History of David

History of David

Snow on the trees in spring season

By Kris Rasmussen

I know you only from the April showers that always flowed down our mother’s face, but never fully drowned her sorrow. By the lilies she places on the your grave each year;the only evidence of your few  breaths  on this planet.

Tonight, a snowy-mix fills the Michigan spring night, and Mom mentions you to me in a moment of spontaneous reminiscing, the kind she has too frequently these days. “Dr. Frye revived his body three times, you know. He decided that was enough. I always had to hope he was right.”  Then she notices how dirty the front windows are looking.

I, too, notice the smudges and streaks clouding our view of the sturdy maple and the precocious squirrels racing around it. I don’t answer Mom right away, because middle age brings its own wistful wanderings. I list all the ways someone I never met has marked my life.

I would never have been delivered to our parents’ doorstep from the William Booth Hospital for Unwed Mothers.

I would have remained Eleanor, a name I despise but was given to me by my foster mom.

I would have missed Coming Home days, which were, as I smugly told the kids at school, way better than birthdays.

My birthday featured all the traditional trappings of cake, parties, and gifts. My Coming Home Day, January 28 included indulgent after-Christmas bargain shopping for more presents, and permission to gorge myself on macaroni and cheese and Chicken in a Biscuit crackers until I almost puked. One year, I forced my brother to sit next to me while we went to see 101 Dalmatians, just because it was my day. (He  was adopted, too, so don’t worry, he had his day as well.)

Mom never forgot your birthday, but it was marked by screams, tears and, occasionally , broken dishes, not wrapping paper and bows. Every April Mom would say the same thing by way of explanation, “Well, the anniversary of David’s birthday is this month. What do you expect?”

What did I expect? Nothing. Our mother was the only one in my family who even spoke of you. Grandpa and Grandma Smith, Dad, Aunt Paula and Uncle Harold never mentioned you. Hundreds of photos of camping trips, hunting trips, fishing trips still exist, but not one photo of Mom pregnant with you – as if that might have been some sort of jinx.

Yet you lingered along the edges of my childhood anyway.

I felt your breath exhale from our parents’ lungs every time I asked to ride my bike beyond the usual boundary of Jennings Avenue to venture some place all by myself, like to the corner of Myrtle Street. Their response: “It’s too dangerous.” Doctors tried six different times to fix a  chronic condition in my knees growing up. Before each operation, you flickered in our parents’ eyes along with their anxiety. At 21, I was rushed to the hospital after being pummeled to the pavement by a sedan. Despite the searing jolts of pain, I refused to tell the police officers how to call Mom and Dad because I didn’t want to upset them. They had lost one child, but they were not going to lose me.

When my brother rebelled, fought someone in school, shoplifted from a grocery store, Mom hugged me too tightly and said “Losing David was a sign I shouldn’t have been a mother after all.”

You were the one God sent us because you were just what we needed, Dad scribbled on a card to me once.

You told us that before you came to live with us you were walking around in the woods with Jesus, my mom would remind me, shaking her head in amazement.

Surely it was this religious fervor over my “filling in” for you that somehow contributed to my stellar GPA and pristine high school reputation.

Tonight, I press Mom for details about your life. I’m learning almost too late that stories can drown in bitterness, wither from neglect, and vanish from inevitable forgetfulness. If I don’t learn your story now, it will die with our mother. One way I can honor you both is to find out the history of your life.

Mom snaps out of her reverie to tell me more.

Dr. Frye actually forbid Mom to become pregnant. Her high blood pressure and high risk of eclampsia made her a poor risk. “You’ll never make it to term,” he’d warned.  If there is anything you should know about Mom, it’s that she listens to no one when she really wants something. She wanted you more than anything, so you were conceived after years of our parents dodging the shame-filled question, “Why haven’t you started a family yet?”

The two of you made it only to twenty-four weeks. Mom never saw your face. Neither did Dad. Convinced he was losing both his wife and his son, he huddled on his knees in a janitor’s closet. Meanwhile the Catholic nurses, some my mother had worked with for years, refused to participate in the emergency procedure which saved her life – barely – but couldn’t save yours. She never forgave them.

Arms empty, Mom refused to sign a consent to have her tubes tied. Did I mention Mom was – and is – a stubborn woman? But Dad won this argument – in fact, this may be the only argument he ever won – when he told her he would never touch her again if she didn’t have the surgery.

Which brings your story back to me, sitting here in an olive and mustard living room, weary and striving to hold onto one more piece of Mom before it’s too late. I allow myself to dwell on one final connection you and I have. Someday I will likely be buried in a plot next to yours.

I wonder what our stories will mean to anyone else then.

Kris Rasmussen is an educator, playwright, and freelance writer living in Michigan. Her creative nonfiction work has been published in magazines and journals such as The Bear River Review and Art House America. She was a contributing editor for the multi-faith website Beliefnet for several years. In addition, her dramatic work has been by produced by the Forward Theater Company in Madison, Wisconsin and published by Lillenas Drama. She is grateful to authors Lauren Winner and Charity Singleton Craig for introducing her to the work of Brain, Child. You can follow her on twitter @krisras63 or visit her website at www.krisrasmussen.net.






The Last Easter Dress

The Last Easter Dress

By Stephanie Sprenger


She wanted a little girl’s dress. And there were none to be found.


My oldest daughter regarded herself somberly in the mirror of the department store dressing room. She twirled dutifully as my mom and I gushed over her sapphire blue dress. Izzy didn’t look pleased. The dress was adorable, with a smocked bodice, a sleek, modern cut, and a skirt that was higher in the front than the back. A pattern of colorful, elegant butterflies adorned the fabric. Had the dress come in adult sizes, I would have bought one for myself. It was chic, stylish, and whimsical. She looked so grown up.

“I want a dress like Sophie’s,” Izzy complained, while her three-year-old sister licked the mirror. “Hers spins better.”

It was true. The ability of a skirt to fan out, ballroom-gown-style, upon twirling, was one of my preschooler’s prerequisites when selecting a dress. It was, in fact, the only prerequisite. Her closet contained hangers of forlorn corduroy dresses that went unworn due to their subpar performance when spinning.

My eight-year-old wanted a dress like that: a full-skirted number with ribbons and bows, one better suited for Easter Sunday than this discount retailer’s attempt at haute couture. She wanted a dress like I had in the 1980s, one that would have undoubtedly been accompanied by a stiff-brimmed Easter hat with a pale pink ribbon. She wanted a little girl’s dress. And there were none to be found.

Shopping for Easter dresses with Grammy had been a tradition; every year my mother happily would buy dresses for both of her granddaughters. Returning to our favorite clothing store, coupons in hand, we’d expected to find the perfect dress for the girls. After choosing a twirly dress for my youngest daughter, we had crossed an invisible line into the “big girl” area; as we perused the racks designated for sizes 7-16, it was clear we weren’t in Kansas anymore. This section of the girls’ clothing wing was a far cry from the precious offerings of the size 4-6x department, which showcased Disney princess nightgowns, comfy knit play-clothes, and ruffled swimsuits. Dismayed, we instead found selections that seemed more appropriate for elderly women, as well as garments resembling the tacky formalwear worn at a freshmen dance. Not to mention the ultra-short shorts that practically screamed “Stripper!” with their artfully-applied holes and frays and the occasional rhinestone smattering. To say the least, the pickings were slim; the butterfly dress had been the lone gem.

My mother and I were becoming anxious. If we couldn’t quickly find a suitable Easter dress in the older girls’ department, we would face the unwelcome possibility of hauling the children to the mall. Given the unauthorized mirror-licking, it was clear we were already shopping on borrowed time.

So we stood in the dressing room, fawning over my sophisticated-looking third grader, who reluctantly issued her consent to buy the fashionable blue frock. I sighed in relief and headed for the checkout. I should have known her heart wasn’t in it.

*   *   *

On Easter morning, my eight-year-old walked timidly into the kitchen as I whisked pancake batter for our breakfast.

“Mommy?” she began quietly. “I really like the dress Grammy bought me, but I don’t want to wear it for Easter today.”

I felt my blood pressure begin to rise. Noticing my daughter’s tearful expression, I quickly checked my righteous indignation.

“Why not, Izzy?” I asked, frowning slightly. “It’s so beautiful!”

“Well, I really want a dress that looks like Sophie’s. I don’t want a big girl dress. I have one in my closet that I really like,” she explained nervously.

A few minutes later, she brought the dress down to show me. I had never seen it before; it was a size 7-8 and apparently came at Christmas from her other grandmother in Texas. Resembling her younger sister’s dress, it had a halter neck, glitter sparkles, pastel flowers all over, a bright pink bow at the waist, and a full skirt, ideal for spinning. It was the perfect dress for a little girl on Easter.

“Honey, why didn’t you just tell us you didn’t like the blue dress that Grammy bought?” I asked, suppressing feelings of guilt and annoyance.

“I didn’t want to hurt Grammy’s feelings,” she confessed. “Will she be upset if I don’t wear this dress today?”

“If she is, that’s too bad,” I replied. “It’s your body and your choice. However, we are going to take the other dress back to the store. The next time you don’t really like a dress someone wants to buy for you, you can say, ‘No, thank you. I don’t want you to spend your money on something I don’t really like.’ I know that’s hard to say.”

“What if she’s mad at me?” my sensitive daughter worried.

“Protecting grown-ups’ feelings isn’t your job. It’s more important that you wear a dress that makes you happy today,” I replied, finding that I truly believed my words. “I should have realized you didn’t like the other dress enough—I tried to push you into buying it. I’m sorry,” I added, realizing that perhaps I had tried to force this mature style on my daughter before she was ready. She didn’t want a “big girl” dress like the girl next door whom she looked up to. She wanted to match her little sister, perhaps for the last time.

*   *   *

We sat outside blowing bubbles in the spring sunshine, and my father pointed out a caterpillar crawling in the grass. “Izzy, come quick!” he called to her. She raced over, squealing with enthusiasm and curiosity, and eagerly scooped up the tiny creature. Next April, she may not care about caterpillars in the grass, I thought grimly. Or having a special Easter dress. Maybe this is the last year she’ll believe in the Easter bunny.

I remember being in a terrible hurry to grow up; I longed to order off the adult menu at restaurants, to be given freedom to roam independently, to perm my hair and shave my legs. I stuffed dolls under my T-shirts to pretend I was pregnant.

Parents are frequently tuned in to how “fast it all goes,” forcing themselves to savor the fleeting years of childhood magic. But rarely do our children give a second thought to the transient nature of their youth—they’re too in the moment or dreaming of years to come. With this party dress, my daughter had been gifted with a flicker of wisdom to recognize the rapidly moving river of childhood. And as I have done many times since her birth, she wished to slow the flow, to pause time.

This Easter my daughter was not in a hurry to grow up. She twirled in her dress and held hands with her sister, whose outfit matched her own. I stopped caring about the wasted shopping trip and the possibility of hard feelings. I watched my little girl play under a tree in her Easter dress, covered in dirt and glitter.

Stephanie Sprenger is a freelance writer, music therapist, and mother of two girls. She is co-editor at The HerStories Project and blogs at stephaniesprenger.com.