“There is a time to be born and a time to die,” so said Solomon in Ecclesiastes. But I was a procrastinator, even before I was born; so in a sense, I defied that edict. This was not good, since it was very important that I be born on time. It was a life and death matter!
Please listen to this tale of my untimely birth. And a postponed death. Both, of course, happened exactly when they were supposed to happen. But don’t tell the Elder Clan that, for they would disagree!
My Aunt Betty had suffered with the life-long debilitating effects of contracting rheumatic fever as a child. For most of her adult life she was an invalid, often bedridden. Despite this, she was the most popular person in Stockton, California, if the oft-told Elder Clan tales are correct!
According to those tales, Aunt Betty never complained about her situation. She was often described a saint who drew people to her bedside by a patient loving demeanor. When people came to visit to cheer her up, she cheered them up instead. She listened to their woes and gave wise counsel, so much so that streams of people came daily to “comfort her.”
In January of 1943, as WWII raged and people needed a LOT of comfort, Betty’s health deteriorated. So much so that her doctor predicted that she had only a few days to live. Maybe less! And he made this dire prediction just a few days before my due date!
My mother, so the family tale goes, was HUGE with child and “ready to pop.” She loved her sister-in-law, Betty, and spent lots of time “comforting her,” all the while complaining of her own discomfort. Aunt Betty’s greatest wish, so I’ve been told, was to live to see me; but as the days went by and I procrastinated, she got weaker and weaker.
The whole Elder Clan stood vigil, over both Aunt Betty and my poor over-pregnant mother. And that clan was huge! Besides my Mom and Dad, there were my grandmother, my four other aunts (Katherine, Mary, Helen, and Mona), and my uncle Cliff Elder who was married to my Aunt Mona. They all temporarily lived together because of the war situation and because of Aunt Betty’s condition.
The day before my actual due date, things became critical. Betty drifted in and out of consciousness and the doctor predicted that she wouldn’t make it through the night.
The Clan stood by, helpless. If only Betty could hold on another day! If only the baby would come early! As the day wore on and Betty grew ever weaker, a decision was made. There was one last thing they could do for Betty.
My mother agreed, sorrowful that she would have to say an early goodbye to Betty — and make herself scarce. For what they decided to do was tell Betty I was on the way!
Betty perked up! She stayed awake and waited for news. When she began to fade, and death again seemed imminent, they announced the good news: the baby was born! It was a healthy baby GIRL! And Mary and Ellis (my mom and dad) had named her Elizabeth (Betty for short)!
Aunt Betty rejoiced! She rallied! And of course, she wanted to know all the details. It’s a good thing my grandmother was a great story-teller! At Betty’s bedside she wove tales of a harrowing car ride to the hospital, a long and horrendous labor, and a baby born blue and not breathing!
Oh, it was a dramatic tale! And not a bit of it true, for my mother was out in the hallway listening to every word while she suffered the non-labor pains of being nine months pregnant and nothing to show for it but a huge belly!
The predicted day – of both my birth and Betty’s demise – passed. I wasn’t born and Betty didn’t die. Instead, she continued to improve as she heard more news about her beautiful baby niece which my grandmother spun tirelessly – while my Mom listened in the hallway beside the doctor who shook his head in wonder at Betty’s improvement.
A week went by. Aunt Betty’s health continued to improve. All she could talk about was seeing her little niece, holding little Betty in her arms! Aunt Betty knew, of course, that she would have to wait, since (in those days) moms and newborns were kept in the maternity ward for a couple of weeks.
While Aunt Betty waited patiently, the rest of the Elder Clan worried and fretted. My mother was more than two weeks overdue and NOT happy about it! She couldn’t visit Betty, who would have showered her with compassion and would have listened to all her complaints. And she worried! What if that wildly kicking baby inside her bulging belly was a BOY!
It was just about all the Elder Clan talked about (out of ear-shot of Betty’s bedroom). What would they do if the baby was a boy? Betty was so thrilled that the child had been named for her! How could they break the news to her that her niece Betty was a BOY?
FINALLY, over two weeks past my due date, my mother went into labor! The next morning, a collective sigh could be heard throughout most of Stockton, when news got out that Mary Elder had delivered a baby GIRL!
Through some arm twisting (tales mention the intercession of my Dad’s commanding officer…), mom and baby were able to go home after less than a week (unheard of in those days). And Aunt Betty finally got to hold her little niece in her arms.
Aunt Betty lived another six months, daily delighting in her beloved namesake. I wish I could say that future procrastination on my part ever produced such life giving results!
This Elder Clan tale, so often told at family gatherings, made a lasting impression on me. I was “named before my birth.” And, even more important, my name, Elizabeth, (as my Aunt Mona told me) meant consecrated to God. Imagine my delight when years later, I came across a verse in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born, I consecrated you to Myself…”
There have been many times in my life, dark times of depression and self-loathing, when knowing this tale of my birth made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.