There are all Kinds of Surprises

There are all kinds of SURPRISES, and some of them look a little different from a kid’s perspective…Here’s One of Those Childhood Memories by Sharon Sheppard

One thing I figured out when I was still pretty little was that life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Just before my fourth birthday I ended up in the Pine River Hospital nine miles from home with whooping cough and pneumonia. I whooped and wheezed until my chest ached and my throat felt raw. I suppose it gave my folks quite a scare, because there wasn’t a whole lot anybody could do about it.

The doctor drilled a hole in my back and stuck a tube into the hole to drain some fluid off my lungs. I didn’t even know what lungs were until then, though I would just as soon have waited and found out some other way.

Anyway, right down the hall Johnny Russell was yelling his head off. He’s a kid I knew from my hometown who had whooping cough too, only he made a lot bigger fuss about it than I did. Maybe boys aren’t as tough as girls. Or maybe he was sicker than I was.

It would have been nice if Mama or Daddy could have stayed with me at the hospital, but Daddy had to work and Mama had enough problems of her own. She was about to have a baby, which nobody had bothered to tell me, and she also had to take care of my brothers. And to top it all off, she wasn’t feeling very well.

So every day after work, Daddy drove down to the hospital to see me. There was a pretty little pine tree outside my window, and Daddy and I adopted it. We called it “our tree,” and we checked on it each time he came. He read me stories, and every night before he left, he prayed and asked God to make me well.

I stayed in the hospital 40 days and 40 nights, and I didn’t like it one little bit. About half way through my stay, Mama came to the hospital to get the new baby. It turned out to be a girl! Finally some good news. I had a sister!

Her name was Dorothy Mae. I asked if Mama and the baby and I could all share a room, but the hospital wouldn’t let us. Mama had yellow jaundice, and I didn’t even get to see her and the new baby.

Mama and the baby got to go home before I did, and I cried with disappointment about having to stay. Finally, on the fortieth day, almost like Noah sitting in the ark with all those smelly animals waiting for the 40 days of rain to stop, I got to go home from the hospital. The doctor told Mama and Daddy that it was a Higher Power than his that pulled me through, because he didn’t think I was going to make it.

By that time our new baby was a couple weeks old, and I finally got to see what she looked like. She was skinny with no hair, unless you could count a little blond fuzz. I sure hoped she would get a lot cuter than that, but as it turned out, she never had the chance.

A few weeks after I got home from the hospital, Baby Dorothy started wheezing, and before I even got used to having a sister, something terrible happened. Our baby died and went to heaven. Going to heaven wasn’t terrible, but not being able to keep her with us was the disappointing part. I didn’t know exactly what it meant to be dead, I just knew I had never seen Mama so sad. I sure hoped it wasn’t my fault, the baby getting whooping cough and all.

Our Mama kept crying. I hugged her and tried to get her to stop, but she couldn’t. She went upstairs, maybe thinking we couldn’t hear her cry up there, but we could. I climbed the creaky wooden steps to give her a hug, and there she was slumped in a heap, sobbing her heart out.

“Mama, why are you crying?” I asked.

“Dorothy Mae is dead,” she said.

When I went back downstairs, I found my brothers standing in the dining room staring at our baby, who was sleeping on the table, wrapped in a blue flannel blanket in a bundle no bigger than a doll. She looked beautiful now, and she wasn’t wheezing any more. She looked like she was taking a nice, long nap.

Just then the doctor drove into our driveway in his big black car, picked up our baby, and took her away. And that was the last I ever saw of her.

After a while our mother didn’t spend so much time crying, at least when we were around. Then a year later, when I was five, we had another unexpected surprise. I guess our Mama and Daddy knew this was going to happen, but Ronnie and Paul and I didn’t.

We thought it was a little unusual that they sent us to the other church for Daily Vacation Bible School, since we had already gone to DVBS time at our own church. We grumbled a little about going to “The Cong”—our nickname for the Congregational Church down by the lake. And I can’t say we were thrilled when we finally figured out why Mama and Daddy were so anxious to get rid of the three of us that week either.

But one afternoon when we came home clutching construction paper drawings with pasted-on cotton balls for clouds, Daddy met us on the back porch. He was grinning.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” he said.

With all my heart I hoped that it would be strawberries and cream, but it was just another brother. That made the score three boys to one girl. Not a good ratio.


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