A Time To Be Born

Version 3

Congratulations card received by my parents after my birth. (1946)

To everything there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born…

—Ecclesiastes

Do you know the circumstances of your birth?  Some from my generation with whom I’ve discussed this question have little to offer in response.  They know their birth date, of course, including possibly even the time of day they were born, but that is about the extent of it.  The human story behind the occasion of their birth is often lacking.  Perhaps they were simply not told—or maybe they never asked.  It’s true that some of our parents weren’t able to provide much detail about our births because they simply couldn’t remember it.  So for whatever reasons many people in my age group know only the bare-bones facts about the circumstances of their births.  The really interesting stories behind those facts remain unknown and untold.

While it’s true that the moment of one’s birth is just a speck in the grand scheme of things, for each of us it is momentous.  The biblical book of Ecclesiastes lists the time of our birth as the first of the appointed “seasons”—it all begins there.  With this in mind, my bare-bones facts are that I was born at three o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, November 23, 1946.  But now let’s take a look at some of the human story behind these facts; that’s where the good stuff is.

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Union hospital (1940s)

Postcard of Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana. (1940s)

I actually don’t know much about my birth itself.  My mother (Margaret) was sedated during much of the hospital labor and delivery period, so she couldn’t recall the birth very well.  It occurred in a “labor and delivery” room at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana; my father (Robert) was not present.  Instead he was with a friend in the “waiting room” in the hospital reserved for expecting fathers.  However, my parents did recall the broader context of my time to be born—and here’s much of what I’ve learned.

Ross-Ade Stadium (1940s)

Ross-Ade Stadium at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. (1940s)

The detail most consistently shared by my parents about my birth was that it occurred during the 1946 Indiana-Purdue football game.    This gridiron rivalry between Purdue University and Indiana University occurred at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana, during the afternoon of Saturday, November 23.  The Indiana-Purdue football game and the Indianapolis 500 automobile race were the two most-anticipated days of the year in Indiana at that time.

Since my parents had both attended Indiana University during the mid-1930s, they continued to follow Indiana University sports.  They had, in fact, met at an IU basketball game during their student days.  The story goes that Robert had come to the gym early to get a good seat; he was passing the time while waiting for the game to begin by working a crossword puzzle.  Margaret had also arrived early and happened to be seated right behind Robert.  While looking over his shoulder she began offering suggestions about how he could solve his puzzle.  Although somewhat annoyed by her intrusion, he soon warmed up to her because he realized she knew a lot about words and could be helpful to his puzzle-solving cause.  He must have also liked other aspects about Margaret because he later asked her out for a date.  Thus began a relationship that culminated with their marriage four years later.

Robert graduated in 1940 with a degree in business, and he was hired as an accountant by a food manufacturing company in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Margaret had finished her studies at IU in 1937 and returned to her hometown of Seymour, Indiana.  She taught in a country school for the next three years while continuing to see Robert.  They became engaged and were married in 1941.

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Margaret and Robert on a date during their time at Indiana University. (c1937)

Mother & Dad's wedding (enhanced) - 19 May 1941

Margaret and Robert (center) on the occasion of their wedding. Also shown are the Best Man and Maid of Honor. (May 1941)

During their first year of marriage, Robert and Margaret established an apartment home in Terre Haute.  Once World War II began, they knew it was just a matter of time before Robert went into the military.  He did join the Navy in early 1944 and was sent to a large naval base in the Caribbean.  During this time Margaret moved back to live with her mother and she worked as a teacher at a nearby Army post.  Margaret and Robert didn’t see each other again until he was discharged from the Navy in February 1946.  I was born in November 1946—exactly nine months later.  Clearly my parents were not wasting any time in starting their family!

Mother & Duke (c1944)

Margaret at her mother’s house where she lived while Robert was in the Navy. The dog (Duke) was given to her by him before he left for the War. (c1944)

Robt Simmons in Trinidad (c1944)

Robert during his tour of duty with the Navy in Trinidad. (c1944)

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Dad & Mother - c1946

Robert and Margaret after returning to Terre Haute in 1946.

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Robert and Margaret’s apartment building in Terre Haute. (1946)

When Robert returned from the Navy, he and Margaret moved back to Terre Haute and rented a small apartment near the downtown area of the city. He resumed his accounting position at the factory and Margaret, after learning that she was pregnant, prepared to have her baby.  They were twenty-eight years of age then.

I don’t know much about how my mother and father prepared for my arrival.  They knew the “due date” of course, which was in late November, but they didn’t know my sex yet.   That was the case for most expecting parents then.  Surprisingly my mother continued to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes during all of her pregnancy.  Her physician had told her that stopping these habits would “shock” her system and possibly harm the child.  That, of course, is against the medical advice given to expecting mothers today.  Despite this erroneous counsel, my mother’s pregnancy—and I—turned out Okay.

Ticket to IU-Purdue game (1946)

Ticket for the Indiana-Purdue football game in 1946.

One insight I have into the circumstances associated with my birth comes through a whimsical verse written by a friend of my mother’s and given to her:

In Terre Haute on November 23 (Old Oaken Bucket game day)

the Simmons were all set to enjoy the fray.

With plenty of beer and cigarettes on hand,

it was almost as good as being in the stands.

They hadn’t, of course, thought they were so exact,

but things began to happen in the very first act.

Because of Pete all this they had to leave,

only of course he turned out to be Steve.

                  —Katherine Liston (friend of Margaret’s)

The 1945 college football season for Indiana University had been a milestone.  The team, led by fullback Pete Pihos and halfback George Taliaferro, had its first-ever undefeated season and won the Big Ten Championship.  Even though my father was in the Navy during that year, I’m certain he kept an eye on his alma mater’s gridiron exploits.  With All-American Pihos returning, hopes were high for the 1946 season.  After stumbling in their first two games, the Hoosiers rebounded with wins in five out of their next six games.  So with a record of five wins and three losses, the stage was set for the 1946 showdown with Purdue in the last game of the season.  Considering her advanced pregnancy, there was no chance that Margaret and Robert would attend the game.  Yet her physician did plan to go so he made contingency arrangements with another doctor in town to attend my birth if I came while he was away.

Thus it was that my parents invited some friends over to their apartment in Terre Haute to converse, drink beer, smoke cigarettes and listen to the “Old Oaken Bucket” football game on the radio.  I don’t know whether my parents had a hunch I would be a boy–there were any number of folklore ways that couples could make an “educated” guess about the sex of their child.  Somehow Margaret and Robert had apparently concluded that I would be a boy and they had given me the name Peter.  There were no other Peters in my family then—or even now for that matter—so maybe my parents were just being original.  Or perhaps they were naming me for Indiana’s star fullback, Pete Pihos?  It’s one of those little mysteries associated with my birth.

I’ve written more in my essay Knowing My Name about how I came to have the first name Steve.  In short, I was named after an uncle in my mother’s family who had been tragically killed in an accident just before my mother was born in 1918.  Knowing of the high esteem with which this uncle was held by her father, I have a hunch that my mother might have been given the name Steve had she been a boy.   Perhaps because of her dad’s fondness for his uncle, my mother (and dad) decided at the last to switch my name to Steve.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad they did.

Pete Pihos and coach (1946)

Indiana University fullback Pete Pihos stands with his coach on the sidelines during the 1946 football season.

Pihos Excels With 3 Touchdowns As Indiana Halts Purdue by 34-20  —New York Times headline (November 24, 1946)

Even though in the end I wasn’t given the name Pete, that name did factor into the events associated with my birth.  As Katherine Liston’s poem noted, my mother had gone into labor just before the kickoff of the 1946 Indiana-Purdue game.  My father drove her to the hospital, and I was born sometime during the game.  Although I expect the game had become the farthest thing from my parents’ minds by then, the fact is that Indiana toppled Purdue for the fourth year in a row.  And the star of the game for Indiana was none other than Pete Pihos.  It would be twenty years before someone named Steve became a prominent name in college football—Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in 1966.

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One-month old Steve 2 (12:23:1946)

Newborn Steve and his mother at one month of age. (1946)

My mother told me that I was not an attractive child as a newborn.  I had only a small amount of blond hair and she described me as having the appearance of “a little old man.”   Maybe that’s why my mother and father took so few photographs of me during my first month of life.  The only ones I have were taken on December 23, 1946, at my one-month anniversary.  Those are underexposed so it’s hard to tell much about me from them.  Could that have been their intention?

The next photos I have of me as a newborn were made during my first visit to my Grandmother Christine’s house in southern Indiana.  I was 10 weeks old then, and since I was bundled up against the February chill, it’s still hard to get much of a look at baby Steve.  The photos that best show me as a young child were made on the occasion of the wedding of my mother’s sister in 1947; I was eight months old then.  I had a bit more hair by that time—and I had certainly learned how to smile.

Smiling Steve & Dad (1947)

Smiling father–and smiling Steve. (1947)

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Mary Lou & Steve (2018)

With my “twin” cousin Mary Lou Billings. (2018)

As a boy I wanted a brother or sister closer to my own age.  I had my first-cousins, Lindy Rapp and David Hobson, who were born a few months before me in 1946, yet their families lived at a considerable distance from Indiana so I seldom saw them.

Then there was my paternal 2nd cousin Mary Lou Billings who lived in Shoals, Indiana–about 80 miles from Terre Haute.  As a young boy, my parents and paternal Grandmother Grace told me about her–told me that I had a cousin who was exactly my age.  I learned that Mary Lou and I were born just three hours apart on November 23, 1946!  I really wanted to know her, but my family never went to Shoals when I was young—and Mary Lou’s family never came to Terre Haute.  As a result I didn’t meet my “twin” cousin until I was an adult.  At the funeral for my Grandmother Grace, I met my dad’s cousin, Howard Sherfick.  He lived in Shoals and invited me to come visit sometime and learn more about my father’s family history there.  Howard was the one who finally introduced me to Mary Lou during the 1990s.  Now she and I get together just about every time I’m back in Indiana.  I also give my “twin” a phone call on November 23rd—it’s OUR birthday after all.

Steve & Mark (1949) copy

With Mark Lange at my third birthday celebration. (1949)

In addition to cousin Mary Lou there’s another person who is very significant in relation to my birth.  His name is Mark Lange and he’s my longest-standing friend in the world!  When I was born, Mark’s parents (Margie and Don) lived in the same apartment building in Terre Haute as my parents.  Their apartment was located directly across the hall from my parents’ place.  The Lange’s probably were among those friends who were invited to that November 23, 1946 football-listening party with my parents that never came to pass.

Margie, Don, Margaret and Robert formed a close friendship that continued for the remainder of their lives.  Mark was born after me, in 1948, although by the time of my third birthday in 1949 he was my most consistent playmate.   Neither my brother nor Mark’s sister were born yet in 1949, and despite our two-year difference in age we had already formed a relationship that was akin to brothers.  Mark and I continued to share many adventures during our childhood and adolescence–and we also developed a mutual interest in the sport of golf.  To this day there’s no one with whom I’d rather share a round than Mark.  We also both have Ph.D. degrees and pursued careers that included working at universities.  During the year 2019 I will be with Mark in person again and we’ll celebrate seventy years of friendship.  That is quite a milestone.

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With Mark Lange at Chambers Bay Golf Course in Washington State. (2017)

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Here is Typical Amer Fam

The Typical American Family. (1951)

“Well, mother?”

Two softly spoken words,

nothing more, and yet so much

in meaning and in courage,

much with which to turn together

toward a future with a different face,

words of hope and love, great love,

for we honor those who’ve taught us

to face forward by going on.

—Gerhard E. Frost from “Going On”

The time of our birth is significant whether we know the details or not.  Without it, we don’t exist—pure and simple.  It could be argued that it’s the most important day of our lives.  With this in mind I choose to still make much of my birthdays, although I know some my age who don’t.  Perhaps they reason that they’ve already celebrated enough; that’s their prerogative.  It’s also true that as we age birthdays take on a different meaning than when we were younger.  As I’ve reached the decade of my 70s, I know there aren’t that many more birthdays left for me.  I’m mindful of the increasing number of family members and others from my earlier life who are no longer with me.  This can bring its own pensiveness and sadness, and perhaps that’s why some choose to no longer celebrate their birth milestones; it helps keep such melancholy at bay.

In two years I’ll be observing another 70th anniversary milestone.  In July 1951 my family was featured in a national magazine article titled The Typical American Family.  It’s a fascinating article for me to read now, and not just because of the wonderful photos it offers of my family as it was almost seventy years ago.  Of most interest to me now is how the article offers insights into how my parents viewed their lives then, as well as their aspirations for Phil and me.  He was less than a year old at the time of the article and I was four.  I’m now the only one left from my birth family—and when I celebrate my birthday each year I face that reality head-on.

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Version 2

Phil with our mother’s TRAIN CAKE creation during his 5th birthday celebration. (1955)

When I was a child during the 1950s, no day in each year was more important or celebrated for me than my birthday.  I don’t know if that had been the case for my mother too when she was a child; the only thing she shared with me about her childhood birthdays was that she was excused from doing farm chores on those days.  That would have been special for her then!

During our early-childhood and elementary school years, my mother made Phil and me extravagant birthday cakes.  Each year she’d ask us what kind of cake we wanted for our birthday—and she didn’t just mean whether it should be angel food or chocolate.  She wanted us to also choose a theme around which she could plan the cake and an associated party.  For example, the cake for Phil’s 5th birthday was made to resemble a train.  His 6th birthday cake was a replica of his elementary school building, which he had just begun attending that fall.  For my part, one of the most-memorable cakes was made to look like a pirate ship.  For my 8th birthday she constructed my cake to look like a football field complete with chocolate-bar-section yard markers and goal posts made from straws.

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The FOOTBALL FIELD CAKE birthday. (1954)

Yet her piece de resistance cake for me was one she made to resemble a dinosaur-inhabited tropical jungle!  To be fair, my mother’s friendship with Mark Lange’s mother Margie may have also played into this.  They had a friendly competition in those years to see who could outdo the other with more impressive cakes.  And for my mother at least the birthday cake extravagance didn’t end with just Phil and me.  For example, I remember one year during the 1950s when she made a birthday cake resembling a suitcase for our Aunt Matilda.  This was to acknowledge and celebrate her penchant for travel.

As Phil and I became adults and moved away from home, our mother’s birthday-cake construction gift became less frequently applied, although it was still occasionally pressed into action whenever Phil or I were with her on our birthdays.  And since my father’s birthday fell on Christmas each year, she made a cake for him almost every one of his 43 birthdays with her.  She didn’t want him to feel slighted, I suppose.

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During the party for my 8th birthday. Also pictured are my mother, my brother Phil, Mark Lange (yellow shirt) and Mark’s mother Margie (right).  (1954)

…and a time to die.     —Ecclesiastes

My mother lived almost 98 years. She suffered a serious stroke and entered hospice a week before she died.  On her final day I was walking down a long hallway towards her room at the residence in Seattle where she lived in the end.  I received a call from my wife Mary Ann.   “I think mother’s gone,” she said, “She just stopped breathing.”  I walked quickly to my mother’s room and entered. She was lying in bed in the same position she’d been when I left her the previous evening. Mary Ann was by her side and a hospice worker was standing nearby. I went up to my mother; her eyes were closed. I leaned over and kissed her; she still felt warm.  I whispered a prayer—and then I cried.

I had anticipated this moment, of course, and especially during the previous week that she was under hospice care; we all knew it would not be long.  Being a somewhat reflective person I’d already thought about her significance in my life.  I realized that in a sense she is my life; without her there would be no me.  And I understood she was the only person left on earth who’d known me every moment I’d been alive.

My mother was always ready to offer praise for my accomplishments and positive personal attributes, yet I still sometimes wondered whether she truly approved of me at her core.  She certainly didn’t understand me in some ways, yet that wasn’t what troubled me most.  I regretted not asking her how she regarded me deep down, and she might not have answered even if I had.  Yet I think I got a hint of an answer to this question from one of the photographs taken by the magazine for that Typical American Family article.  It shows my mother bathing Phil while I looked on.  Some photos for that article were staged, but I don’t think this one was.  My mother, just thirty-three years old then, has a wonderful expression of contentment, delight and affection on her face in that moment as she looks over at me.  I like to think that this picture reveals how she truly felt about me at her core, and perhaps in ways she never could have done in words.  It is enough for me.

Bathing Phil (1951)

My mother bathes Phil while I look on. The photo was one taken in conjunction with the Typical American Family article.

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Version 2

With my wife Mary Ann and daughter Jill soon after her birth. (1974)

I’m fortunate to have been physically present for the births of each of my three daughters (Jill, Lara and Dawn).  It’s an experience that my father and most other men in their generation didn’t have.  The memories I carry of the moments of birth for my children are among my most treasured.  And accordingly our family has continued to commemorate and celebrate those sacred moments each year since.

Dawn's 3rd birthday (9:1984)

Daughter Dawn’s third birthday celebration with her sisters Jill and Lara. (1984)

Now my family’s newest generation is beginning to mark the milestones of their own births.  Granddaughter Linnea recently celebrated her 5th birthday by donning a crown complete with simulated jewels.  She’s at the age where being a princess is everything!  As I sat across from her during the party, I wondered just what she must have thought of all the fuss we made over her on that day.  She might have regarded it a just part of our pretending she was a princess.  Whatever she was thinking, I’m sure she wasn’t seeing it in quite the same ways I was.  I was remembering how my mother had been so fascinated by her great-granddaughter Linnea–and how mystified she was that Linnea’s parents chose to give her the middle name Margaret.  Well, I’m not mystified.

Linnea Margaret with my mother - 3:2015

Linnea Margaret with her great-Grandmother Margaret. (2015)

It makes me think of the good old days,

Happy birthday to you!

You sure grew out of your baby ways,

Happy birthday to you!…

So cut the cake and let’s eat some more,

Happy birthday to you!

         —from “Cut the Cake” (sung at family birthday celebrations for over thirty years)

Even though birthdays in my elder years can now bring forth tinges of melancholy, and especially when I think of those no longer here to celebrate with me, there’s a brighter side too.  One of the sweetest aspects in my life now is when I celebrate my birthdays with grandchildren.  For them it’s about having a party for Grandad—and especially having a birthday cake with candles.  Inserting a few trick candles into the cake that can’t be blown out makes it even more fun!  That my mother, brother, other special family members and friends are no longer able to celebrate with me is of little consequence to them.  I think they’ve got it right though; birthdays are about celebrating the now—and now.  So cut the cake, Grandad, and let’s eat some more!

Version 2

With grandchildren Sam, Linnea and Henry on the occasion of my 72nd birthday. (2018)

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EPILOGUE

I began this essay by calling attention to the fact that some of us from the “Baby Boomers” generation know relatively little about the human backstories of our births.  It probably doesn’t keep us up at night, although I’m finding that as I get older I wonder about it more and more.

What Do We Know book cover

Cover of the book What Do We Know by Mary Oliver

While I was preparing this essay, American poet Mary Oliver died.  I had discovered Mary’s writings about twelve years ago, and from the beginning I found a strong resonance with her thoughts and words.  I sometimes shared her poems with friends, one of whom was my university colleague Kathleen Odonovan.  During the ten years we knew each other, Kathleen and I worked together on various writing for reflection projects involving co-workers and students at the university.

In 2009 I gave Kathleen one of Mary Oliver’s poetry books as a friendship gift.  It’s titled What Do We Know.  This book seemed especially appropriate for Kathleen because as we worked together Kathleen repeatedly stressed two important questions: What do we know? and How do we know it?  About six years into our friendship Kathleen developed cancer; she died in 2013.  Mary Ann and I were with her at the end and her passing has left a void in my life that continues to this day.

I’ve never forgotten Kathleen’s two questions.  They’ve guided me throughout my explorations and deliberations that have led to this essay about my time to be born.  Kathleen also taught me to appreciate the different levels of knowing in my life.  Most of us can say with a high degree of certainty what we know or what we don’t.  Yet Kathleen  stressed another reality–that there are other kinds of knowledge we don’t know we know.  At first this idea sounds like a riddle, yet I am finding it to be a profound thought.  Whether it’s a fragment of memory yet to emerge, a photograph yet to be discovered, an intuitive hunch about to come into our consciousness, we all may one day discover we understand more about ourselves than we ever knew we knew.

And when that happens, I trust that you’ll give Kathleen a knowing wink.

Version 2

Kathleen Odonovan (2011)

There are some questions, there are some answers, the simple ones, the most important ones, that cannot be approached or even seen, until we go out looking for something else entirely.    —Carrie Newcomer from A Permeable Life

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EPILOGUE 2

1946 Philco radio:record player

Console radio/record player similar to the one owned by my parents at the time of my birth.

I’ve previously noted that my birthday coincided with the “Old Oaken Bucket” football game between Indiana University and Purdue University on November 23, 1946.  Had I not arrived that day, my father and mother intended to listen to the game with friends as it was broadcast on their local AM radio station in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Therefore the radio serves as yet another symbol of my time to be born.

I have just one photograph of that early radio.  It was taken for the article published about my family in the American Magazine in July 1951.  The magazine had dispatched a writer and photographer to Terre Haute during that spring to interview my parents and photograph our family’s activities.  It was a huge event for us then—and for the town.

Typical American Family poster (1951)

Poster announcing the “Typical American Family” article published in July 1951.

Our family’s radio also made an appearance in that article–in a picture taken during a social event hosted by my mother in her home.  It shows my father leaving for the evening while my mother serves coffee to her guests.  Meanwhile the family’s console radio stands inconspicuously in the background.

Social night (1951)

Photo from the Typical American Family magazine article showing Margaret hosting a Newcomers Club gathering in her home. In the background is the Simmons’ console radio.

In 1951 our family was still a few years from acquiring its first television, so some of my earliest memories were formed around that console radio.  My mother didn’t have a job outside the home then, so she often listened to the radio while doing her housework in the daytime.  She recalled later that, as a toddler, I’d listen to the radio with her and came to recognize several of the popular songs in that day.   I also recall some of the commercials too, including a snappy one for a local Ford automobile dealership.  It went:

Johnny Hayes Ford Corner / Johnny Hayes Ford Corner / 133 South Sixth Street!

It must be one of my earliest memories because Johnny Hayes Ford Corner moved to a different address in the early 1950s.

My mother also played 78-rpm children’s records for me on the phonograph player that was built into the radio’s console.  I still have some of them, and one is especially memorable for me now.  It contains a song titled Teddy Bears’ Picnic–and I remember it like it was yesterday:

If you go down in the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise;
If you go down in the woods today
You’d better go in disguise!

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain,
Because today’s the day the
Teddy Bears have their picnic.

I have a hunch that the radio in our family’s home then was a Philco.  Between 1930 and 1954, Philco was the best-selling brand in the United States.  In fact, they were so common that one might refer to almost any kind of radio then as a “Philco.”  The company produced types ranging from smaller “cathedral-style” radios during the Depression to larger console models during the 1940s, such as the one in our home.  In the ’40s Philco also began making an Art Deco-inspired “Transitone” model, which recently has become a part of my story too.  Let me explain.

Philco radio from Etsy site (2020)

1946 Philco radio as pictured on The Vintage Vibe shop’s Etsy site.

This is an extremely cool vintage radio with lighted dial that has been retrofitted so it can synch to your computer!  Radio now functions as a Bluetooth speaker…while showcasing its original character. Radio is vintage…[the one] pictured is a 1946 Philco.  —from the description of a Philco Transitone offered by The Vintage Vibe shop in 2020.

When I began writing this essay about the occasion of my birth, I’d hoped to eventually acquire a vintage radio as a symbol of that time in my family’s history.  I’d seen some in antique stores, but none seemed quite right to me.  They seemed either too large for my small apartment or too expensive.

Then a few months after A Time To Be Born was published, I felt an urge to look on the internet and see if any promising vintage radios might be available there.  My search revealed several, and as I scrolled through one especially caught my eye.  It was a cream-colored Philco offered by a shop in Pennsylvania called The Vintage Vibe.  I immediately liked the store’s name, and upon further examination I learned that this was a Philco Transitone model made in 1946!  I saw in the description that it wasn’t actually a radio anymore; it had been converted by the shop’s owner into a Bluetooth speaker.  Thus it was now capable of playing wirelessly from my computer–and I liked that idea.  I was drawn to the radio’s clean, smooth lines and I remembered often seeing such radios during my childhood.  I even wondered if perhaps my parents might have owned one?

I wrote the shop’s owner, Meghan Pierson, just to clarify how this “radio” could work for my purposes.  I liked that it would not be constrained to just playing AM radio stations, few of which offer 1940s music or programming anymore!  However, I knew that through my computer (and its internet) I could access and play lots of vintage radio music and other programs.  The owner replied promptly, and after confirming my understanding of  how the radio worked she added:

The dial face and knobs are all original. Another cool feature of this radio is that there is a light above the dial face that illuminates it. There is wear consistent with its age (as shown in pictures) but that just adds to the character in my opinion.

I was sold.  When I read “There is wear…that just adds to the character…” I knew I’d found a kindred spirit!  I informed Meghan that I would be submitting an order for her shop’s 1946 Philco Transitone!  I explained further that this radio/speaker was to serve as a symbol of my birth story as told in the A Time To Be Born essay.  And I declared that the first song I would play on my Philco after receiving it would be “Ole Buttermilk Sky” by 1940s Indiana songwriter, Hoagy Carmichael.

Meghan responded:

I love that!…Happy belated birthday!  I just finished reading your piece—very nice and I loved the pictures! Do you already have that Carmichael song on your computer? That’s an oldie but a goodie! I have the radio packaged and ready to go…

A few days later the anticipated package arrived from Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  I unwrapped it and placed my “symbolic” radio on a counter in the kitchen; it immediately seemed right at home.  I turned the power knob and the dial illuminated; I set it to AM 1230, the location of station WBOW in Terre Haute, Indiana.  I sat down at my computer and selected Hoagy Carmichael’s classic song.  It was November 23, 1946 once again…

Philco radio in situ (2020)

The 1946 Philco radio in its symbolic place of honor in my apartment. (2020)

It’s Saturday and a day off for Bob.  He and Margaret expect friends to come over to their apartment for the afternoon and listen to the traditional Purdue-Indiana football game on their radio.  Bob makes sure there are cigarettes on hand—and plenty of beer in the Frig.  I imagine that Margaret’s been feeling some contractions, which might mean that her childbirth labor is soon  to begin in earnest.  So she’s running over in her mind—again—the various things she needs to take with her to the hospital if she has to go later in the day.

Since it’s late November, Bob turns on their radio to listen to the weather forecast in advance of the football game party—or a possible trip to the hospital.  As they both listen to WBOW that morning the announcer says:

And now, the #1 song on the Hit Parade in this last week of November.  It’s by none other than Indiana’s own Hoagy Carmichael.  Folks, please give a listen to “Ole Buttermilk Sky.”

Ole buttermilk sky
I’m a-keeping my eye peeled on you
What’s the good word tonight
Are you gonna be mellow tonight?…

Ole Buttermilk Sky record label (1946)

“Ole Buttermilk Sky” record label (1946)

As the day progressed, Margaret and Bob did cancel their football party and made their way to Union Hospital.  I then made my appearance in mid-afternoon—at about halftime during the IU-Purdue football game that they never heard.  Later that evening, after my mother recovered from the anesthesia she’d been given during labor and delivery, I can imagine my father walking into her hospital room.  He’s carrying a bouquet of flowers in one hand and Hoagy’s #1 song is playing over in his mind; there is a beaming smile on his face.   He speaks:

“Margaret, what’s the good word tonight?”

She regards him quizzically for a moment from her hospital bed…and then she too breaks into a broad smile:

 “Well, Steve’s here, Bob!  And are you mellow tonight?”

Philco Steve Hoagy and "Ole Buttermilk Sky" (2020)

A 1946 Philco, Steve, Hoagy and…

IMG_2686

…an Ole Buttermilk Sky.

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Steve Robert Simmons wrote this personal essay in 2019 and 2020.  All rights reserved.