August, 1984, contractions began at six in the morning.
"Here we go!"
Two weeks before the due date. Yes!
We were a family of three at this point, Tom, Ben, and me. Ben had been talking to his 'brother' for many months and was looking forward to sharing his room with him.
"What should we name the baby?" Tom asked Ben one night while playing with Lincoln Logs.
Thankfully he didn't say Big Bird or Mr. Rogers or Grandpa! Joseph was a name we'd thought about and particularly liked, so we decided that Joey it would be.
Visits to the doctor's office found 3 year old Benny conversing with Dr. Nash about how things had been and what they'd each been doing. Dr. Nash had been told, by Ben, that Joey was Joey, but he didn't buy it.
"You'd better think about Josephine, Ben. It's going to be a sister," he'd chide the little kid.
Ben would sort of smirk and reply, "No. It's Joey."
That morning in August, when Joe began to knock on the door to be let out of his ever tightening quarters and into the wide wide world, we were all excited to meet him.
He took his time.
I walked around the neighborhood. Twice. We waited. I concentrated, trying to will the contractions to get a move on. No such luck.
"They've stopped, Mom. Can we come up to your place for awhile?" I asked my mom over the phone. She invited us to Sunday lunch.
Dad kept looking at me as though I would explode all over the place. Then he told me I looked like one of his cows before they gave birth, shuffling around, looking uneasy, with that look in their eyes.
"A cow. Ya know, Dad, not the best thing to call a woman in my condition."
He smiled. He knew I would have Joey and soon, but I didn't believe it.
Lunch over. Nothing.
"Let's go cut some firewood, Tom," Dad suggested. Tom jumped up and was out the door in no time, stopping at Dad's shop for a chainsaw and then to the truck which Dad drove out of sight down the hill.
Mom and I did the dishes and listened to the noisy saw while we talked and played two-handed pinochle. Ben helped hold my cards and played with Hoagie, the dog.
5:00 rolled around. Mom, Ben, Hoagie, and I decided to walk down the hill to watch the boys cut wood for awhile. No contractions since before noon, and I'd decided the moment had passed.
The walk down the winding gravel road was pleasant, the air cool, smelling of dry grasses. We arrived at the bottom, pushed the lower gate open, and walked into the woods where the boys were stacking wood into the truck. Hmmmm......uh oh. Oooo, ouch, geez, that was a big one, hoo hoo hoo I breathed.
Dad grinned and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "Uhhh Huh!" he proclaimed victoriously. "Ben," he added, "looks like you're going to be spending the night with Grandpa tonight. Whoopee!"
Mom got a little nervous as I started back up the hill. Tom offered to drive me up. I declined, thinking the walk would help move things along. I was right. Poor Mom! Sticking by my side, she told me later that she was afraid I would tip over and have the baby right there by the side of the road. She was astounded that I had the gumption to climb all the way back up the steep driveway, even though I stopped several times to breathe through contractions. She was not comfortable with this 'natural childbirth' stuff, but still was a very comforting help to me on that long, determined climb.
Tom and Dad passed us in the wood-laden truck, looking nervous. I assured them that I was..huff huff..fine.
Up at the top of the hill those three adults and little, excited Benny gently escorted me to our car, and Tom took off. Contractions are magnified when a crazy man is at the wheel going over rocks and ruts that feel like boulders and canyons.
"Yee ouch! THOMAS!!"
Joe was born an hour later.
I can still remember the doctor's face when he saw our little baby for the first time. He grinned from ear to ear and said, "Benny was right! It's Joey! Hi, Joey!"
What a welcome, huh! First name basis, wanted, loved, cheered by everyone in the delivery room. Tom gave me a big kiss as together we held our second son, awestruck to think we were the parents of two little boys!
Joe is a remarkable son, brother, grandson. I could list all the things I love about Joe, his sense of humor, his insightfulness, his consideration and kindness, his boisterous laugh, and much more. But the thing about Joe that really gets to me is that though he, unlike me, is not an emotional person he can tell when something is bothering any one of us and he gets to the root of it even when we are evasive. He wants to help, and no one can soothe a soul as Joe can. He understands. The idea that he would take the time to comfort us when he has so much going on, makes me teary-eyed grateful. I feel safe when he's around, and I know his sisters feel safe, for he is a fierce protector of all that is us.
As a sophomore, Joe's leaving home to live on campus at Gutenberg College, just a few miles from here. He's lived on his own before so this is not traumatic for any of us. Though I'll miss having our tall, opinionated son around on a day-to-day basis I couldn't be happier for him in this new adventure into which he is heading.
"Happy 23rd Birthday, Joe! You bring joy to my heart every day. I am eternally glad that you were born, and that God entrusted you to Dad and me. We are known by our choices, and you have proven to be wise, understanding, compassionate, honorable, and faithful. You are an outstanding man and a wonderful son. I love you."