Lo, How a Rose
In the first dark and quiet hours of Good Friday, April 9th, I awoke from a variety of minor discomforts. There wasn’t anything unusual about that; I’ve got a cranky back, my shoulders and knees get stiff from lying too long on one side or the other. One’s bladder always needs emptying. It’s all the normal stuff for middle age.
But the first thought that worked its’ way into my mind, as I stirred, was: Heather’s labor has begun. (Heather Rose is my older daughter, married now a year and a half to Dale Rose, and with child, due April 6, so the onset of labor at this moment made perfect sense.) Not the sort of thought I usually find rattling around in my brain in the middle of the night, so it gave me a start. At a suddenly-conscious level, that same brain responded with the thought that if labor had indeed begun, Heather and Dale would surely let me know if, and when, my presence might be helpful, a relaxing thought that quickly eased me back into slumber.
My premonition was mostly forgotten when I awoke. I had espresso with Cornelia down the block at Peet’s before she headed off to her office, and I walked home, enjoying the morning. At 8am, back home, in the kitchen, I noticed the message light blinking on the phone. Denise, Heather’s best friend from middle school, had called, saying that Heather and Dale were on their way to the hospital, and that she’d call when there was news. I called her back right away, and she assured me I’d be the first to know when the baby arrived.
Suddenly, I was frantic from anticipation, nervous as a mother hen trying to keep track of her babies. I called and left a message for Cornelia. I tried to work. Which meant, that day, as always, a lot of phone time, so I told everyone I talked to about the imminent arrival of this new child.
I kept thinking of how quickly Heather and her sister were born after the onset of labor, and somehow convinced myself that this birth, too, would be swift. But the hours went by, and the phone didn’t ring. After awhile, I called Denise back. Still no news. It was after 2pm.
I ran errands. I kept working. I kept worrying. It was a bit after 5:30pm when Denise finally called. “Well, Grampa,” she told me, “she’s here, and everybody’s doing fine, but they’re really tired. So they’re going to rest for awhile and then they’ll call and let everyone know when the best time to come see her will be.” The labor had been long, so it was easy to understand how tired they must be. “What a relief,” I told her.
Then I started calling everyone I could think of. I thought I was going to burst, I was so happy! I posted messages on a couple of internet wine boards. I called my wife, my sister, my chiropractor, old friends, new friends, my younger daughter, my stepchildren. I told the cat, my neighbor, the people at the post office and the bank, the espresso-maker at Peet’s.
About an hour later the phone rang again, and I thought perhaps it would be Dale calling to tell us to come. A deep, slightly raspy voice said, “Hello, Steve…” I’d been thinking of Dale’s father moments before, and when I heard this voice, at first I thought it might be him, but then I realized that I recognized the voice, just before it said, “it’s Fred Turner. How are you?”
(Frederick Turner is a writer I’d met, some eleven years back, when he’d done a reading at Black Oak Books, just around the corner from Peet’s. At the time, I’d been reading a book of his called Beyond Geography, an exploration of the rootlessness peculiar to the Europeans that settled this country, and the ways in which that seems to have shaped so much of history for the last 500 years. It’s brilliant, insightful writing, and made me want to read anything else he’d written, and to hear him read. Subsequently we’d struck up a friendship; he’s quite interested in wine, and has written on it, quite well.)
I thought to myself, as I listened to his voice: “Guess I might as well tell him, too.”
“Well, actually, Fred, I’m great! My older daughter, Heather, just had her first baby about an hour ago!”
“That’s amazing,” he said, “my daughter just had her first baby, yesterday!” His daughter, Jesse, is a successful singer/songwriter, here in the Bay area. Fred and his wife Elyse were in town in anticipation of the birth, but also because of the imminent publication of Fred’s newest book, In The Land Of The Temple Caves, a meditation on the meaning and value of art in an era of grave crisis in the human experiment. He was scheduled to read at Black Oak the following Wednesday. He’d called to try to arrange to visit, since we’d not managed to hook up the last time he’d been in town. We arranged to get together on Monday afternoon, the day before I was to begin an eight week Odyssey of market travel that would take me to Oregon, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Michigan, Texas, and California’s Central Coast, bringing me back to Berkeley for only a day or two each of those weeks. (When we met, we shared a bottle of Bone-Jolly, our Gamay Noir wine, and toasted, of course, our new grandchildren.)
A while later, I gave up waiting for the phone to ring again, and I called the hospital; the call was transferred to Heather’s room. At first, I didn’t recognize her voice, and it occurred to me to wonder whether anyone ever sounds the way we’re used to hearing them sound, right after giving birth. But it was lovely to hear that voice; she was very happy, and from listening to her describe her brand-new daughter, I felt almost as though I’d already met her, and that the eagerness I felt to see her came from missing her. But we decided to visit the next morning, so that the new Mom and Dad could have some time to recover.
This baby was just as beautiful as promised. When I held her, and watched her small face as she floated in my hands and dreamed, I felt like the luckiest man alive.
Heather and Dale hadn’t yet decided on a name, so when I bragged about her to all the attendees at a wine dinner that evening in Yountville, I had to keep explaining that, for now, she was Baby Rose. (Cornelia had referred to her, at the hospital, as a little Rosebud) Early the next morning, after the marvelous, very winey dinner, when I awoke in the guest house at the winery owned by the hosts of said dinner, I had trouble going back to sleep, for missing my new granddaughter. Missing her, it felt, was exacerbated by the fact that she still had no name. Her presence in the world, so new, (and tentative for being new) seemed even less certain without a name to call her by.
Then when I called Cornelia later that morning (Easter Sunday) she said that Dale had just called, and they’d decided on a name, one that hadn’t even been on their final list. This little rosebud would now be Sophia Pascale Rose! Hallelujah, great day in the morning! Angels in heavens’ choir never made a sweeter sound…
The restless foot may wander; the moving hand may write.
Sometimes you just feel lucky if you got a place to spend the night,
And I’ll be with you when the lights go down, and only starlight shows…
Baby, you’ve been diggin in my garden, now I’m bloomin, like a red, red rose.
(Red, Red Rose July 2001)