My oldest aunt, Collette, was born in 1929.
Times were different then – no antibiotics, few vaccines, and a lack of the kind of medical possibilities we take for granted (and sue doctors about) today. There weren’t telephones the way we have them today, and the doctor for my grandmother’s rural community was some distance away – accessible, but not right next door. And when my aunt took sick with fever, all the doctor could do was advise to keep her as hydrated and as cool as possible.
Collette was only a few months old, still sleeping in a bassinette that had slender legs and tiny wheels. The doctor had explained that either the fever would break in the night, or it would not break, and Collette would be dead – or worse. My grandmother laid her in her bassinette and sat beside it, watching as Collette’s breathing slightly, ever so slightly, rocked the bassinette.
My grandmother sat beside the bassinette all night, watching it rock, rock, rock with the baby’s breathing. She kept her as cool as possible. She never took her eyes off the bassinette, never stopped staring at the rocking, even as it got slower, and slower, and slower.
“It got so slow,” she told me, “that sometimes I wasn’t sure I was seeing it move at all. But it never stopped.”
And when the sky got lighter, and the sun was just about to come up, the rocking got a little faster. It got a little stronger. And when the sunlight came in the window next to the bassinette, my aunt started crying.
“It was the most wonderful sound in the world,” my grandma said.
Now that I’m a mother, I think about my grandma, sitting there knowing that her baby will die, and that the only thing she can do about it is to hope that she won’t. I think about all the things we worry about and complain about and become indignant about in today’s world, and I feel this overwhelming urge to yell to the masses, “Get over yourselves!”
And to everyone who thinks a baby’s crying is an annoyance … I say it’s the most wonderful sound in the world.