Introduction: Some say life has a way of encroaching when we dismiss daily living as mundane. Some say our thoughts are energy and thus have power to shape our environment, families, and our lives. Some tell that the Universe sends signs that are what we need – and when we need them. Many confidently say God answers spoken and unspoken prayers.
And there is a Goddess who hears our truest hearts.
The following short story illuminates hopes fulfilled and dreams made real.
I hope you enjoy this tale that took more than 54 years to reveal itself.
A Letter From The Past
Written by Myron J. Clifton
It was January and raining and getting close to her memorial day, January 24th.
She loved the rain.
I watched the rain from my favorite soft leather sofa and saw the mailman skip steps to my porch stairs before quickly depositing mail and then hurriedly getting back to his mail truck as wet as if he had been walking the entire block.
As soon as the mailman drove away, I went to retrieve the mail, happy for a break from writing a particularly tough chapter in my latest novel.
I sorted the mail and saw a letter from an unfamiliar organization: CHDS – Child Health Development Study.
Their address was in Oakland, the city of my birth, but I had no knowledge of the organization.
What is this? I asked myself as I opened the envelop and began reading.
Mom laughed a funny and honest laugh. She looked nervous but composed.
It was February 1964 and she was five months pregnant with her third boy in as many years. She was nineteen years old, lived in government housing, and worked part-time at a local restaurant as a hostess and waitress.
She was at Kaiser in downtown Oakland where her son will be born in June. The waiting room was sterile, and the waiting room chairs are industrial and uncomfortable on a typically overcast mid-morning in Oakland. By the time she left the hospital the sun would be fully shining as it always did in Oakland.
Mom sat straight up, and her attention was rotating between her small Jet magazine and the door to the next room, where she would soon be escorted to fulfill the reason for this Dr.’s office visit: participating in a study on newborns and their mothers, looking to promote healthy hearts and lifestyles.
After a long wait, the door opened, and two young women and a young man entered the room. All were white, young, and overly friendly.
She met their friendliness with her warm smile and easy laughter.
The young women complimented mom on her skin while lightly, and with familiarity, touching her belly. The brown-haired woman touched her hair and said how soft it felt.
“Thank you,” was all mom said in reply.
They escorted her to another room where a long metal table divided the room, with two chairs on either side, a pitcher of water at the center of the table, and four small drinking glasses.
“Thank you for agreeing to participate in our study, Floy.” The young man started as he looked down at his clipboard, unsure of her name.
“You’re welcome. She said softly.
“Why did you agree? I mean, we are very excited you did, and I am wondering why you agreed so that we can have for the record.” It was the other young woman, this one blond and with a round and friendly face.
Mom thought for a a long moment, clasping her hands that were soft and smelled of Jergen’s cherry almond lotion that was her favorite lotion.
Then she began talking and her nervousness was gone, and a self-assured young woman began speaking:
“I want a healthy baby and I want to know about the best care so that his life is good from the start. It’s… hard… on Black babies and even though my babies are healthy I just want to make sure they stay healthy. And that I stay healthy, too, I guess.”
The medical staff were each writing what mom was saying.
Mom continued talking, growing more at ease and losing the shakiness in her voice:
“And, I don’t know. I mean. I am young and I will now have three kids – boys! – and that is extra hard and there are people who speak bad and say mean things to me and about me. I don’t care. I really don’t. So, I think maybe my experiences will help other girls who have kids when they are young like me.”
Mom felt relieved. And happy the trio took an interest in what she thought.
Soon, the survey began, and she answered hundreds of questions that were diligently recorded by hand by the two young women, in notebooks with black and grey covers.
The questions covered diet and preparation of breakfast, lunch, dinner; frequency eating red meats, alcohol consumption, smoking, exercise, family health history, and so much more.
Mom patiently answered questions and gave detail to provide context to some food choices, namely lack of transportation, money, and lack of control over meals.
After a two hours and the full pitcher of water, they were done.
“Floy, thank you so much for participating. We know this took a long time, so we are really grateful you stuck it out,” the brown-haired young woman said as she lightly touched Floy’s arm and the two women smiled at one another. “Your answers will join the others and help us understand so much about healthy babies and mothers. We will check in soon after your baby is born and will check in every year for the next five years.”
The letter asked that I call to update them on my health, fifty-four years later.
I decided to call the number on the letter.
I reached a woman who sounded young, and who I impossibly imagined was the same woman in the room with my mother fifty-four years ago.
“I am sorry, we do not have any additional information on your mother other than she volunteered for the study, showed up to all her pre-birth appointments, and maybe one or two more after you were born, and then that’s where the records end.”
The woman, Michelle, was kind and we talked a little longer about the study, the timing of the letter sent to me after all these years, and about my mom, a young girl at just nineteen years old, pregnant with her third child.
“She was looking out for you,” Michelle said, as our conversation wound down. “She volunteered because she wanted what was best for you, and herself. To be so young and be agreeable to such a long study was a big deal in the mid-sixties….with all that was happening in the country.”
“Yes, I guess she was looking out for me even before I was born, wasn’t she?” I said quietly to Michelle before we said our good-byes.
And all these years later, on a rainy day when I am thinking about her, an impossible letter from the past shows up telling me she was looking out for me before I was born.
And that’s pretty cool.
© 2019 by Myron J. Clifton, Dear Dean Publishing. All Rights Reserved.