Saturday, August 28, 2010


Kathy Vann's third birthday -- August 28, 1952

I have shared my birthday cake with friends and family many times over the years. I would hate to say any celebration is more memorable than another, though last year's celebration in Seattle at Hallie and Nick's wedding ranks right up there. But today I find myself thinking of how in my adult years my parents would show up most every year with a cake and a small gift, and now that they're gone, those memories are very precious. On one such occasion in the early years of my married life, as we were finishing our cake and ice cream, Mike said, "Tell us about the night she was born."

Mother and Daddy chuckled in unison and began to tell the tale of one hot August night in 1949, essentially as I'll tell it to you:

It was late the evening of August 27 and Mother was in labor. So, Mother and Daddy climbed into their 1949 midnight blue Ford sedan and drove all of four blocks to the Orofino Hospital . . . except that my dad didn't stop at the hospital. Instead he headed on down Michigan Avenue and over the bridge that spans the Clearwater River. "Where are you going?" Mother demanded.

"It's such a nice night I thought we'd take a little drive," my dad replied. "The baby won't be here for hours."

"You turn right around and take me to the hospital," Mother commanded.

Dorothy holding Kathy, Oct. 1949
Yes, my dad complied, and back they went to the hospital, where they roused the nurse on duty.

Now, the old Orofino Hospital was a wood-frame, two-story building painted a very dark brown which housed not only the hospital but the doctor's office. The delivery room was on the second floor. You might think that's not a big deal, but there was no elevator. A woman in labor was forced to climb the stairs to the second floor. Of course, my mother was not an exception. My dad was left behind in the first-floor waiting room. In those days, delivery was between a woman and the medical staff. Fathers were made to wait.

"Now," said the nurse upon prepping my mother, "it's going to be a long time before the baby comes and I'm going back to bed. Should you need me, lightly tap this buzzer. Do not turn it on because it rings loudly throughout the hospital. That would be unnecessary. Just tap it and I'll come." And my mother was left to battle the labor pains alone.

"But I delivered all my babies quickly," Mother said. "Once dilation started, the baby came."

Vance with Kathy, Oct. 1949
Sure enough. Before long, Mother knew the birth was imminent. Did she tap the buzzer lightly? No! She turned it on and let it ring – loud as it was.

"Did you hear it?" we asked my dad. "Oh yes!" he laughed. "Everybody in the hospital heard it."

That's mostly the end of the story except that in his excitement, my dad decided that Grandma and Grandpa Portfors, Mother's parents, need to know about the new baby girl right away. No, the news couldn't wait until they were awake and eating breakfast. So, he went to their house – between our house and the hospital – and when he couldn't rouse the dear old folks, he climbed through their bedroom window. I always wondered what comments my grandparents made to each other about that.

Cost of new baby delivered at Orofino Hospital in 1949: $100. Price included doctor's fee for pre- and post-natal appointments and 7-day hospital stay for mother and baby.

Well, it's not hot this year. The high today here at Gilbert will be about 60.  
[On the back of the picture of my mother and me, my dad wrote: "Mother -- This is very good." Evidently he gave it to Grandma Ina. And it's the only copy of that photo I have. In that same photo, look at the bottom right corner. See Vance's shadow?]


Chris said...

You and I were both born on hot August nights, just 24 days apart! Mom was in labor forever because I was breech. Her memories include blisters on her backside because of the heat and the rubber sheet. Dad brought in a little fan and they brought up a bowl of ice cubes from the kitchen to try to help cool her off. Hard to believe in this day and age. She also had the seven-day stay. :-)

Kathy said...

That August was a hot one, and unpleasant for anyone having to stay at the old hospital, I'm sure. And that bed rest of seven days was enough to kill off the new mother. Some things really do change for the better.

Chris said...

My brain is off-line tonight. I completely forgot to say how much I enjoyed your story of the night you were born. I love that your Dad crawled through your grandparents window!!! And the drive! Well, he was new a this dad business and your mom was experienced. Good thing she held her ground!

Aren't you glad Mike asked? :-)

murray.warnock said...

Happy Birthday, Kathy!!

Kathy said...

Thanks, Murray!

Yes, Chris, I was glad Mike asked, and even though I had heard fragments of the story before, I had never heard it as a whole.

Hallie said...

Happy Birthday (late)! I knew it was your birthday and I thought about you, but I was unable to make the call from Canada.

Glad the dinner was good--I'll look forward to a chicken enchilada in the future!

Kathy said...

Hallie -- I didn't expect to hear from you, knowing you were in Canada. Besides, you had already given me a card and and fat quarters -- what fun!

We'll have to tell them to hold the green onions and tomatoes on your enchilada.