My father, Thomas George Sawyer, was absent at my birth and absent the first seven months of my life.
It was Christmas Eve 1944 at the two-story white house on Beechwood Drive-my Grannie’s house in Victoria, the capital city of British Colombia on Vancouver Island. Grannie Price, my mother Ethel, and my aunt Lil invited my father’s sister-in-law Margaret and her two girlies, Betty and Peggy, over for dinner to celebrate Christmas together, since Ethel’s husband Tom and Margaret’s husband Bill were officers in the Canadian Air Force in England.
I'm sure the women were dressed in their best dresses, skirts, and sweaters, complete with brooches. And the two little girlies looked cute with their curly hair and party dresses. Grannie was hosting the meal and handed bowls of food to her daughters, Ethel and Lilian, as she scooped up mashed potatoes and gravy from the pots on the wood stove.
It was a somber time for everyone with the men gone. Who knew what was happening to them each day and what the future would bring? It was all so secretive. The wives knew nothing concerning the details. Where were they right now? Were they on a bombing mission? But my Grannie and her daughters did their best to entertain their guest and her little children. I'm sure they served up smiles and laughter as they all settled down to eat.
My mother, Ethel Louise, was big with child, due on New Year’s Day, and did her best to join in, welcome guests, and try to squeeze her oversize body onto the chair in front of the long dining room table. I don't know what was on the table but most likely the food stamps they saved for weeks helped to buy a few desirables, like butter and bread and fresh vegetables. Maybe a small amount of meat or chicken. It was an unusually big meal and the two-story house was warm and inviting with food aromas wafting from the kitchen. I'm sure Grannie made tea for after the meal but my mother never made it through to the end.
All of a sudden Mom took in a sharp breath, doubled over in pain and blurted out, "Ouch!"
Grannie turned and said, "Oh, oh! Are you okay, Judy?"
Mommy bent over and then took a deep breath, "I think I'm in
The dinner party was over. Lilian dashed to get my mother's bag to take to the hospital.
Margaret kept saying, "Oh Judy, it's time. I wish I could go with you. I'm sure you will be okay."
I don't know who drove. Perhaps they called for a taxi cab. I know they rushed and they didn't want me born in the back seat of a car. I'm sure Grannie held my mother's hand and helped her into the cab, and they drove as fast as they could to the Royal Jubilee Hospital. Grannie Price was used to rushing to the hospital for the births of babies. She never made it there for the birth of my mother who was born in the back seat of the doctor’s car. The doctor lived nearby so he'd offered, “I'll just drive past your house and pick you up on my way to the hospital.” Little did he know that that was going to be one of his most frantic births. The nurses had never seen him so harried before.
But Mom made it to the hospital that evening as the Christmas lights shone in the frosty darkness. About 2:30 AM Christmas Day 1944, I was born, Louise Ellen Sawyer. My father was based in England with the Canadian Air Force. My mom gave birth to me in Victoria while my dad fought overseas. She woke to a janitor singing, “I'm dreaming of a White Christmas.” It had started snowing and Victoria rarely has a white Christmas but it did that day 73 years ago.
Grannie sent a telegram to my father. He read, “Your son was born on Christmas Day.” Dad happily shared the news with his comrades, “I have a boy!” The guys slapped him on the back. “Congratulations, you’re a father!” “Wow, a boy!” “That’s great, you have a son!” Days later he received my mother’s airmail letter and he read about the birth, sleeping habits, and crying of their daughter, Louise Ellen, the name they had chosen for me.
After my father and mother died I discovered a letter that my dad wrote almost a month after my birth. I have tears in my eyes while I type this. He wrote “Hello, Darlings” to Mom and me. At the end of his letter, he wrote directly to me:
Utter rot, isn't it baby? Why, how could they expect you to be anything or anyone else?
You’re you [double underlined] and that’s all there is to it, and say, I'm glad that you're here, and are just you!
xxx Your Dad [the last x has a circle for
It touched me deeply to read how much Dad loved me and wanted so much to be with Mom and me after I was born. I burst into tears when I read it. It was bittersweet to read it when I was 70 years old. I wished Dad had told me these kinds of things when he was alive. Maybe he did and I've forgotten. However, we usually didn't talk about deeply personal issues or reveal our emotions to each other, so it is amazing that my dad wrote this precious note to me just after I was born. I feel as if he is still affirming my identity.
I know that my father and mother loved my three brothers and me. Dad got very excited about the births of his sons. I was too young to remember when Frank was born and how he spent time in an incubator. However, I clearly remember Dad jumping up and down in his bare feet and pajamas after Cal was born! And when Michael came along, I threatened to leave home, because one more boy was too much for me, but I stayed around for a year acting like a mother until I left for college.
Something strange happened while I was writing this essay. I started reading an e-book, “Big Girl”. I didn't know the story so it was synchronistic that the book is about Victoria, whose father and mother were deeply disappointed that they didn't conceive a boy.
I'm grateful that even though Dad was absent at my birth and for the first seven months of my life, he was clearly present in spirit, caring and longing with all his heart to be with Mom and me. If intention counts, which I consider very important, he was intentionally present to me. How blessed am I?
Louise lives on Vancouver Island, enjoying ocean, evergreens, and wildlife. She says: "My muse is Joy, my guinea pig companion." Louise is halfway through the MFA Nonfiction Certificate and also takes MFA poetry classes. She enjoys creating memes and puzzles for Village Square.