Champagne, Taffeta Housecoats and Circumcision

Well spring has sprung.  My littlest niece spent Easter pinching a stuffed duck and dancing along while it sang a drunk sounding quack quack quack song.  We went barefoot down the sidewalk and picked flowers out of strangers’ yards, ate too many dyed purple marshmallow nightmares and rode home in the blaring sunshine.

Of course it is supposed to snow on Saturday but Thursday is going to be in the 80s. No small wonder New England suffers from more bipolar disorders than anywhere else in the country, which reminds me that my Lyme disease winter might be over. I spent it cuddling with Miss Marla on the couch, reading mostly memoir which is hands down the most depressing genre out there.  I read about poor Irish immigrants in pre-war Brooklyn; people pooping in a hole in Appalachia; a Somalian girl killing a Lorry driver to escape rape; an alcoholic poet getting blindingly drunk on her porch every night; a guy dying in a tractor trailer accident, going to heaven and then waking up completely paralyzed; a doctor in a concentration camp in World War 11, trying to figure out the meaning of life; and a bipolar woman who found balance on lithium.  It was glorious. All I had was Lyme disease.  And even though Lyme  had dropped a couple of bowling balls on my back and my intestines were falling apart from the antibiotics, I was much better off than these people.  Which leads me to my grandma’s diary.

Memoir completely changes when it comes to grandma’s diary. We love memoir when we read about Saint Mark’s in the 30s.  Everything good and fun happens, and when it’s not good and fun, well she just doesn’t dwell on it.  She’s sort of like a Zen nun, not attaching emotion to anything, just going blissfully through her days, recording it all for her granddaughter to write on the world wide web in 70 years.

As of this moment, she’s still in the hospital after having her baby. It’s still February in Grandma-land, so cozy up with a hot cup of Joe for your next episode. This one with champagne and gleaming silver, taffeta housecoats and well, yes, screaming babies that are quieted by a nursemaid so the mother (my grandmother) can get her beauty sleep.  Times they are a changing or have changed drastically. Where’s the nursemaid when you need her and when was the last time you tied twine around champagne and hung it outside your hospital window, hoping it wouldn’t smash?

Grandma’s Diary February 1st-February 16th, 1937, Saint Mark’s Place, New York, NY:

M. came to see me at ten in the morning.  I had seen baby and described him as hideous, red, aged-looking and eyes not open.  Doctor came in and asked how much I remembered. Was pleased with meager report, said I’d done him proud. Kate and Fritz came in at night and assured me baby was all right in spite of idiotic appearance.

Flowers arrived from Mom and Dad, “Timothy with love to his mother.”  After that flowers and telegrams and letters came at fairly frequent intervals for over a week and I felt very much petted. <here my grandma lists pages of incredible gifts she received from boxes of lavender tulips to corsages of gardenias to white crepe de chine coats>.

M. came every night, very sweetly though it made for horrible hours on the subway for him, half an hour to the hospital on Eighth, hour to get home.  Sometimes he had his dinner afterward at Jack Bleeck’s and sometimes ate at the quick and dirty around the corner from hospital.  Never ate with me because Kate warned us the meals were ruinously expensive.

My days very much occupied with nursing every four hours, baking stitches under lamp for half an hour twice a day, being catheretized until could wee-wee by myself (when this last achieved was occasion for congratulations on part of whole staff) being bathed and having abdominal binder wrapped tightly around me.

M. is rather startled to find that he is much congratulated because child was a boy, we not having cared one way or the other, but the result is regarded as a major achievement by many.

<For another page Maggie tells us all about all her visitors and the chocolate and news they brought>

My room at hospital had sunshine all day and a view over the park and a small bit of river. The food was very good and nicely served, pretty china and gleaming silver.  Was amazed when ordered steak to find it beautifully broiled and not too well done.  Nurses did a great deal of talking about what a nice baby he was. I wondered if this were propaganda dealt out to mothers.Discovered things nurses hate to have a patient say for instance: “Did you forget….?”

On eighth day I hung my feet out of bed two times for fifteen minutes until they were red and purple.  On tenth day I was allowed to go to the bathroom.  Got so I could walk to the nursery and watch babies being changed and washed on drainboard.  Also went down the hall to the solarium with riverview but droughts through cracks so didn’t stay long.  On last day went up to the tenth floor and saw a room all decked out with draperies a the windows, silk-covered chairs, walnut bedsteads, bathrooms with showers all de luxe, which I was told Jewish mamas went for in a big way.  No floor service, you had a special nurse.

In second week, M. brought up a game of sticks and we played on a table which had been snitched for me by a nice maid from a more expensive room.  Great fun.  All nurses seemed to know and play and stood around watching us.  Even the stately head of all nurses, Miss Morrison, who came each morning to ask in a deep, awe-inspiring tone if everything was all right, unbent when she saw the sticks.

I bought nursing brassiere from shop downstairs, has little doors to unsnap and removable pads to absorb leaking milk.  Went to scales and found to great delight weighed 108, just the same as before start.  On Monday was bundled up in a wheelchair and taken over to Sloane to mothers’ class, where a number of ward patients, mostly colored and three semi-private patients, were shown hot to bathe a baby, how to sit it on a chamber on our laps and so on…  Discovered ward babies get cod liver oil from first day. Private babies don’t.  Was shown incubator room for premature babies, but they were all so bundled up, could not see them at all.

On day circumcision took place, doctor came in, stood at foot of bed and announced rather diffidently, “Well, I just altered your child.  He didn’t cry—much.”  Supervisor hovered in doorway during this announcement apparently ready to run for smelling salts if I had hysterics.  When baby came in three hours later, he looked just the same as he had that morning and peacefully ate.

Big event of the day was always M.’s appearance and he usually stayed until baby came in for supper, then left.  He read me Max Eastman’s, Enjoyment of Laughter aloud.  He also  brought me Carl Carmer’s Listen for a Lonesome Drum which I read to myself.  Valentine’s Day, he brought up two lovely pints of champagne, one for lunch and one for after dinner; second was tied outside of window with twine and stayed beautifully cold though we were almost as cold with fear that it would drop and smash.

Stayed in hospital fifteen days for flat rate of $200.

Fritz and Kate came for me on February 16th at 5:30 and baby was dressed in the dress, slip, sweater and bootees from Uncle Wilmer, encased in the Hoffman snuggle-bunny and then wraped in Uncle Wilmer’s pink shawl and carried down to the car and put across my knees as I sat in the front seat by Fritz.  Snowing lightly and wetly.  We went down the West Side Harbor, and Fritz pointed out boats in the harbor, Ile de France, a couple of lesser Cundarders and so on to the infant, who squalled from time to time.

Found house fragrant and rosy with flowers which M. bought with part of check Papa sent for the purpose (the rest saved for champagne).  Baby was taken out of wrappings and put in middle of big bed to play for a minute or two. Was then undressed and put into one of my old flannel nightgowns with all the featherstitching and embroidery which Grace had newly washed.  Kate and Fritz went off to a cocktail party, and I took off my green velvet dress and put on the pink flannel house wrap uncle sent me for Christmas and fed the baby to sleep.

During feeding, M. came in bearing a large box which proved to contain a beautiful flowered taffeta housecoat trimmed with black velvet, puffed sleeves, trim waist with black velvet sash which just fitted around my new figure, flowing skirt, square neck and the whole opening down the front with black velvet bows parading down the bosom, so could be opened for feeding.  Put this on immediately in spite of fact it was a trifle too long and received Kate and Fritz in it when they came back for dinner, which Grace made for us, providing a beautiful roast beef. Had Chilean wine which Lee Stowe sent as a welcome home present.  Baby cried a lot as doctor had warned.  M. and I Spartan about this, but Kate and Fritz fidgeted and finally went.

Again fed infant and put to bed. Was up and down all night, changing pants for fretful youth.  Next night had Grace take up her station in his bedroom so we could get some sleep.  After second night baby slept fairly well.

Ooh, I have a whole trunk of grandma’s clothes including silk scarves with foreign coins hanging from the tassles and pink velvet sleeveless dress with elbow length gloves and rhinestone trimmings, but the beautiful taffeta gown with the velvet bows on the bosom is nowhere to be found. We’ll just have to imagine it….  XXXOOO until next time!!

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