We no sooner arrived home from the trip to Russian River than Daddy got busy planning another, more ambitious camping trip, this time all the way to Canada. Because Mommy had the baby in her tummy, she didn’t feel like going, so Daddy asked Grammy to go along instead to do the cooking and help keep tabs on Eleanor and me. When I asked if Rusty could come, Daddy said, “No, absolutely not. That dog is more trouble than a pack of rabid monkeys. He’ll have to stay home with your mother.” Without Rusty, I didn’t want to go either, so in August Daddy packed up the camping trailer and he, Grammy, and Eleanor headed off to Canada.
While they were gone, I helped Mommy get ready for the baby. She sewed a new lining for the wicker bassinette she borrowed from Aunt Charlotte, then threaded blue satin ribbon through the slats of the hood and tied big blue bows on each side. We took the bus to go shopping in the baby department at Capwell’s. Mommy bought four yellow flannel receiving blankets, printed all over with little blue lambs, and one large knitted blue blanket edged in yellow scallops. We picked out six little wrap-around undershirts and six long-sleeved nightgowns with drawstrings at the bottom—those things came only in white—and we chose a blue knitted sweater with matching hat, mittens and booties, a little blue teddy bear, and two blue baby rattles. Afterwards, we had lunch at The Terrace Room, decorated in bubble-gum pink. I never could figure out why it was called The Terrace Room when it was actually down in the basement! Back at home, I helped Mommy clear out the bottom drawer in her dresser and fill it with the new baby clothes and blankets.
Sometimes in the evenings, as we sat together on the couch listening to the radio, Mommy would take my hand and place it on her tummy so I could feel the baby in there, rolling and kicking its feet so hard that it looked like Mommy’s tummy had the hiccups.
“Must be a boy,” Mommy said, smiling.
“Oh, I hope so,” I said. “Daddy really, really, really wants a boy.”
Daddy and Grammy and Eleanor came home from Canada just in time for us to head back to school. I got Mrs. O’Connor for first grade, and Cyntha sat at the desk right next to mine. We were best friends now.
Mrs. O’Connor handed out the first-grade readers about Dick and Jane and Fluff and Spot, and pretty soon I got the reputation for being the best reader in first grade. Cyntha was next best. I didn’t tell anyone that I already knew the whole book by heart because Eleanor had brought it home and read it to me over and over again when she was in first grade.
Pretty soon it was October and Halloween was coming. I loved Halloween. I planned to wear a hand-me-down clown suit, but Mommy sewed a brand new Gretel costume for Eleanor, who needed it anyway because she had gotten the lead role in “Hansen and Gretel,” our annual holiday school play scheduled for December. We carved fat pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns and helped Mommy bake oatmeal cookies with raisins to hand out to the kids who would come trick-or-treating on the 31st.
At school one afternoon a couple of weeks later, a lady from the principal’s office came to Mrs. O’Connor’s room and told me to get my coat and come with her. Our Aunt Charlotte had arrived to pick us up.
“Why?” I wanted to know. “My big sister and I always walk home together. We can walk home by ourselves now, and don’t need to be picked up anymore.”
“All I know is that your Aunt Charlotte is here. Now get your coat and come on.”
When I got to the car, Eleanor was already in the passenger seat. I climbed in the back.
“We’re old enough to talk home by ourselves,” I told Aunt Charlotte. “Why are you here?”
As she drove, Aunt Charlotte spoke quietly. “Your mommy and daddy were in a car accident this morning on their way to San Francisco. They’re both okay, but your mommy has to stay at the hospital for a few days. Your daddy is at the hospital with her, and he’ll be home later this evening. You two are going to have dinner with us and stay until your daddy gets home.”
“But if she’s not hurt, why does Mommy have to stay in the hospital?” Eleanor asked.
“Your daddy will tell you when he gets home.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence.
Aunt Charlotte made us bacon and eggs for dinner, but I wasn’t very hungry.
As soon as Daddy arrived home around seven, he told Eleanor and me to sit by him on the couch. He swallowed hard a couple of times and then he began: “Your mommy and I were on our way to the doctor in San Francisco this morning for a checkup on the new baby when all of a sudden the traffic in front of us stopped. I slammed on my brakes and was able to stop too, but then a yellow taxi swerved into our lane behind us. I guess the driver didn’t see us because he didn’t even hit his brakes or try to stop. He hit us hard from the rear, and your mommy was thrown into the dashboard.”
“Did she smash her face?” Eleanor wanted to know. “Aunt Charlotte said Mommy wasn’t hurt.”
“No, not her face, but she hit her tummy. When the police came, they called for an ambulance to take us the rest of the way to the hospital because your mommy was having labor pains.”
“What are labor pains?” I asked.
“That means the baby was trying to be born.”
“The baby is here! The baby is here!” cried Eleanor, jumping up off the couch and clapping her hands together. “Now I know why Mommy has to stay in the hospital! Is it a boy? Is it a boy?”
“Yes, honey, it was a baby boy, but he didn’t make it.”
“Yes, honey, the baby died. Because of the accident, the baby got all tangled up inside your mommy’s tummy and couldn’t be born the regular way. By the time they got the baby out, it was too late. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” Eleanor said.
I didn’t know what to say.
Right after that, Daddy tucked us into bed, and eventually we both fell asleep.
Later in the night, when I woke up to go to the bathroom, I heard a noise coming from the other bedroom. As I got closer, I could hear Daddy crying. I’d never heard a man cry before, and I didn’t want to hear it now. I peed as fast as I could and ran back to my bed and put my head under my pillow and pushed the sides of the pillow against my ears with both hands to shut out the awful sounds.
Mommy stayed in the hospital for a week. Before he brought her home, Daddy cleared all the baby things out of the house and gave them to Uncle Cecil and Aunt Jane, who were expecting their second child in March.
Christmas of 1946 was quiet one. We had a Christmas tree and a few presents, but I don’t remember much about it, only that Mommy and Daddy seemed very sad that there would be no more babies in our family.
Aunt Jane gave birth to a baby boy in March of 1947. They named him James Stephan Buffum. He had blond hair and big blue eyes and fat red cheeks like an apple. I thought that, at the very least, they should have named him Arthur.