Throughout the summer, reaction of my colleagues at work to the news that Alice and I would be going east to Rutherford, New Jersey, in August to be with Catherine and Carl following the birth of baby Margaret, had been mixed. The circumspection of my male friends was more than made up by assurances from my women coworkers: “You will have so much fun,” and the repeated question, “Aren’t you excited?” I would smile and say something sensitive. But deep down, my heart seemed to be in suspended animation.
So here we were with a bulging Catherine driving us through the turnpike traffic at rush hour, preparing dinner for us, taking a pleasant evening walk, and packing us off to bed. With the comfort of a pillow, taffeta clouds floated through my sub-consciousness, when in a brilliant luminescent haze Catherine appeared to be speaking to me, suggesting that she and Carl move to the sofa bed in the front room of their apartment, and we move their bedroom. “How does this work?” I dazedly inquired, puzzled by her strange presence in our Central Point, Oregon home. “We are in Catherine and Carl’s apartment in Rutherford dear,” I heard Alice explain, “and Catherine is having contractions.”
At some point in the darkness of early morning we heard the front door click shut as Carl and Catherine headed off to the hospital and by 9:30AM we received a phone message announcing that baby Margaret had been born. If my grandfathering instincts were still not honed, I could still handle logistics, read maps, organize a ride to the hospital and an hour later Alice and I walked into the reception lobby of the Women’s and Children’s Pavilion of the Hackensack University Medical Center.
To the young woman at the counter I explained that we were here to see “Catherine Mullaly,” with Alice quickly providing Catherine’s married name, and my mind wondered if my heart, oblivious to matters such as marriage and age, was perhaps preoccupied with the person I knew as my little girl. We were shown to her room, described on hospital brochures as “colorfully decorated birthing suites that permit labor, delivery, and recovery to take place in the same room,” and there was a radiant Catherine, and the part of my heart that had worried for months about possible childbirth complications pulsed happily as I gave her an embrace and a kiss, never noticing then or thereafter the color of the room, or its promised “homelike atmosphere.” She was alive and well, that was what mattered.
Sometime thereafter Carl took us down the hall to the nursery with its gowned attendants phototherapy bulbs, and little clear plastic tubs each holding a newborn infant wrapped burrito-style in a downy yellow blanket. A nursing assistant on the opposite side of the viewing window held up a baby, and Alice and I ooed and awed about all its hair, as Carl – standing beside us — signaled that this was the wrong baby. So it was that on the second attempt we saw Margaret Sophia Turso for the first time.
Seeing this beautiful child, the words of the humorous song “Hang on Little Tomato” came to me: “Even when it’s dark…Just hang on, hang on to the vine.” I was profoundly thankful that this creature with long, delicate fingers, had, like a piece of delicate fruit, clung to life surviving the brief but tumultuous journey from the womb, to this world of pastel frocked attendants, therapy lights and electronic instrumentation. Seeing Margaret, we knew instinctively what it meant to be a grandparent, for before us was a tangible human being who, for better or worse, deserved whatever love we could give her.
In the days that followed, with Margaret often draped across my shoulder sound asleep, I reflected on the miracle of a child, a unique and unrepeatable mystery who even before it had been “given birth” was open to the deeper mystery that we call God. I thought of the impulse that produces great art, music and poetry, and reflected that the shared creative act by God, a man and a woman of a newborn infant is by far the greater wonder.