Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Daughter

People are always saying: “Everyone remembers where they were when President Kennedy was shot.” And this is true. But for most of us there are other days that are engraved in our memories forever.

Our first-born, a girl, came into the world on October 9th—1963. And my memory of that night is as clear as if it were yesterday. I sat in the hospital in Owensboro, Kentucky waiting—just waiting. In those days husbands were not permitted in the labor-delivery room. This has been our second trip to the hospital that week. Two days before we rushed down to the Emergency Room to be told my wife was not ready. So two nights later we were back there—and for a while I was alone. I had brought my one-volume of Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln and nestled in the pages of that book is the hospital booklet they gave with the dos and don’ts for patients and families. I called a preacher-friend and he came down to hold my hand. I never opened my book that night.

I remember being scared for the baby, for my wife. I wondered if everything would be OK. We didn’t have to wait very long until the Doctor came out and said, “You have a little red-headed girl.” A few minutes later they admitted me into the room and a nurse brought this little bundle in. My wife looked up and said, “Let me see her ears.” Hoping they did not look like mine. They did.

She took my breath away that late first evening—something that would happen on and off through the years. Her love for purses and shoes—even when she was tiny. Her first day of school. Playing in the band, joining the church, going off to college and leaving an empty room. That summer we spent in England and how the hot water was scarce and I could hear her from the bathroom yelling: “I just hate England!” It was the year Princess Diana was married and she loved the tiara that the Princess wore at her wedding. We found a crystal Tiara in the seaside village of Bournemoth that summer. We spent one week in England in the new Forest in what the Britishers called a “caravan.” And I remember this same redhead, then 21, proclaiming: “I can’t believe we came all the way to England to be stuck in a stupid cow pasture.” But my favorite picture of her that summer in standing in Bath with sunglasses and a green raincoat. That photograph is on the desk in my study even now.

She took my breath away when that next summer she walked down the aisle  on her brother’s arm—tiara and all. And I tried to say the “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here…” with a lump in my throat. We were there when both her girls were born and what a good mother she has been. The tiara has outlasted the marriage and I learned that when your children hurt—there is no harder or deeper pain. We always want to keep them safe—but it isn’t always possible.

We watched her on graduation day at her school giving her special-education kids little framed pictures of each one with their teacher. On the back she had written: “I am proud of you.” My, my how they loved her. The meanest boy in her class came up with a picture he had drawn of an angel and shyly handed it to her. It read: “I love you sooo much, Mrs. Jennette.”

So today she turns 47. How could that be? 47—years crammed with memories. William Barclay wrote of a friend once, “If they cut me open and look at my heart—they would see your name written there in large letters.” Her name is inscribed on my heart. Few nights there are when, before I drift off to sleep, I whisper the prayer I have prayed through the years, “Lord, keep her safe. Keep her safe.” Happy Birthday Leslie. Your mother and I are proud of you. And when we look back over our shoulders and remember we are glad—very, very glad. You still take my breath away.

1 comment:

  1. Roger, What a thoughtful BLESSING for your daughter Leslie. We parents journeyed along side you with similar thoughts, feelings, and prayers for our own.