The night my mother left for the hospital, I was playing mahjong with three friends. Interrupting our game, my mom whispered to me, “Your father and I are going to the hospital. Don’t worry.”
In the 1950s, women in their 30s rarely had babies. The secretive way my mother told me she was leaving persuaded me to keep quiet. After my parents left, my friend Rochelle asked, “Where are they going so late?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, not looking directly at her, afraid to reveal the secret.
During my mom’s pregnancy, I watched her stomach expand, which confused me. Although I’d been told the facts of life, I had not seen anyone pregnant.
Because she was “old” to be having a child, the doctor advised her to keep her legs elevated whenever she could. To keep herself occupied, Mom sewed clothes for me by hand. One outfit was light blue with white bric-a-brac. I hated it but didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I wore it often.
When I awoke the next morning my dad told me I had a baby sister.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Mom and your baby sister are staying at the hospital for a few days.”
“Can I go see her?” I asked.
“No,” my dad replied, a sad look on his face. “They don’t allow children to visit. They don’t want Mom or the baby to get sick.” For the next few days my father and I subsisted on sandwiches. My brother, Mel, had been sent to camp, so it was only the two of us.
Finally my dad said, “Come with me, I’m going to pick up Mom and your sister.”
What excitement! My sister, Elissa, was unbelievably tiny. I was afraid to touch her, she looked so fragile. Her fingers were not only minuscule but they had nails. I was amazed.
A week later, a bunch of my friends showed up with gifts. We took turns holding the baby as Mom opened the presents. For years my mom told the story of all those girls sitting on her bed thrilled by the infant.
Surrounded by adults, Elissa, my sister, learned to speak at an early age. She memorized the books we read to her, so people thought she’d learned to read — maybe she had!
When my sister was 3 years old, I left my job at Metropolitan Life Insurance. My last check was for $50. Off I went to Teepee Town to buy her a cowgirl outfit including a holster and toy gun. That was another story my mother loved to tell.
My brother and I adored her. We couldn’t do enough for her or buy her enough things.
Looking back, I realize how courageous my mother was to have a child at that time. The lesson I learned was to take risks, to not be afraid to go after what I wanted in life and to listen to the beat of my own drum.
Thanks, Mom, wherever you are.