This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from Chapter 35 of Little Ragdoll, “Welcoming a New Troy.” While Allen and Lenore are having their first meeting with their prospective midwife in March of 1967, Adicia and her sisters make a joyful discovery in the midwife’s photo album.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Troy,” she says, shaking their hands. “I’m Veronica Zoravkov and I hope I can be your midwife when the time comes. I’ll give you a chance to talk with me about what you’d like out of your birth experience, what your expectations are, and what your plans are if you need to be transferred to the hospital, but first introduce me to everybody. Are all these girls going to be present at the birth?”
“I ain’t no girl!” Boy protests. “Just ‘cause I’m the only guy in a group of girls don’t mean my maleness don’t count!”
“These are my younger sisters, Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine,” Allen indicates. “Those are my sisters’ friends, Julie and the Ryans. Their parents called them Girl, Boy, Baby, and Infant, though they decided on some real names, I think, for when they go into wider society when they’re older.”
“Deirdre,” Girl reminds him. “My brother is David, Baby is Fiona, and Infant is Aoife, or Eva.”
“Are you a Miss or a Mrs.?” Adicia asks.
“Just call me Veronica. We’re all friends here. I probably won’t answer if you call me Mrs. Zoravkov anyway, since only people who don’t personally know me address me by my title instead of my first name.”
“Is that a Russian name?” Julie asks.
“Bulgarian. My maiden name was Bulgarian too. I wanted to marry another Bulgarian-American to keep my heritage alive instead of diluting it, since I’m so proud of where I come from.”
“Where’s Bulgaria?” Infant asks. “Is it very far away?”
“It’s on the Black Sea,” Ernestine says. “It’s in Southeastern Europe, in an area called the Balkans. It borders Romania, Greece, and Yugoslavia.”
“What’s in your picture book?” Justine asks. “Can we look at it?”
“They’re pictures of past clients and their babies. If your brother and sister-in-law choose me and everything goes well, their pictures will be in here too come June. It’s meant to reassure my prospective clients that normal people just like them have had their babies with a midwife, and that everything turns out alright in the majority of cases. Of course, if the baby’s breech, we’ll have to take you to the hospital.”
“What’s a breech?” Baby asks.
“It’s when the baby is facing the wrong way,” Girl explains. “Babies are supposed to be born head-first, but sometimes they come out with their feet or rear end facing first.”
While Allen and Lenore are chatting with Veronica, the girls look at the pictures in the album. A number of times they express surprise that the newly-born babies look rather unattractive instead of all cute, cuddly, and cleaned-up. The people in the pictures look like normal people, just as Veronica said. They don’t look like oddballs, but rather people they might pass in the street and not assume any anti-establishment thoughts about.
Allen looks over at them questioningly when there hasn’t been a peep out of them for more than several minutes. Adicia, Ernestine, and Justine in particular are bent over one page, looking intently at one photograph.
“What’s so interesting?” he asks. “Something we should be alarmed about?”
“Sarah!” Adicia shouts. “It’s Sarah! She’s in a picture!”
“You’ll have to tell me more details,” Veronica says. “Sarah is a common enough name that I know I’ve delivered more than a few. Most of my Sarahs didn’t pronounce it with a long A, though.”
“Sarah Katz, our nanny till our mean mother fired her in June of ’62! She was born in Germany and came to America in ’47. I know it’s our Sarah. Even the tattoo on this woman’s arm has the same numbers as our Sarah’s tattoo.”
Ernestine brings the book over to show Allen, and his jaw drops when he too recognizes the face of the woman who helped to raise him since he was three years old. Since he wasn’t as close to her as his sisters were, he wouldn’t know if the tattoo bears the exact same numbers, but he does see a serial number tattooed on this woman’s left forearm.
“I remember that woman. Her name is Sarah with a long A, and her last name is still Katz. I think she’s the only woman I’ve ever delivered who had a different last name from her husband. She said after all she went through under the Nazis, may they all burn in Hell for what they did to so many innocent people, she couldn’t dream of giving up the identity she had when she survived. She also said she was the only member of her family to survive, so it was doubly important to her to hold onto her original name. Her husband’s name is Henry Rosen, short for Heinrich. She was one of the oldest first-time mothers I’ve ever worked with. I delivered her son Friedrich in August of ’65, when she was thirty-eight. She called him Fritz for short, after her father. She’s expecting another child now, and wants me to deliver her again.”
“Sarah finally found a husband and had her own baby!” Justine says happily. “Our mother wouldn’t let her even go back to school. The bad guys in Germany kicked her out of public school when she was fourteen, so she never went to high school or college. And then she had to spend all her time taking care of us, so she was never able to really do anything else. Our mother wouldn’t have let her go on dates, get married, or have a baby anyway.”