“I remember the day you were born,” I tell Xianne. “Your mama was sipping broth in the morning when Ruby and I, baskets full of raspberries and herbs, came by to wait with the women for you to pop out.”
We’ve walked the twelve miles to Central Village—Ruby, Cheyenne and I. Several other friends from Ordinary are here, too. Xianne grew up in Ordinary and moved to Central after she and Rupert did their hand-fasting ceremony and built their cottage. We join their friends in Central today to celebrate Xianne’s birthday.
Ruby laughs. “You were a scamp that day, Rose! You wanted to stay outside and pick more berries. Your face and hands were stained red as the birthing blood that would later stain Darla’s sheets. But you had asked Darla if you could come when it was time, and I knew it was important to you, so I dragged you along anyway.”
“I was scared,” I say, my voice small for a moment, like the seven-year-old I was then. I smile, and the smile becomes a deep-throated giggle. “I had seen the cows birth calves, and one of the mama kitties even let me lie down beside her when her kittens were coming, but I’d heard women in the birthing rooms before, and they weren’t quiet like the animals.”
“Not all of them. That’s true. Some let out good healthy grunts and groans when they’re pushing, and some holler quite a bit, too,” Ruby says. “But I knew that Margaret and Jess had things well in hand with Darla. Darla was strong, and we didn’t expect any trouble.”
“She didn’t give any, either,” Darla shakes her white curls. “Xianne gave me no trouble in her birthing, and she never gave me a speck of trouble after, either. Not a teensy, tinsey bit!”
“Jessica wasn’t quite old enough to hold the baby when she popped out,” Margaret says, eyes focused somewhere on the ceiling. She’s sitting in the rocking chair Rupert made when he and Xianne were expecting their own first babe. The soft redwood glows with a patina from the oils he tenderly rubbed all those years ago, and from years of oiling and cleaning and using.
I imagine he spent many a winter evening smoothing and rubbing the wood, visualizing the child to be, how it might feel to hold the baby for the first time.
“So when Xianne’s head started to crown, I called you over. You were absolutely fascinated. I thought I might just have another midwife-in-training on my hands.”
“She went around for weeks after, telling everyone she saw about the birth and that she had decided to become a midwife just like Margaret and Jessica,” Ruby smiles.
“And Grandma Jess! Don’t forget Grandma Jess, who taught Mama everything she knows,” Jessica says, pulling her red hair up into a knot and securing it against the heat. Secure is a loose term where Jessica’s wispy hair is concerned. It will be falling out, haloing her face in no time at all.
“I could never forget Grandma Jess,” I tell her. “After Xianne was born, she let me shadow every birthing she attended. For such a young one, I held an awful lot of babies while they’re mamas got up to wash.”
“You did indeed,” Margaret chimes in. “I thought for sure you’d become a midwife, right alongside Jessica.”
”But you didn’t,” Xianne says. “Why not?”
“You know, this really isn’t about me today,” I tell her. “What I really wanted to say is that the day you were born was special even before I knew you were on the way. It felt special the moment I heard the robins singing. It sounded like a whole choir of them, and they were happy and singing to each other in a way I’d never heard before! I couldn’t wait to get outside.”
”That’s right,” Ruby says, eyes closed, voice soft. “I remember that, too. I walked onto the veranda to listen more closely, and you were already there, in the early morning half-light, your tiny face turned up to the sky, eyes shut, and an expression so blissful I could hardly bear it.”
She pauses, hugging her knees against her chin, her own face blissful in the memory.
“We stood silently, neither of us daring to move a muscle, while the light slowly crept over the hills and gradually draped itself down their sides until it was shining on your own sweet face.
“The birds, spent perhaps, busied themselves in the grass, nipping beetles and errant worms basking in the morning dew. I never saw such a spectacle before or since.”
“That’s why you were both standing there like that when I ran over to tell you Darla’s baby was coming,” Jessica claps her hands. “I had never seen so many robins in one place before, and there the two of you were, standing still as statues, the sun lighting your faces like two miniature suns, and all those birds, chirping and hopping on the ground. I felt like I’d stumbled onto holy ground.”
“That’s exactly what you said, too,” Ruby opens her eyes slowly, raises her head and takes a breath as if coming up for air. “Do you remember? You were only four at the time.”
“I remember trying to say it and feeling like I didn’t have the right words.”
“No, you did! You said, ‘Holy ground. The birds are eating holy ground.’ I thought you meant the ground was full of holes!”
Laughter peals across the valley, echoes off the canyon walls against which the cottage is set.
Rupert picks up Xianne’s hand. “My angel,” he says. “You were born on the day the birds ate holy ground.”
“Every birth is special,” Darla says. “We celebrate every one with such gladness, but I have to admit, the day you were born did seem especially joyful. The whole village seemed to feel it.” Xianne’s daughters and sons-in-law step from the kitchen then, bearing trays of iced tea and lemonade. Behind them, Cheyenne maneuvers Janine’s chair.
For once, Janine is letting someone help her with the chair as she carefully balances a candle-laden cake, fiery even in daylight.
“Happy Birthday Xianne!” We sing out in unison. “Happy fifty-two!” “We love you!”
I give thanks for this day. I give thanks for the beautiful woman I have loved for fifty-two years, from the moment she popped into view, from the first moment she was placed gently in my little-girl arms to hold in awe and wonder. I give thanks for the joy she brings to all our lives. May all the moments of her life be as blessed as this one.
Happy birthday, Xianne, sister-friend.