I remember. This is exactly what I heard. “She is pale, so very pale, Madam. She look to me just like a cute little white mouse!”
These were not the words of admiration I was expecting to hear then in 1958 when, at the ripe age of 30, I gave birth to my first child. We were living in a small East Indian village, Felicity, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. My husband, a Columbia University anthropology graduate student, was doing field work among sugar cane laborers, East Indians in the West Indies.
I remember the exultation and delight and excitement and agony once my labor pains had truly begun. Quickly, I was bundled into our beat-up old ratty car and bumped along plantation roads through the sugar fields to a tiny East Indian Nursing Home, a series of small, rural buildings. I wanted to have my baby where our villagers had theirs.
But before we got indoors, we were delayed by a wild tropical deluge; I made it only as far as the first, small, “reception cottage,” the office. The fierce electrical storm unloaded heavy rains and the sky blazed with lightning. Nonetheless, my baby, Perri, showing remarkable determination, WOULD be born THERE IMMEDIATELY. She would not wait for more luxurious bed linens and appropriate surgical instruments further down the line. Not this baby!
And so, literally, on a pile of discarded old newspapers (TRINIDAD GUARDIAN, NEW YORK TIMES, NEW STATESMAN) Perri was born in that tiny rural reception cottage on the sugar estate during the storm.
Imprinting? Who knows? Perhaps her character, scholarship, predilections for reading and writing – and her destiny of practicing medicine – were thus reinforced at her marvelously eccentric birth.
Afterwards, HIP, our medical insurer paid the entire small fee including the costs of the libation with which we, our doctor and our village neighbors, toasted this joyous event. The villagers truly welcomed and loved this baby despite their concern about her dramatic pallor. They worried she was not well.
She was really fine; she was simply Felicity’s first Caucasian baby.
A half century later when she and I returned for a visit to Felicity, our old friends, who in 1958 had lived in shacks roofed with palm fronds, were now dwelling in comfortable modern homes. Of course, they welcomed us once more, and we talked about the old days, and I was sure they were remembering how pallid she had looked, back then. And I remember too: “She is pale, so very pale, Madam. She look to me just like a cute little white mouse!” But now they could see her all grown up, and think back on her lucky start.
Ah, Sheila, this makes me smile. You were so brave – I can’t imagine doing what you did for a first birth! And Perri is so magnificent – I like to think her adventurous spirit and fascination with foreign lands and customs and food and people all started in Felicity. What a propitious beginning!