by Robert J Burdette
What to do when the nurse says, “It’s a boy!”
Hold yourself firmly in the chair with both hands. Do not whoop or make any unseemly exhibition of yourself. Remember that this is the first time such a thing ever happened on this planet. And it may never happen again – to you. The eyes of the world are upon you. If it is dark, never mind, so much the better for you. Calm yourself. Think what would have happened to the world had it been a girl.
Think how your name will be on the lips of thousands and thousands of people in the coming twenty-four hours. It will be in the papers. Spelled wrong, but never mind that. Everybody will know who is meant. Except in Boston. There they will know who is intended. It is the same thing, only different. It will all mean you. Perhaps your picture will be in the paper next column to a man who stole a horse in Arizona and left the state via the “Air Line.” They may get the pictures mixed. Never mind. Every body can tell which is you. Think how the letters will pour in on you. And the telegrams. You ought to have a stenographer. You never can answer them all. Perhaps the best way would be to put a card of general acknowledgement and thanks in the papers. Then you could be sure of having your name spelled correctly. And you could get in the middle name, too.
You were named for a rich old uncle, Knudd Pfflagstoche. He died without leaving you a cent, and you have never spelled your name in full. Never mind. You are even with him now. You can forgive him. Think what you will say as you meet people on the streets and at business. You won’t be able to attend to much business for a day or two, anyhow, you will be kept busy answering congratulations. And jokes. Well, people will have something to talk about for a few days now. Something besides the war. If it isn’t too late you might run around and tell your father about it. And just then it occurs to you that you have eleven brothers and sisters. You are the twelfth child in your father’s house.
Nothing on earth could have had such a reassuring effect upon you as that thought. For about thirty seconds. You will quit thinking about yourself for so long as that and come back to your normal stature as you reflect that so long ago as BY (which is by interpretation Before You) 7000 a man named Adam had a boy born to his house. Or cave, rather. ‘Tisn’t so much of a novelty now as it was then. And just as you are recovering from this shock and beginning to think pleasantly about yourself again, her mother will sweep swiftly through the room to where you are sitting. Do not rise. She does not see you. She never heard of you. Your wife is the fifth daughter. Her youngest son – the fourth – is in college yet. They always called him “the Runt,” because he was only 5 feet — 5-1/4 when you stand very erect.
You remember how you felt last Christmas morning when you broke through the ice while skating? Same way now. As you catch your breath with a gasp you remember that in the past generation women like your mother and hers bore families to their name. The mother of that day didn’t go clucking around with one pullet, as though she had just been deputed to run the solar system while Providence took a much needed rest. And just as you are recovering from this second shock, and are once more beginning to think warmly and pleasantly upon that most important and satisfactory topic, yourself, the nurse will glide noiselessly through the room. She is a bachelor maid herself. The shock is final. You will not recover for hours. Still, it is difficult to keep your thoughts from yourself and you will come around to yourself by and by.
And, of course, the boy must have a name right away. You will name him for yourself at once, Knudd Pfflagstoche Bawley Jr. Still, your father might be pleased to have a grandson named for him. Ezekiel is a good old name, and somehow it just fits your father. But it doesn’t seem to rhyme with Knudd Pfflagstoche. Then everybody would call the boy “Zeke.” You think of a cousin is rich enough to conciliate, but his name is “Gad,” and that would never do. You run over your brothers, but if you named him for one all the rest of your sisters-in-law would feel slighted. Your grandfather, now? It would please the old gentleman mightily, but then you happen to remember that he has been dead half a dozen years, and any pleasant little attention of yours — Well, now, you don’t have to keep within the line of family names.
There’s a friend of yours, an old schoolmate, a business associate, and a mighty nice fellow, too; he would be glad and flattered. You’ll name the boy for both of you – blend your names together, and — just then you remember that his father was a Hickory Democrat and named his boy Polk Buchanan, and you are a red-hot Republican; that won’t do. Well, you’ll name him for your favorite uncle, Uncle Gabriel is an old bachelor and will never have any children to name for himself. Gabriel Bawley won’t be so all-killing bad, after all. K Gabriel or Gabriel Knudd? Oh, well, you’ll fix it this way. Somebody opens the door and says softly that if you will be very quiet and good you may come in for just a minute. As you rise the rather disturbing thought comes into your pleasant reverie that maybe she might have a wish about the boy’s name. Oh, yes — to be sure — well, of course – you hope she won’t insist on naming him for her whole family, but, of course, if she wants – and by that time you are at her side.
Your boy’s mother. You bend down to kiss a white face as you might lift your own face to an angel’s. You have seen the love-light in your sweetheart’s eyes; you have seen the truer love, touched with devotion, that glowed in your young wife’s eyes. You never before saw the light that is shining like starlight in this mother’s eyes. You don’t know whether it is a prayer or a blessing that is throbbing in your heart as you kneel by her side. You see nothing but her. The faintly smiling lips whisper softly to you: “Don’t you see our baby?” And then you do see, nestled in her arms, cradled on her breast, a wee, dainty, dimpled roseleaf atom of humanity — her boy. A little heart that will be strong for the storms of life, brave for its battles, patient in its troubles. A life that by and by will cry out because of your mistakes; that will suffer for your faults; that you will ache with sorrow and throb with pain because you have been a blind leader and an ignorant teacher.
Nothing very “funny” about it, then, is there, son? No, indeed. I can understand how men might laugh, sometimes, at a funeral, because that may be a triumphal procession. But if we find naught but jesting for a birth we are fools who would have giggled behind our hands while the shepherds knelt at the manger of Bethlehem.
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Publication: The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, Calif.)
Publication date: February 4, 1900