Archive | May 2012

The Birthmark

I was born April 7, 1942 in Neepawa General Hospital. The delivery and post-natal care were standard medical routine at the time, which is to say that my mother was anesthetized during delivery, kept in bed for a week and not “burdened” with the care of a new-born during that time. Like all resident newborns, I was kept in the nursery at all times except for the 30 minutes each four hours during which my mother was allowed to breastfeed me.

I was clothed in standard hospital garb, a plain nightgown with no armholes, and but for a fortunate accident, my mother might not have seen more than my face until she took me home. On day three of my young life, however, my gown had a tear in it, through which I managed to extend my left arm and terrified my mother. To all appearance I had been badly burned.

In fact, it wasn’t a burn, but, as the nurses belatedly reassured her, a rather unusual birthmark consisting of half a dozen red blotches along my left forearm from wrist to elbow. Apparently neither the doctor nor the nurses had thought to inform her of this unusual characteristic. And, fearful of breaking some hospital rule, she had not dared to undress me during the brief feeding times.

I call it a fortunate accident for I shudder at the thought of the emotional turmoil my parents would have been put through had they not discovered the mark until after I had been brought home. Even today, most people seeing the birthmark for the first time assume it is a burn.

The birthmark today

I have never been embarrassed by the birthmark as I might have been by a facial blemish. A doctor did tell my mother once that it could be removed, but she saw no reason to do so. Most people, once they get over their first start, are simply curious about it. In fact, I developed a sort of pride in this badge. And I found it a decided advantage when first learning left from right.

Almost an Ontarian

Mum & Dad in Hamilton 1942

I just missed being born in Hamilton, Ontario. My parents moved there in the fall of 1941. Dad found work at Langley Dry Cleaners and I assume Mum “worked out” as they called it then, cleaning house for various clients on a weekly rotation.

It was not lack of work that sent them back to Manitoba, but lack of housing. The landlady from whom they rented a room was dubious about renting to a young couple obviously expecting a child soon. She didn’t include infants among her prospective tenants, but agreed to take them in temporarily until they found suitable family accommodation. But suitable accommodation at a price they could afford was not to be found even with nearly four months of searching. Finally, she gave notice, and with nowhere else to go, my parents returned to Cordova, Manitoba where my maternal grandfather had a small farm currently vacant. (In addition to the farm which he worked himself, Granddad owned several others which he rented to tenants.)

This farm was, frankly, a dump, and not long afterwards they moved to “the Brunskill farm” in the Mentmore district. The delay, perhaps, was due to Granddad needing permission from Mum’s brothers, Arthur and Cecil to let them live there. They had jointly purchased the farm in 1938, but by 1942 both were overseas serving in the Air Force and no one was farming the land. So it came about that my earliest years were spent at Section 17, Township 13, Range 16. We lived on the Brunskill farm from the spring of 1942 until the fall of 1945.