Everybody has a birth myth. Some know theirs.
Mine contains several elements, all of them having to do with who I finally, after 71 years, am on my way to becoming.
I was a big baby by 1945 standards, weighing 9 pounds, according to the telegram my mother sent my father, then somewhere in the Pacific headed towards the Battle of Okinawa. Mama told me many years later that labor had been exceedingly difficult and painful for her. She had begged Dr. Archie Sasser to let her have a Caesarean section. Nothing doing. She could do it.
Childbirth was not the only thing going on that hot summer day as World War II was winding down. Uncle Gus Burroughs, my grandfather Leon’s youngest brother and the one he was closest to in age, lived a short distance away. He lay dying in the house he had built. One version of the story, which my mother’s sister Aunt Min did not confirm, was that some of his family asked Uncle Gus, “Papa, can we do anything for you? Get you anything?” He said yes. He really would like a drink of water from the Fred Brown place. At the Fred Brown place there was an artesian well the water from which was apparently special to Uncle Gus.
In that time of gas rationing and in the heat of the May night no one was about to drive clear out to the Fred Brown place to fetch a drink of water. Someone instead slipped downstairs to Uncle Gus’s own artesian well, filled a glass with water, brought it up to the bedroom, and announced, “Here, Papa, is your water.” Uncle Gus was helped to sit up. He took a sip of water. “God damn,” he said. “That’s not from the Fred Brown place.” And with that he rolled over and died.
All of that was happening as I was just getting used to being on earth.
Put it all together and you have the ingredients of my birth myth: big baby, hard labor, absent father, and a dying. Don’t leave out the humor in the last bit. And don't forget the theme of thirst nor the element of water.
I could make as if each of these things somehow perfectly fits the life I am living, and that would be contrived, to say the least. But connections are obvious. I have always been healthy, which is sometimes what big babies turn out to be. Birth, especially the ongoing birth of becoming, always demands my attention, energies, and best efforts. Shortcuts never work.
Father—is a more complex theme. I thought forty years ago that Daddy had always been absent from my life in a certain sense. But before he died ten years ago, he and I had become quite close, a gift I cherish perhaps more than any other in my life. Yet I continue to yearn for fatherhood, both to have it and to share it. I’m at the stage now where I know I have something to give to younger men and I want to give what is mine to share.
Both my father and my mother’s father were men who never stopped being natural, human, and real. I think my grandfather, and perhaps Uncle Gus, were more at ease with themselves than many of us. Cussing and praying didn’t rule each other out. I’d like to think that they knew on a deep level that they had nothing to hide, nothing to fear, and nothing of which to be ashamed. As long ago as my high school years, I wanted to be real. I have come to replace that word with whole in recent years. But it is all pretty much the same. I don’t want to be a phony. I want to be authentic. And that means claiming a fair amount of dirt and mud, not just glitter and glory.
And there is nothing I like more than laughing. Well yes there is. Making someone else laugh.
I wrote a theme in high school once. I can only remember the last line. “I hope I will be thirsty forever.” I was talking about the thirst for knowledge and understanding. I thirst. I always will.
And don’t try to fool me with water that purports to be from a well that it isn’t. I want the real thing. For that I came into the world and for that I’ll die.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, May 30, 2016