The days and weeks directly after the wedding were pretty much of a softened blur. Much like a dream sequence in a movie – a somewhat muted and distant is this really me kind of feeling. During this time, Bob worked at a grocery store bakery in Laramie Wyoming.I stayed behind for three weeks and shared an apartment with my best friend of only four years, Kathy. A few weeks later in May, upon awakening in Laramie, I was stunned to see the results of a full-blown blizzard that had buried our Plymouth station wagon up to the windows. Snowflakes on kittens and warm woolen mittens have never been anything close to my favorite things. Whether it was the morning sickness or the sheer terror of what I was doing in this God forsaken place, I hurried to the tiny bathroom and for what seemed like hours – wretched violently into the toilet bowl until my strength was drained. I leaned against the walls while making my way back to bed. Crawling onto the bed and pulling the blankets under my chin, I silently prayed for this day to end. Hours later, Bob walked in the door to hold me in his arms and all was well again.
A month later, he was offered a transfer to Longmont, Colorado and we jumped at the chance to return to our beloved home state. Finally we would have our feet planted firmly. Days later, as we drove over the state line that separated Wyoming and Colorado, I could see the brown ugliness gradually evolve into the lush green. We had found our first home together in Longmont.
Longmont was a gentle reminder of Grand Junction – somewhat smaller than most cities, friendly people, many retirees and lots of young families just starting out. From a tiny older home to a beautiful apartment, we cautiously made our way… maintaining our distance from most and relying only on each other. We needed no one else. Longmont was an easy drive to and from Denver and Grandma Tabor. This gave me the chance to visit with her and gave her the chance to get to know Bob better and come to love him as much as she did her biological grandchildren.
Grandma always had definite thoughts about people but was Saint Forgiveness for any sin that I had ever committed in the eyes of others. She was our light at the end of the tunnel and proved to be the golden link between Bob and me and my mother and father. It was during one of these visits that she had talked Mom into coming to Denver so we could begin to mend as a family. I was frightened during that drive to Denver. I had such a deep hole in my heart where my family had once filled. At the same time, I had my feet stubbornly planted. If Mom would not accept Bob as her son-in-law, then I was not staying. After some awkwardness, all seemed to be forgiven. Mom and Grandma and I prepared dinners together. Well, let’s not kid ourselves here – Mom and I prepared dinners while Grandma Tabor supervised. Mom and Grandma bought fabric and afternoons would find Mom running to and from Sissy’s house next door to use her sewing machine and back again to have me try on her latest creations. Bright flowery colors and white starched peter pan collars suggested that I was still Mom’s little girl. I had some beautiful professionally made maternity clothes with later babies, but Mom’s clothes were the ones that held special meaning.
With the child inside me growing restless, I finally sought out a doctor and began a very late pre-natal care plan. I was jarred into a stark reality when the doctor explained that I had severe toxemia and would need special tests three times a week until the baby was born. In 1971, the cost was $75 per treatment for the final four months of my pregnancy. This didn’t include doctor visits and special medications and a few trips to the very expensive for the uninsured – emergency room. The dollars and cents were mind-boggling as we sat with a payment counselor at Longmont Community Hospital. Consider at that time, Bob was making $105 gross pay weekly. Our rent was $125 a month and we still had medications, groceries and utility bills each month.
The due date of September 15th was nearing and nothing seemed to be happening. Extra visits to the doctor and continuing three times weekly testing, did nothing to quell my nerves as the due date came and passed. The days seemed longer and the clothing seemed tighter and the expression of concern on the doctor’s face seemed more intense. I was anxious to have this baby out of me and in my arms. I thought I was ready for childbirth just for this reason. However, nothing could have readied me for the intensity of this particular birth.
On October 25, 1971, I was admitted to the hospital and put on IV medication to lower my blood pressure to prevent a stroke at the age of 19. When the blood pressure levels were acceptable, labor was induced on October 29, 1971 by placing 10 oblong pills between my gums and lips all at one time. I looked as though my entire face was swollen. Each time one pill dissolved, it was quickly replaced by another until I was in full labor. Cristopher Robert Gardner entered this world with healthy pink skin and abundant lungs! I remember how the pain of childbirth seem to dissipate as soon as I heard that tiny cry.
In a flurry, Cristopher was pulled from my arms and nurses and doctors were scattering all around the delivery room. A large plastic waste can was emptied onto the floor in a corner and I remember the smell of rubbing alcohol when it was poured into the trash can and swished around before it being thrust under my pelvis. By this time, the doctor had shoved his entire hand inside of me. I was hemorrhaging and the placenta would not deliver. The doctor was pulling pieces of the placenta out with one hand and when one hand was removed with some of the stubborn afterbirth, his other hand was jammed inside of me to continue the job with no interruptions. I was crying. Cristopher was crying. Nurses were crying. Then, just as abruptly as this unreal scenario had begun, it was over. The room was quiet and my baby was freshened and the nurse’s pace slowed. The doctor looked down, offered an unfelt “congratulations” and left the room. The next and last time I saw him was for my eight week checkup.
Later in the evening I lay in the hospital bed looking at a few small bouquets from my mother in law and some of her friends at work. I received a call from my dad. Pelting me with “how are you?” “Did Mom get there yet?” “Was the baby okay?” “Boy or Girl?” We awkwardly chatted for a couple of minutes and I soon fell fast asleep with the reassurance that I did matter. Butterflies were dancing in my empty stomach as I whispered the words “mom is coming”. Other than Bob and baby Cristopher, that was all I needed.
Daylight softly entered the hospital window spilling bright sunshine into my room. A nurse helped me to the shower so I could freshen up after all of my IVs were removed. I felt so free without the tubes tangled in my hospital gown and following my every move and almost human again with fresh scrubbed me and a headful of shampooed hair. That same angel spilled lotion on to my back and legs and arms, obviously privy to what made a brand new mommy feel better. Then back to a crisp clean white bed for more rest. Bob was holding my hand as I awoke and nodded in the direction of the hospital window. Gently leading me close to that window, I glanced down to see my “baby” sisters (age 6) in front of Grandma Tabor and all three of them waving wildly in the air. I turned away from the window just in time to connect with Mom’s embrace – first with me and then with Bob. Within seconds, Mom was in charge. I was put back to bed to rest. Bob was instructed to leave the hospital with Mom and the girls and Grandma. She informed the nursing staff that I was not to be disturbed for any reason – still believing that rest healed everything. She wasn’t far from wrong!
A few days later I was released from the hospital with babe in arms to return home under the protection of my husband and the watchful eye of my mother. Panic set in as now I realized we were now three, and we were responsible for a tiny new life. Everything that we ever thought or said or decided, from that moment on, we thought and said and decided for three. How could we possibly manage? How could we cope? Questions turned over repeatedly in my mind during the short drive to our new little apartment. Walking up the steps with over 80 stitches was quite painful. How was I to care for a tiny baby when I surely could not care for myself?
When the door to our apartment opened, there appeared the faces of angels, beaming with devilish grins. They all took turns opening and closing cabinets and drawers and doors and pointing under tables and shelves to show us all the groceries and cleaning supplies and laundry detergents and meats and cheeses and more. The tiny bathroom cabinet was bulging with tissues and cleaners. Boxes of canned and boxed foods were placed under each livingroom table since the kitchen cupboards were barely closing. The freezer held months worth of meats and some treats as well. The refrigerator had produce and fruit and condiments and real butter and fresh milk and formula. Lots and lots of precious formula for Cristopher. My worries quickly drifted away. This was our survival, and not just financially. This was a staple of life and such an unselfish act that would follow me for years. No one other than Bob and I knew the truth of our existence for the past 3 months. We had run out of money for food. We took our last $15 and purchased boxes and boxes of frozen fish patties from a fast food place that was changing their menu items. We ate fish patties for breakfast lunch and dinner. We ran out of tartar sauce for Bob and ketchup for me after the first month. So, then we ate them without. Without condiments. Without vegetables. Just without. So, the thought that was put into stocking our little home with not just groceries, but all the essentials of keeping house, was nothing short of a God send for us.
This was not a gift someone picked up. This was so much more. There was not a food in the house that Mom knew I wouldn’t like. This was not just plain everyday grocery shopping. This was custom-made to order I know you love tomato soup and grilled cheese for breakfast shopping. This was a shopping challenge never before heard of; and my Mom and Grandma Tabor had just perfected it.