If you ever want added incentive to count your blessings, just hang around a maternity ward for a short spell. At least that's what Hooter was thinking, kicked back in the waiting room's easiest easy chair, idly thumbing the day's Star Telegram, which he'd already been through untold times during the past five hours.
All around him the miracle of God's creation was in full bloom. There were soon-to-be dads running harem scarem for ice chips to sooth the soon-to-be moms, more caffeine for themselves, or just to pass along updates to expectant families jammed in the waiting room. Here were new grandparents congratulating each other and themselves for the fine job they'd done raising the mama or daddy of that new baby, the occasional pastor checking in on a parishioner, and even the odd pizza delivery man toting a Meat Lover's Deluxe to a new mom whose appetite was returning.
A smaller number of medical professionals burst in and out of the patient area, through the waiting room, on their way to or from checking patients a floor above. Baby traffic was a land office business this time of year.
Here were obstetricians striding confidently from floor-to-floor and from room to room checking on moms that were getting close, after the longest part of the labor ordeal had taken place. Hooter discovered it was the nurses—Saints in Scrubs—who rode point for most of the trip, coaxing, cajoling and even scolding when need be. Then there were the nursery folks swaddling and loving on newborns like they were their own. At least they were when you squinted between the slats in the blinds. Hooter's heart sank when he found out the evils and idiots of the world have forced big-town hospital nurseries like this one in Fort Worth to keep the blinds closed for security purposes, rather than throw them open to what should be nothing more than a pink-hued, gurgling bragging pool.
In the space of a few hours, even from a distance, Hooter saw the staggering spectrum of human possibility, from unbound joy to unimaginable heartbreak.
“They say anytime now,” drawled an obviously weary Bobby Lee Montgomery, offering Hooter the latest progress report on his wife, Liz, and the impending birth of their daughter. “Course, that's what they said about two hours ago,” Hooter tried to be helpful. “Can't rush Mom Nature, Bobby Lee. That apple will fall when the good Lord says it's time, not a notion sooner or later.”
“I just wish these doctors would remember that,” said Bobby Lee, tossing a weak smile over his shoulder as he headed back to the front line.
Hooter and Bobby Lee weren't related, but they should have been. Bobby Lee was just a younger version of Hooter, complete with a reserve of patience that ran slimmer than a gnat's toothpick.
“Liars! They're nothing but a pack of liars!” Bobby Lee would shout into the phone after each doctor's visit during the gestation. “They say the appointment is supposed to be such and such a time and we never get in within two hours of that.”
“Well, I reckon they're plenty busy, and it would be hard to schedule around babies who decide to show up,” Hooter would say.
“Then they need to take on fewer patients,” Bobby Lee would growl. “They're not just liars, they're greedy liars. You ever show up two hours late to climb on the horse you drew at a show, everybody just waiting around for you to turn up? You try that and you'd be lucky to be in time to watch the bulls.”
Bobby Lee still spent more time going up and down the road riding barebacks than pursuing what his in-laws termed gainful employment, which in this case was serving as a livestock appraiser for a few big banks. That's why he and Liz were in Fort Worth rather than back in Bobby Lee's home country of Mississippi. The location was more central to his road trips. Besides, it was close enough to Liz's parents in Oklahoma City that it gave them one less thing to squeak about. “Never mind that they never come to visit anyway, which is fine by me,” Bobby Lee would say.
In fact, ever since Liz disobeyed her parents and married Bobby Lee, her folks had maintained a long distance relationship. It wasn't that they disliked Bobby Lee, it was just that they figured Liz could do a whole lot better than a rodeo hand who's teeth were about 5 degrees from being plumb bucked.
As for Bobby Lee, one of those late-life but welcome surprises to his folks, well, he didn't have any family left. So it was that Hooter was the closest thing he had to kin in this part of the world, and the one Bobby Lee wanted at the hospital come the big day.
“We there yet?” asked Hooter the next time he saw Bobby Lee shuffling down the hall.
“Nope,” glowered Bobby Lee. “The nurse and me were fixing to have a tussle and she suggested I get a little fresh air.”
“A little tense?”
“I didn't think so, Hooter. I just finally asked when our doctor was going to show up, and the nurse tells me our doctor isn't on call this weekend, so we get stuck with somebody we never even met. So I says hold on; you mean to tell me we're paying this guy who knows how much money and he doesn't work nights? All I did was ask for the doctor's phone number, then push that little red button for another nurse when ours wouldn't give it to me. Next thing I know they have a security guy in there and this nurse is telling him I'm unruly. I told her she hadn't begun to see unruly…well, you get the idea.”
Hooter was fighting hard not to bust a gut. “Yeah, I pretty much get it. Ya know, I've never been down this road myself, but it seems to me this nurse and that doctor, they're all you got right now. It's kind of like pickup men; I'd make sure they were on my side if I was you, even if I didn't like them. What's Liz say about not having her regular doctor?”
“I haven't told her yet. She's been sleeping a spell now, if you can believe it. Might be that drug machine they hooked on to her back, but you know, she's a lot tougher than she looks,” Bobbie Lee said with pride. “She hasn't missed a step the whole way. Well, I'd best go and try to play nice. When I left, they said one way or another this baby ought to be here in less than an hour. Of course, this is the same outfit who could never seem to decide within a month what the actual due date should be. You know I could synchronize a set of first-calf heifers and tell you within…”
“Go!” said Hooter, shaking his head.
Here She Is!
“His first?” wondered a frail old man sitting across from Hooter.
“Yes sir. He's a might fidgety about it.”
The old man wheezed a chuckle. “One of our granddaughters is in there with our third great grandchild. Counting kids, grandkids, great grandkids, it's almost 30 of them. I've never missed one of them being born, and it never gets any less exciting.”
“I'll bet that's right,” said Hooter, trying to fathom a brood of 30 immediate relatives.
“I've got to get back in there. When your friend gets back, pass this along to him, it might help,” said the frail little man. “I used to be just like your friend, everything on a schedule and a schedule for everything. In fact, I remember yelling at the doctor when our first was being born, for what I don't remember. And, that's the point. Depending on where you're from, you've heard of Texas time, or Mexican time, or Indian time? Well, there is such a thing as Baby time, and once you're on it, not much else matters.”
As he was walking away, the little gray-haired gnome turned to Hooter with a wink, “So, like they say, don't sweat the little things that people do to you. And, like I say, if it's big things people do to you, then go ahead and whack them upside the head. Once you have kids, there isn't much time for beating around the bush.”
Finally, a little while later, here came Bobby Lee, his Bugs Bunny grin beaming like a halogen headlight in a box of broken mirrors. “We got a girl, Hooter.”
“Congratulations,” said Hooter, sticking out his hand. “Everybody alright?”
Bobby Lee nodded his head up and down, looking right at Hooter but not really seeing him. “Yes sir. The Doc says we couldn't ask for any better on both counts. Mama and baby are just fine.”
“How was it?”
Bobby Lee slumped into a chair. “Well, I have to be honest, there toward the end I had my doubts. This doctor that started checking on us seemed nice enough, but we just didn't know him from Adam. Then, when he finally decides it's time for the show to go on, here he comes looking like a cross between the Michelin Man and your 8th grade shop teacher, bundled up with who knows what underneath that uniform thing and wearing a full safety mask like he's fixing to sharpen up a set of chisels. Dangdest thing I ever saw.”
“So, what did you name this new daughter of yours?”
“Josie,” said Bobby Lee. “Josie Katherine, and she's beautiful.”
“Yep, that old man was right,” said Hooter, grinning at Bobby Lee's puzzled expression. “You are now officially on Baby time.”