Act One: November 29, 1832
In Germantown, Pennsylvania, a cry rips the midnight air. A woman in labor screams through her clenched teeth and pushes a baby into the world.
“It’s a girl.” The midwife smiles at the new mother and hands her the wrinkled red bundle.
The bedroom door opens, and a man thrusts himself into the room, his long face etched with worry. “She’s alive, ” says the mother from the bed. “Alive and well. Come see.”
He is across the room in two bounds, peering at his new daughter. The baby promptly opens her mouth and squalls. “Well, ” the man says, “she looks a sight better than Anna did when she was born.”
“She’s beautiful, ” the mother says, smiling down at the angry bunched face. “My beautiful little Louisa.”
The man furrows his bushy brows. “But we were going to name her May, after your family.”
The woman looks tenderly into the baby’s face, then arches an eyebrow at her husband. “Very well, Bronson, we shall name her Louisa May.”
Bronson’s face cracks open in a wide smile. “Louisa May, ” he says. And so she was.
• • •
Act Two: November 29, 1898
In a narrow brick house in Belfast, a woman gasps in pain as a contraction seizes her belly and back. She will never do this again, she swears it. Three years ago, she had brought Warren into the world, and tonight she will bring another new life, and then she will be done.
Another contraction squeezes the air from her lungs. The midwife coaches her to breathe, breathe. “It’s a-comin’, miss, ” she says. “Next time you feel the squeeze of it, you push.”
The woman does. Once, twice, five times, ten. Finally, the baby crowns. With a scream of pain, she pushes it out of her body. Blood and water gush onto the bed around the baby. “A boy, ” the midwife proclaims as she scoops him up and places him onto his mother’s chest.
She stares down at him, his red face puckered and pleated, his skin wrinkled and coated with vernix, and she smiles. No, she will never do this again. But she is glad for this time, for this boy, her little….she thinks a moment. Clive. Yes. Clive.
She cannot know that he will hate that name and abandon it before he’s five, taking instead the name of the recently deceased family dog, Jacksie. As she looks at him lying on her chest, his little mouth working into an O, she thinks it is a fine name. Clive Staples Lewis. A fine name indeed.
• • •
Act Three: November 29, 1918
In a third story hospital room in Manhattan, a woman is in hard labor. She is 40 years old, and she is afraid. She was told to abort this baby, told it was too risky to attempt to have a baby at her age. But she and Charles wanted a child, desperately, and so she is here, panting hard in a hospital room while her husband paces the floor of the lobby downstairs.
She does not like the hospital with its sterile white walls and floors. She wants to be home where gas lamps glow, their warm light reflecting on the wood floor and wall panels of their apartment. She wants Charles to smooth her hair and tell her he loves her. She wants someone—anyone—to hold her hand through her contractions.
“Push!” the doctor orders, and she does.
When the baby is born, she barely gets to see it—“a boy or a girl?” she manages to ask—before a nurse whisks it away to the nursery. “A girl, ” the nurse calls over her shoulder.
A girl. Charles said if the baby was a girl they would name her Madeleine. After Mado.
She closes her eyes while the nurses finish fussing with her. In the quiet of her heart, she speaks her beloved grandmother’s nickname. Mado, can you see her? We named her after you. A sharp pain squeezes her heart the way contractions squeezed her belly. Oh Mado, I miss you so much. Suddenly she misses her baby, too, her long-awaited baby whom she has yet to hold in her aching and empty arms.
Soon, she tells herself, soon she will meet her little girl, her own little Madeleine L’Engle, just like Mado.
• • •
Act Four: November 29, 2013
It is the day after Thanksgiving in Anacortes, Washington. It is also the birthday of three of my favorite authors. I set my plate of leftovers on my in-laws’ dining room table and then place three candles in the center of the table.
I light the first candle and say a prayer of thanks for Louisa May Alcott. Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys were among my favorite books as a schoolgirl. Jo March was my hero. I wanted to be a writer and a teacher and a mother, just like her.
I light the second candle and say a prayer of thanks for C.S. Lewis. Till We Have Faces is one of my favorite books of all time, and The Chronicles of Narnia still inspire me with their wit and wisdom.
I light the third candle and say a prayer of thanks for Madeleine L’Engle. Walking on Water was the first book of hers I ever read. I was 20. It inspired me so much and so deeply that I’m still uncovering ways her words have shaped my life. After reading it, I went on a four-year rampage and read every L’Engle book I could get my hands on.
I sit down at the table and pile leftover turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing onto my fork. I savor the melding flavors. This feast of food is the perfect celebratory meal for these three authors who have fed me so richly and so well with their feasts of words.
Photo by Aih, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis.
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