom of a bedroom dresser drawer attested to their having once been in love. But by the time I was old enough to empathize, there was no physical contact to observe. Suffice it to say, I never saw them kiss, hold hands, or even touch. It made any accounting of my arrival play more like a balancing act between burning the ironing board cover and battling spray starch build-up than accurately answering me. And, to be fair, at eighty-three her memories of maternity weren’t exactly chart toppers.
“Cathy was born fifteen months after me,” I pestered, “yet you remember her delivery day and not mine?”
“David was my first, that’s why. Kit was my biggest, Michael was my earliest, Susie was my first girl, and Cathy was my last pregnancy — all two years apart! How could I forget?”
There were other distinctions made between us as well. As children, David and Cathy were gifted athletes. Kit marched in every school band through college playing coronet. Susie sang well enough to turn professional and Michael looked like a movie star. I was quieter by comparison, content with pets as my companions and seldom sought attention.
Perhaps I was like that from birth? It called for my surrender. “Well, at least I have the distinction of you remembering my creation.”
“Oh, no, I recall them all,” she perked up. “David was planned as our first anniversary gift to each other, and Kit was conceived on Halloween as a treat. I ended up in labor for 33 hours with that boy, walking the halls of Foote Hospital, trying to push him out. To this day he’s never without a piece of candy in his mouth. As for Michael — Michael was a Valentine’s Day creation that we were expecting near Thanksgiving. But you know how your brother Michael is about being early. Delivered him on the elevator. He just couldn’t sit still and wait. Now your sister Susie was conceived on my birthday, so we knew she’d arrive as our seventh anniversary gift. Of course, we were expecting a boy. That was the plan, to only have four boys. And finally Cathy, dear sweet Cathy. She was an income tax day deadline we met in the nick of time. But you all have that one thing in common.”
“Your father was never present at any of his children’s birth. I delivered all of you solo.”
Sensing she spent a lifetime twinged by the loneliness of that indignity struck a cord in me more tender than her not recalling my day of birth.
Since then I have made and kept the singularly same resolution: I resolve that my Mom, and all the memories she shared with me will never be forgotten.
Happy New Year!
Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist
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