Part ten in the series. The year was 1967.
Song link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QShSmpI0r9k
Ed had picked the place we would live even before he sent for me. It had a converted walk-in closet for a bedroom. Our double sized mattress made it wall-to-wall bed. We did not really care, being young, innocent and very much in love. Our lives, especially during this year, would be full of all sorts of hellos and goodbyes.
We laughed and joked, as my belly grew larger making our bedroom seem even smaller. My days were spent taking the bus to the military hospital on Treasure Island, where I received prenatal care, doing our laundry, food shopping and cooking. We were still very much the newlyweds. We did not have a television but we did listen to the radio and were amazingly happy.
During my pregnancy it was discovered the baby was pressing against a nerve causing me to limp. Even so, I had to walk everywhere. In time the condition would resolve itself, but I was very frightened if the truth be known.
Soon the day came when Ed received his orders to leave. He was assigned to deploy to Viet Nam aboard the aircraft carrier, the USS Hancock. His job was as a firefighter. Being seven months pregnant, we decided I would go back to Hawaii to stay with my parents. The thought of giving birth in a strange city, with no real support system, made the decision easy.
It never really occurred to me how dangerous his job was. It may not have been as dangerous as the ground troops' jobs, but I knew it was important. Having a fire aboard ship in the middle of the ocean was in the realm of unthinkable. Goodbye to Ed and our little love nest.
Seven months pregnant when I arrived back in Hawaii, back to live with my parents and to give birth to our child. I was a much different person, one with a new appreciation of what my mother and father had sacrificed.
I gave birth to our son, Michael Kelé, in April of 1967 at the Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii. We chose a Hawaiian middle name for him, one roughly translating to “Jerry” (who was the King of the Menehunes, Hawaii’s leprechauns). When I began going into labor, I squatted over the toilet to relieve the fierce pressure but in a few hours my water broke and I had to wake my mother up. Mother was tough, loving but very hard on me for my entire life. Her expectations were that I be like her. Stoic, silent, rigid. The last thing she said to me before they took me to the maternity ward was, "If you so much as scream, I'll hear you." She needed to say nothing else.
I lay in a room with three other women in various stages of birth, all were screaming in pain. One called out, “Mary, Mother of Jesus”. Another let go with primordial, guttural, piercing screams of pain, while the other cursed like a drunken sailor. Me? I was too petrified to make a sound other than an occasional moan, and even those were only when I could cover my face with a pillow trying to drown out the sound from reaching my mother.
The four hours of muffling sounds were almost as painful as the labor pains, but finally they wheeled me into the delivery room. I was never so glad to lean back into the long needle they assured me would finally end this pain. It did. I do remember watching my son's birth in the overhead mirror; miraculous, welcome, finally over. My instructions to my mother were to check his ears. To this day I do not know why, but she assured me they were fine. Hello son.
The Red Cross came in and took a photo of us to send to my husband who was still somewhere off of the shores of Viet Nam. That morning I got to shower and put on a fresh, bright yellow gown from home. He never did get that picture. They did get word to him I had given birth, mother and son were doing well. Until his birth we had no idea what sex. I knew Ed would be happy having a boy.
As soon as we were released, it was back home with my parents. Our son’s crib was in my bedroom. I think a few times I was so tired for the two a.m. feedings my mother came in to help me, but pretty much I was on my own, as apparently she had been with all three of hers.
This is a photo taken of us, at my in-laws home in Hawaii, when Mike was a few weeks old.
I rested and took care of my son for a couple of weeks before I went back to work, his $90 a month salary did not go very far, and I knew we would be able to use every bit of money I would save.
Life was predictably safe. I had three girlfriends from high school, and all three of them had children born within two weeks of mine. That helped to fill up the time. Mostly I ached to be with my husband and get our family together.
In June I got word Ed’s ship soon would be coming back to California for three months. Excitedly we made plans as best we could by snail mail. Again it was decided he would go ahead of me and get us an apartment, then we would join him. Goodbye Hawaii. Hello to Oakland and our new family life.
Our apartment was in Oakland. It was upstairs, a one-bedroom with a large living room, and an eat-in kitchen. I put Mike’s crib in with us, which would work out fine, for a while.
After a month of settling into a routine (as a family) and getting familiar with the new dynamics, it was time for me to get a job. I went to work in the drug department of Swan’s Market/ Department Store, in downtown Oakland. I took the bus to and from work each day.
Swan’s was built in sections beginning in 1917, mostly brick construction in the beginning. There I was immersed in black culture, a definite education for me as it was a large store and market catering primarily to African Americans. In fact, I was the only white person working on the first floor.
I was amazed at all of the products they sold, things I never saw in the drugstores or markets of my own neighborhood. One example is a depilatory powder, used by black men to avoid razor bumps and ingrown hairs. Of course there were brands not seen anywhere else but in the Deep South, some imported from Africa too, all kinds of hair products and special brands. It was quite a different kind of education, but I thrived in it.
The thing about Swans that fascinated me the most was on the weekends there was an open-air market out the back; very similar to the farmers’ market of today. It was here I saw many types of meats I was not familiar with, including whole, skinned squirrels draped across the displays of chipped ice. It was such a different world than I was used to, but one I enjoyed being in.
Having a job afforded us the opportunity to acquire some luxuries, a television, a stereo, and more of a life closer to the one I was accustomed to. The store discount I received even let me dress with style.
I hated the Navy because it wasn’t a five day a week job for Ed. Every week he would have what they called “duty”, meaning he was expected to be on the base for twenty-four hours. In 1967 that day happened to fall on our first wedding anniversary. Ed told me he tried to get his commanding officer to switch his day so we could spend it together but was told, “Why don’t you just pack the bitch up and take her to sea with you too?” The Navy was not very conducive to making family life better for us.
Life was otherwise, on the whole, very good for my family, except always hanging over our heads was the knowledge that soon Ed would be shipping out. With that in mind, Ed’s parents came to visit us for Christmas, and as you can see from the photo they took that day, by all appearances we were a happy little family. He did look somewhat detached though, just as he would in many photos taken from then on.