Mom’s Birthday – 65 Years Ago

This year’s birthday post for my mother also honors a landmark birthday for my sister, Kathy. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Nothing Really Bad Will Happen. This scene is based on a story told by my mother, Doris Lichtenthal Falcone about the day she brought home her third daughter, Katherine Anne.

New Haven, Connecticut: March 1958

March 1958 – Doris, Kathy, and sister Debbie.
Kathy is about three weeks old here.

“Look what I got for my birthday!” Doris said to her two toddlers, as she walked in the front door of the New Haven townhouse. She carefully placed a blanketed bundle into the lace-covered bassinet sitting in the center of the first-floor living room.

21-month-old Jeanne peered into the bassinet. “Ew! What is that?” she asked, scrunching up her nose.

“That’s your little sister!” said Doris, laughing at Jeanne’s reaction to the sight of the newborn, Katherine Anne.

“Thank you for watching the girls,” Doris said to their next-door neighbor. “I’m hoping my mother will feel better soon and come up.”

“Glad I could do it. The baby’s adorable. Her hair is so blond and curly!” Jane paused, then said, “Well, I’ll let you all get settled,” as she opened the door and stepped out onto the front stoop.

Three-year-old Debbie piped up, “That’s a birthday present? Did it come in a box?”

“No, no,” said Doris. “She’s my birthday present because she was born the day before my birthday.” Suddenly feeling light-headed, Doris fell into the nearest chair. She didn’t remember feeling this tired after the births of the first two girls. It had been a complicated pregnancy. Chickenpox, allergies, chasing two kids around. No wonder I’m so tired.

“Are you okay?” asked Alan, as he walked past his wife, towards the tiny kitchen.

“I think so. It’s probably going to take me a little longer to recuperate this time. I’m not as young as I used to be,” said Doris.

“You just turned 26!” Alan stopped in the doorway, then turned to look at his wife. Her skin was paler than usual, but she had just given birth a week earlier. “You’ll bounce back. It’s just a matter of time,” said Alan as he disappeared into the kitchen.

Doris took a deep breath and rose from the chair. I’d better get lunch ready. She entered the kitchen, Debbie and Jeanne following close behind.

“Mama, I’m hungry,” said Debbie.

“I’m thirsty,” said Jeanne.

Wails from the adjacent room alerted Doris—Kathy was awake. Doris’s pulse quickened as the cries became more intense. Her eyes widened as she saw Alan, settled at the kitchen table, engrossed in a book. How does he not hear that? She handed Jeanne an Arrowroot biscuit, gave Debbie a cup of juice, and scurried back to attend to the baby.

The following weeks were a blur as Doris adjusted to managing three children. Several times she started to call her mother for advice, stopping herself each time mid-dial. She’d probably tell me some Montessori thing—let the children work it out for themselves. Well, the children can’t do the dishes, the laundry, clean… Pop would understand…

Instead, Doris leaned on her neighbors for support. “Jane, some days I honestly think I’m going to lose it. He’s never home. I can’t even get the grocery shopping done.”

Her neighbor nodded and said, “Maybe it will be easier when our husbands finish their PhDs. Yale is sucking them dry.”

“I hope so,” said Doris. “At least we have each other. And the kids enjoy playing together. But I think life would be easier if I had a car.” The two young mothers sat in silence, watching their children play in the small shared courtyard, imagining futures when their children were older and more independent.

That evening, after the girls were asleep, Doris entered the kitchen where Alan was tinkering with his newly built turntable. “I’m going to need a car out here.”

“What do you mean?” said Alan, his head still bent over his project.

“There is no supermarket within walking distance, just the butcher and the corner store. I never know when you’ll be home, so it’s impossible to plan shopping. Plus, it’s so difficult to walk anywhere with three kids.” Doris paused, proud of herself for broaching the touchy subject.

“But you’re the one who wanted to move here from downtown,” Alan replied. “Didn’t you think about that?”

“Honestly, Alan, you’re the one who needs to be more practical. You wanted us to live in a tin house! A Quonset hut—it looked like an airplane hangar!”

“You know my Fellowship grant won’t cover a second car. I’ll have a professorship soon. Just be patient. It won’t be much longer.”

Doris turned away, her cheeks burning. “I hope not.” Perhaps when the reparation money comes through from Austria, my folks will have some money to spare.

Happy 91st birthday, Mom! We know you’re still watching out for us all! Thanks for hanging in there through all the “muck and mire” (as you would call it) to create this wonderful family!

Love Always, Deb

One thought on “Mom’s Birthday – 65 Years Ago

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s