Another passage from Hot Love on the Wing, describing Stella’s birth:
In the humid July heat of 1956, Tessie’s hormone swollen face flushed pink with pain. She called my eldest aunt, who kept the other five children at bay and led my grandmother down the five flights of their Morningside Heights apartment building. A 12 year old has trouble hailing a cab while balancing a belabored Irishwoman. Amid the traffic and the busted-pouring fire hydrants, a mustachioed Italian man driving a Wonder bread truck – a bread that my mother and her siblings longed for while growing up instead of the 3 for $1 wheat bread loaves from the A&P that Leo bought and which they despised as a sign of their inability to assimilate – slowed to a stop and worriedly said, “Ya mutha? She gonna have a baby?” Maureen led her wobbling mother into the truck and she and the mustachioed man zoomed away to an uptown hospital that no longer exists.
These Irish born children had no idea at the time, but when Tessa was birthing them with a midwife in a cabin in Mayo, there were no drugs to induce the process. The only thing utilized was a nice warm stout to ease the flow of breast milk after the stress and pain of parturition. When my narrowback mother (so called because she never had to experience the pear shaped disfiguration of working the potato fields) was born as the first in the United States, they gave her mother scopolamine. This drug in high doses causes extreme euphoria, much like an opiate. In a transdermal patch the average dosage is .4 mg and can often cause memory impairments. It is no surprise that it was used to ease the pain of my grandmother when her fourth child was brought into this world.
When they whirled Tessie into the obstetrician’s office, she felt precipitously like there was a dramatic difference with this one; oh yes, a definite firestarter, a real hellacious one. Without going in to the unsavory details of childbirthing, I will say only that my mother immediately began a route on which she would stay for the rest of her life – one of howling and rubicund fury mediated only by her feminine capacity to love and shelter.
Two months later, my mother was in her pram enjoying the late summer sun just outside of Van Cortland Park in the Bronx (funny how THE Bronx is the only borough with an article in front of it; in a way that makes it less particular, as if there could be another one somewhere). Suddenly, a Wonder bread truck slowed to a stop, and a mustachioed man yelled, “Ey, so wuzzita boy or girl?”