Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Day I Was Born... by Barbara (Ruth)

April 21, 1966

April 21, 1965. Not really much of an exciting day, as far as history goes... Rome was founded on this day in 753 BC, Henry the VIII ascended the throne of England in 1509, and the Red Baron was shot down and killed (by a Canadian) in 1918. The #1 song on the US Billboard Charts was "The Game of Love", by the oh-so-memorable Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. And there were some famous births too: Catherine the Great in 1729, Charlotte Bronte in 1816, and Queen Elizabeth II in 1926. Oh and let's not forget Tony Danza, in 1951.

But in the small "Franglais" town of Hawkesbury, Ontario, a family of five was about to become a family of six.

I have three sisters who are seven and eight years older than I, and as is the way with older siblings, they loved to tease and torment me. I think the twins were particularly fond of this as a pastime, and over the years I was told everything from "you're soooo much younger than us because you belong to the government and they're going to come back for you some day", to "you were an accident". I know, nice, eh? But don't worry... there was comeuppance (GW).
From left: Joan, Janet, Elizabeth, and Me!
My Mum overheard that "accident" remark one day, and calmly put my sister in her place with, "I'll have you know, that Ruth was the only one who WASN'T an accident! What self-respecting nurse would plan to have three babies in under 15 months?"

Momentarily struck silent, my sisters absorbed this information.

"Yeah, well, you almost killed Mum when you were born!" was the next sentence they uttered.

My mother kept going about her activities with a casual, "yes, that's true I guess" and a not-so-subtle wink in my general direction. Fortunately I was made of strong stuff and had learned not only to put up with their remarks, but also to get even. Eventually.

I was the last try for a boy, as it turns out. My name was to be William David, and I would go camping and fishing with my Dad, build things in his workshop, be handy with tools, and go to baseball and hockey games. Aside from the name and the gender, all the rest turned out to be pretty accurate! I did do all those things with my Dad!

1965 was still a time of conservatism for small town Ontario, and my mother had a Scottish doctor named Dr. McLeman. He believed that "when the frrrruit is rrrripe, it will drrrrop!" And so, the fact that my poor mother was in labour for 5 days with me did not faze him, and a C-section was never even considered. On the fourth day Dad took Mum to the hospital, and both of us had a really hard time over the next few hours. I was apparently in distress, and when I finally decided to make my entrance at 4:16 in the morning (all 8lbs and 15oz of me), I was born face up (or sunny side up, as they say), which makes things harder for everyone I guess.

And yet, I didn't cry. (I'm told I never cried.) My mum says that I "cooed", and that her first words to me were, "Welcome, wee lassie".
Lilacs are still one of my favourite flowers...
Mum stayed in the hospital with me for a week - back then there was none of this "12 hours and you're out" nonsense that today's mothers have to deal with. My Dad would bring my sisters to stand outside of my Mum's hospital room window, as children weren't allowed to visit. Mum would hold me up to the window so they could see me, and she wrote a note to them every night to tell them about their new baby sister. She remembers telling them that my little baby hands looked like stars.

My parents, grandparents, and me
on my christening day.
Eventually we went home, and thus began my wonderful life with an amazing family. Over the next few weeks, several acquaintances remarked to my parents, "Oh, another girl. You must be so disappointed!" And one day a neighbour stopped my parents as they were out walking with me and said, "Well David, she looks like you. But on her it looks good."

I was christened Barbara Ruth that summer. Barbara after my mother's sister, and Dad chose Ruth "just because". They liked the sound of Barbara Ruth better than Ruth Barbara, but wanted to call me Ruth. So I have never gone by Barbara in 46 years. (And don't even try it. Or Babs. Or Barbie.)

That's me in the bow, at the ripe age of 13. Dad took
me on a white-water canoeing trip in Northern
Quebec. One of the best memories Dad and I share.

Who knows how things would have turned out if I was indeed born William David. All I can tell you is that as the youngest of four daughters you can imagine that I was (and still am) pretty spoiled. Sure - as a girl I learned the domestic arts. I'm a decent cook, better-than-average baker, and so-so house keeper. I learned to knit and sew and crochet (and realized quickly that those things are not my forte), read music and play the piano. I can iron (but prefer not to), polish windows with newspaper, and clean silver with baking soda and tinfoil. But I also learned how to use a hammer, level a concrete walkway, cane seats in an antique chair, refinish furniture, paint a room, pitch a tent, portage a canoe, and roast corn over a fire.  I grew up in a house full of love, laughter, and song. I can sing hymns and folk songs, show tunes and 30s ballads. I know how to read a star guide and find the north pole, the difference between a loon and a merganser, and how to tell the call of a cardinal and a whippoorwill.

I've never been a big fan of my birthday. I love when people remember, and I am certainly fond of a good ice cream cake. But really, it's a day to ask my parents what they remember about that day, and to say, "thank you" for the 46th time.


  1. Happy birthday! This post is a wonderful tribute to your parents. The photo of them at the end is really lovely. And I love what your mom said to your sisters about accidents!

  2. Happy Birthday Ruth! Look forward to hearing the "getting even" stories... Hope you enjoy a great ice cream cake tonight!

  3. But you DID nearly finish Mum.............ha ha really have put up with so much teasing from us - me in particular. I am very very proud of you Ruth - I really really am. Happy Birthday to my very special sister that I love very very much. - especially in those little pale yellow sleepers with the plastic feet that you had when you were so little! - You know, there's a picture with you wearing those sleepers, and talking into the toy telephone....... :)
    Love, Janet

  4. I remember Mum holding you up to the window from the hospital so we could see you...I must have just been a "mere" 7! Happy Birthday, Ruth...and please remember and never forget...I never said you nearly "killed" Mum during childbirth (no names in our story) Ha Ha!
    Your favorite "2nd" sister, Joan

  5. Happy Birthday! Hope you had a great one!

  6. Great post....your mother in the picture four down has an absolutely uncanny resemblance to Jennifer!