The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Back Yard Waterbed

August 18, 1978

When I built a sleeping loft in my Montgomery Ward cottage, it wouldn't support the weight of our dear old waterbed.  That, in a nutshell, is how I came to have a waterbed in my back yard. 

The frame of the bed was two-by-ten Douglas fir.  As one of my first woodworking projects I'd charred the wood with a torch, then wire-brushed, creating a lovely three-dimensional pattern of black hard grain like mountain ridges and yellow, indented soft grain like valleys.  If you saw it, you couldn't resist running your fingers over it.  Beginner's luck, maybe, but a great-looking bed.

I set it up in a patch of ivy growing under a Bishop pine tree.  Also in that back yard were a rusty steel shed full of construction equipment, a usually overflowing metal garbage can, several clay pots on broken-down benches, an antique wringer-washer I'd bought at an estate sale for $5, and a noisy electric dryer I'd salvaged from a job.  You could lie on the waterbed while waiting for the washer or dryer to finish.

In the hot days of summer, the unheated mattress was cool against your back while sunlight speckled through the branches of pine.  Beyond the rocking of the wringer-washer or the whine of the clothes dryer and the endless vroom of traffic on Alpine Road, you could hear the cows mooing in the pasture on the other side of the street, or you might hear splashing and giggling from Sonny's hot tub in his back yard next door.  In the rare quiet moment, you could hear the soft rush of wind through the needles of pine above.  Once in a while, a squirrel working a pine cone might spray seeds.  It was funky, but it was an oddly pleasant place to take a moment's rest.

By no means did we expect our daughter to be born out there.

Friday, August 18, I'm building a tree house at a health center for children (when I say I do odd jobs, I mean I do odd jobs).

When I come home for lunch, my wife (we're calling her Rose) says she "might be" in labor.  I dash back to the tree house for two more hours, then return home to check on things.  Rose is clearly in labor.  We call Iris and Sara, our midwives.

Sonny helps fix up the back yard waterbed with sheets and pillows and incense.  The plan is to escape the heat of the house but avoid the hospital vibes of Stanford for a while.

Sara checks Rose and says that it's still early labor.  Rose has been having contractions for several hours, not uncomfortably, without much progress.  Sara goes into the kitchen with Iris to make some tea.  Alone, Rose and I hold hands and chat in the back yard. 

The day is cooling down.  The sun has set; a full moon is rising.  Unusual for a Friday, there are no parties in Sonny's hot tub or anywhere nearby.  In the hush we can hear the cows coming single file down the hillside to gather at the barbed wire fence beside the road, as they do every night.  Dapples of moonlight dance through the pine and over the waterbed where Rose lies on an Indian bedspread.  A scent of sage from the incense mixes with the scent of pennyroyal from the meadow on the hill.

Suddenly Rose sits up.  Something has changed.

Sara had gone into the kitchen only 15 minutes earlier. 

"Sara!" I yell. 

Sara and Iris run outside and check.  "The baby is crowning," Sara says.

There's no time to move.  Sara pulls off Iris's ring; Iris puts on gloves, and a baby arrives and is wrapped in a towel and placed in my arms on Rose's belly.  In what seems like seconds.

It's a girl.  She's snorting.  She's also steaming in the cool air.  Sara throws some clean towels in the dryer and starts heating them.  As the dryer rumbles, the she-babe grabs my finger, cord still pulsing.  Iris clamps.  I cut the cord.  Sara nestles warm towels over the newborn. 

Don the OB arrives with a screech of tires.  We were supposed to call him when we were ready to go to the hospital.  Sara phoned him with the change of plan.  From sitting in the arm chair at his house four miles away, he got here in about four minutes. 

Standing by the garbage can at the corner of the yard, Don says it looks like everything is under control.  He says if he touches Rose or the babe out here — if he even comes close — he'll lose his license at the hospital. 

It's fine.  He's just a backup, and there's no emergency.  Suddenly all is calm.  A breeze shakes the branches.  Sara has lit candles, mixing their glow with the moon.  The light flickers across the undulating woodgrain of the waterbed and the classic, ever-new scene of baby meeting mother, becoming acquainted, surprised to be here, the instant bond. 

Don watches, arms folded, leaning against the garbage can.  The doctor is witness.  It's a normal birth.

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