Having a radio kept grandmother’s mind on the news – although she taught herself to read and write, while she heard others tell stories – “This is a special report.”
BABIES ARE GOD’S ANGELS
She heard the whistle blow at the plant announcing the end of a shift at General Electric – such an odd time, she told me, as I sat at her kitchen table, listening – you see with Grandmother upstairs I learned her life was so different from mine.
“This is a special report,” came over the air.
Grandmother placed a finger to her lips; I understood – it would be a moment for everyone to be quiet, she was waiting to hear more – the year, 1924.
She told me about a rich family, from the G.E. Plot, an area of homes owned by only the best Engineers at the General Electric Plant; one of those men with a long last name, difficult for Grandmother to pronounce, talked to the public on the radio, he talked about his son who was kidnapped.
Whenever Grandmother told a story – her body would move, stiffen as she leaned forward, her mind captured by her memory of the day – it was as if she was not here.
“John, you know, your Grandfather – he leaves to search for the missing child. But – I know how those people feel about immigrants; no one wanted us because we were different.” Her face showed the pain, she probably thought how women from those fancy neighborhoods called her names – some yelling for her to go back where she came from.
Leaning on her elbows, rubbing her chin and staring through me she said, “Taken like that,” then she snapped her fingers. She explained why she remained home, “Your – Father, sick with measles” as she shook her head remembering the day. “In those days we didn’t have fancy medicine. All I had to do was touch him: I ran with him in my arms to the tub, filling it with ice cold water and placing cloths on his body.” She told me over, and over she would wring out the cloths, and change them with the warmer one. Cold cloths kept a fever done. She knew the baby was asleep in his crib in my Father’s bedroom. She also knew friends would be arriving soon, and they would help her.
“I wrapped your father in clean white sheets, ran down the steps to the front door – as the wind blew against me,” she touched her forehead, “I started to scream for some help, when a neighbor heard, and they called for a doctor.”
I could see sadness in her eyes as if pictures of that day flashed in front of her.
“First to come were our pisons, you know, close friends. Their names were Antonio and Maria. Antonio grabbed Frankie and ran back into the bathroom; he continued pouring ice water over his body. Maria watched as I began wringing the cloth again. Antonio, he started to yell at your
Father, telling him to wake up, don’t sleep.”
“Then I began yelling, telling Frankie about Antonio coming to see him, to read a book, but my son, he never opened his eyes.”
The doctor – so far away, and we were no one, so much time, lots of time went by before I heard a rap on the door. I stayed in the chair, now holding Frankie; he was wrapped in a white sheet. He felt better, and I was singing to him as I rocked him back and forth.”
“So, where is the child?” the doctor asked in a raw voice. “In my arms, I told him, and his body is not as hot.”
“Your kitchen,” he pointed in the right direction. I listened, and heard a zipper from his black bag, he returned to give Frankie some medicine. “There, he will be fine.” Looking around he asked, “Any other children in the house?”
My Grandmother pointed to a room, but as if a light flashed as a warning in front of her, she quickly handed Maria Frankie, and dashed to find the doctor giving the baby medicine with the same spoon.
Grandmother’s head lowered, she covered her eyes with her hands – spoke through her fingers – “I told him no, I was screaming – not the same spoon – not the same spoon.”
So the doctor closed his satchel, never said a word – “He paid no attention because we weren’t like him, we were not considered Americans. I knew he was wrong. I knew it – but he just opened the door and left.”
“In the parlor, it was Antonio holding Frankie, and my boy’s eyes were open.” I saw grandmother smile and shake her head up and down as if telling me she was right.
“Nunsie. Nunsie,” John kept repeating and asking why the door was unlocked. Grandmother told him Frankie was sick with a high fever, she called the doctor then mentioned the spoon.
John, my Grandfather, lowered his head – he told his wife he never should have left the house, searching with the others. He told Grandmother, “They blamed us immigrants; the father shouted from his big house, go home, it probably was one of you WOPS who kidnapped my son.” He shook his head, then, stared at my Grandmother – she talked and listened with her eyes.
Grandmother told me Frankie fell sound asleep in my Grandfather’s arms; he put him to bed. She checked the baby, felt him – she hoped she was wrong about the spoon, then, stared at me, “But I wasn’t.”
She spoke again of rags and cold water, she told her husband about the doctor, shook her head as if to say no. Frankie burned up – she said, “In and out like dead and alive.”
My Grandmother listened, bending forward to hear when I told her of my fever dreams when I flew over rooftops looking down at the neighborhood. She chuckled.
She mentioned to me about the plant whistle waking them from a sound sleep, it was about two in the morning. She said she turned on the radio – they found the little boy. “I smiled, kept telling John, it wasn’t some immigrant but one of them.”
I stood up from where I was listening to the radio, walked to check on the boys. Frankie felt fine, the medicine was working, and then I felt the baby, he was so cold.”
I looked at John, told him, “Some babies are God’s angels. I rocked him until morning light – I rocked him, kissed him and would not let him go, I refused to give him away.” The undertakers arrived and they kept trying to tell her it was time. She told me, “Time, time for what – never to lay eyes on my son again?” Then she said she started to scream, she kept saying the doctor killed her baby, as she held her baby to her chest. She continued to rock back and forth in her chair as if she were singing him to sleep.
I noticed she was rocking now, right in front of me, right now, as she told me about the baby. I noticed tears in her blue eyes. I reached out, touched her hand and told her, “You have been blessed, over and over.” She never said another word that afternoon. We ate some homemade pizza she fried on her stove – I covered mine with white sugar.
“Book one of three – excerpt from Generations”