could hear nothing but Dottie’s screams. I paced the small parlor of our two-bedroom, second-floor apartment. She was working so hard, suffering so much, trying to push our baby into the world. “Dear God, please help her,” I prayed. Why did she have to hurt so much? I wanted the screaming to stop. I wanted the baby to come.
The night before, she had been full of spunk, her crystal blue eyes smiling at me. She was so excited, busy putting the finishing touches on the baby’s room, talking about all her dreams for the little one. She would have picked up the furniture if I’d let her, but I put my foot down on that. When she put her mind to something, I didn’t tend to get in her way, but this time, I wouldn’t give in. I finally talked her into lying down and resting beside me. I put my hands on her swollen belly and felt the baby push against my hand. That little one sure felt eager to find its way out into the world.
The pains started in the wee hours of the morning and I called the doctor to come just as soon as the first rays of sun were coming up. I also got Mrs. Lyons, our landlady, from downstairs. Months before, she had seen Dottie was in the family way and had told me to come and get her when Dottie’s time had come. She had birthed eight babies of her own and helped with many others. She said she knew exactly what to do and I was mighty thankful for her help. I knew Dottie would feel better with another woman by her side.
Mrs. Lyons had tried to get me to leave, told me that these things could take a long time, and that birthing babies was not a man’s concern, but I wasn’t moving. She might be right that the birth itself was nothing for me to see, but I figured that the doctor was a man and he was with my Dottie. Granted I wasn’t a doctor, but I was the father of that baby. The least I could do is wait right outside. I wanted to meet my little one just as soon as I could.
My poor Dottie. I wished I could take her place. I said every prayer I knew, begging God and the Blessed Virgin to help. “Please, please, let the baby be all right. Please bring my Dottie through. Please ease her pain.”
I wore a path in the floor, back and forth, back and forth, fingering the wooden beads of the rosary my Mama gave me before she passed. If only she were still here, or Dottie’s mother. They could have helped. Mrs. Lyons was so good to come, but she wasn’t family.
Dottie didn’t want to tell her family about the baby. They weren’t exactly happy about our union and when her parents refused to give their blessing to our wedding, she vowed never to have anything to do with them ever again. But a baby? We found out the baby was coming only a couple months after our wedding and I thought they’d want to know about a grandbaby. Dottie wouldn’t budge, though. So, we kept it a secret. They were all the way down in North Carolina, and we were here up north in Massachusetts, so it wasn’t too hard. That woman could sure be stubborn, though.
Mind you, that suited me just fine when she decided I was her one and only. No one was going to change her mind or keep her from being mine. God must have been smiling on me something big the day he put Dottie in my path because she was the most beautiful woman I ever did lay eyes on. She was an angel of my very own. When she smiled at me, I never did have much mind to argue with her. I thought maybe she’d change her mind once the baby was here. Maybe then she’d want to let them know.
The screams kept coming. It had been hours and hours. “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” How many times had I made my way around those beads? I had lost count.
And then, the screaming stopped. I held my breath. I heard the most amazing thing I ever did hear – a baby’s first cry. My baby’s first cry. I was a daddy! “Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you.” I wanted to rush in. I wanted to see Dottie. I wanted to see our baby.
Why wasn’t anyone coming out to get me? What was going on? I could hear the baby crying. I couldn’t wait any longer. I pushed open the bedroom door.
Mrs. Lyons turned toward me, the baby in her arms. She looked sad and worn out.
“George, you have yourself a fine baby girl. She’s perfect.”
I could see Dottie on the bed. The sheets were covered in blood. She wasn’t moving. I rushed over to her and grabbed her limp hand. “Dottie, Dottie, wake up!” What was wrong? Why wasn’t she moving?
“I’m sorry. She had a hard time. She bled too much.” The doctor shook his head. “There was nothing I could do. I’m so sorry. She gave all she had to bring your daughter into the world.”
How could my Dottie be dead? My insides ripped apart. This had to all be a bad dream. I would wake up and everything would be fine. “Dear God, please. Let me open my eyes and let everything be fine.”
Mrs. Lyons rested her hand on my shoulder. The baby cried in her arm.
“Come away. There’s nothing you can do for her now except pray for her soul. She’s in God’s hands. You have this little one to care for and I reckon she’s mighty hungry. I’ll show you how to make her some formula and feed her.”
She settled me in the parlor and placed the baby in my arms. The little one sucked on that bottle something fierce. I had never held a newborn baby before. She was so tiny and fragile and wrinkled and red, with just the tiniest bit of dark hair on her head.
Mrs. Lyons sat next to me. “She’s so precious. What are you going to call her?”
“Dottie had said if she was a girl she wanted to name her Katherine—with a K—she was always very firm about that. It had to be with a K. I don’t reckon it makes much difference but she said it sounded more sophisticated that way.”
“Well, then, I guess you best respect her wishes.” She stroked the baby’s cheek. “Hello, Miss Katherine with a K. I bet you’re going to grow up to be a fine lady, just like your Mama.”
I thought of her Mama, turning cold in the next room, and of this little one in my arms. I promised that I would do whatever I could to make sure she had the best life I could offer. I owed her that. I owed Dottie that.
I was mighty thankful for Mrs. Lyons’ help over the next few days. She helped with the baby and with the funeral preparations. Our neighbors were so kind. Times were hard for all of us, but food and flowers and money to help with the burial seemed to come out of nowhere.
Little Katie—I wasn’t sure Dottie would have approved, but that’s what I started calling her—was baptized one day and my sweet Dottie was laid to rest the next. Lots of people came to the service, all saying how sorry they were. I think Dottie would have liked her funeral. It was a perfect spring day, warm and sunny, and Fr. Maloney gave a good sermon. There were lots of tears, even though the people here in Meadowbrook hadn’t known her that long. I reckon Dottie would have been real touched by that.
I hoped she liked her final resting place. I knew she wasn’t really there, but still, a part of her was there. She was buried near a tree in Sacred Heart cemetery. We used to walk there sometimes. She said she always found it so peaceful. I couldn’t afford a fancy stone. If I could have, I would have gotten a big stone angel to watch over her, but I couldn’t. Instead, I carved her name into a stone myself. I found the perfect stone near the river and hammered in her name. It felt good to take out some of my pain on that stone. It could never do her justice, but it was all I had to offer.
I knew Dottie didn’t want to tell her family about Katie, but I decided that they should know, especially since I had to write them and tell them their daughter had passed on. It was only right for me to do that. They’d want to know the why and how. Maybe knowing that there was a baby would make it a mite less painful. So, two weeks after that day when one came into the world and one left it, as Katie slept in her baby cradle next to me, I sat down and wrote them a letter. I sent it out that evening and wondered if or when I would get an answer.