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Patricia C Behnke

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Happy Birthday and Holidays
By Patricia C Behnke
Monday, December 05, 2005

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Winter Rolls All the Holidays into One Package

I claim this season as my own. Once the cooler weather hits and the smell of pumpkin pies baking hits the olfactory roadways, I go back to a simpler time and long for chestnuts roasting on something, even though I have never had a roasted chestnut in my life.

My birthday falls two days before Christmas. As a child, anytime after Nov. 23 I began the countdown to the two biggest events in a young child’s life: Christmas and birthday.

Because of the timing of my arrival into this world, my family remembers my birth more so than the births of my four siblings. My father worked in retail so his days during this time of year meant he never saw the daylight hours at home. It would have been a miracle if he was able to be at the hospital when my mother gave birth. All day on the 23rd of December my mother felt the pangs of labor, which she tried to ignore as she furiously tried to finish all the details required for preparing Christmas for four children aged 5 to 16. Finally at 4 p.m. she called my father at the store and conceded defeat to the persistent bundle of pain knocking on her womb’s door.

We lived in a small Michigan town and the local hospital was only four blocks from our house. My mother did not know how to drive, so she walked the four blocks to the hospital arriving sometime before five o’clock on a dark Thursday afternoon. The nurses had all been sent home for the holidays and so when my father finally arrived, he was put into duty as the doctor’s assistant. Now this was 1954, and I imagine my father might have been the first man — besides the doctor — to have ever seen the inside of the labor room at this hospital. And my father, with four sons at home, had never witnessed a birth in his life.

My mother asked for ether for pain, and it was my father’s duty to administer it. I have been told it was in a bottle and used like the smelling salts of days gone by. My father passed it under my mother’s nose when she asked. At some point, my father determined — with all of his minutes-old experience with a laboring mother — that she had had enough of the ether. From my mother’s description of this moment, the true miracle of the night probably occurred when my mother allowed my father to live after this interference.

My father rushed home to my brothers after my birth and ran into the living room where the four boys sat watching the new television.

“You’ve got a baby sister!” he cried.

My brothers only remember their annoyance at the interruption in the fascinating story in black and white before them. They probably also worried about their dinner. My father now had less experience in the kitchen than he did in the labor room.

So the story goes. There is more, of course, but for me remembering those stories becomes even more precious now that my parents are no longer here. Whether embellished or not over the years, I treasure them.

And it is with great anticipation that I greet each holiday season, remaining hopeful that some miracle will occur. The feeling even lasts into January with the short days and warmly lit houses welcoming us home at the end of the day.

This year I will spend this season in a new place, combining old traditions with new. But in my heart remain the memories of family Thanksgivings with too much food, birthdays spent not only in the glow of birthday candles but with the lights of the Christmas tree as well and warm times spent with friends and family during the entire holiday season.

While life has changed in so many ways since my first holiday season, one thing remains the same for me. This time of year brings hope for renewal and rebirthing and rejoicing.

May your miracles be as sweet as mine have been during the past 51 years.

       Web Site: Patricia Behnke

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