She was born at St. Joseph Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis.,
on Nov. 18, 1976, at 7:15 in the morning. I know. I was there.
The slow-talking country doctor broke my water with what
looked like a chrome-plated knitting needle, asking me if I would consider
having this baby before his 8 o'clock office hours began. One elevator-dropping,
stomach-deflating push later, she was laid on my lap. The doctor thanked
me for being efficient as I tried to catch my breath.
That act alone should have been enough to make her an
official cheesehead, but moments after her birth, I felt I could detect
a slight shrug of her shoulders as she threw one arm over her eyes and
screamed her lungs out.
By the time she was 4, we, her humble parents, were looking
for a better economy, which helped accommodate her need for a different
point of view. We were off for Texas. The fit was unmistakable. She
took to Houston as if the elevator had stopped at the Galleria.
Two years later in a grand first-grade performance, we
watched her walk to the stage and announce, with the sweetest Southern
drawl, that she was a native Texan. My eyebrows shot up, as hers narrowed,
the finger on her right hand subtly pointed my way in warning. Her thoughts
were clear; she wanted me to keep my Yankee mouth shut. She went on
to sing the Yellow Rose of Texas and finished with an emotional poem
about the Alamo. All the while I smiled and watched her act, as if the
music to Gone With the Wind was playing in the background.
She was a Texan. There was nothing I could do about it,
but I did want to know if she had been slightly confused. At 6, she
said her first, "Oh, Mother!"
At home she pleaded with me never to bring the fact of
her birth to anyone's attention again. Wisconsin was a long time ago,
she reasoned, and it wasn't her fault I let the doctor force her birth.
She could have been born here if I had only waited. I didn't know how
Back in the "cheese state" an uncle was marrying, and
we packed for the return trip. She chose her clothes carefully: a stonewashed
denim shirt and a ruffled brown rodeo skirt with lace-up brown boots.
She studied her reflection in the mirror. She only had one request:
a cowboy hat - a good one, she added.
I just said no. Milwaukee will call for a hat, but one
that covers your ears. She placed her hands on her hips and whirled
around. I got my second "Oh, Mother," with rolled eyes; she wasn't even
In Milwaukee she was the star. Speaking with the sweetest
sounds, dragging out words like "smile" and "hi," forcing at least three
syllables into each of the groups of letters.
School kept happening, and she kept writing Houston as
her birthplace. I always shook my head at her sweet-as-peaches answer.
"Mama. (I was always Mama for her Southern interruption)
Mama, you just don't understand; just everybody who's anybody comes
from here, and I just can't even stand to say Milwaukee. It's an Indian
word, and I swear I'm a cowgirl. I don't know why you ever bothered
to live there."
I smiled. "I was raised there, Cocoa. I went to school
there, got jobs there, got married there, got frostbite and moved on."
She shook her sleek brown hair, and with her best drawl,
she answered: "Well, Mama, I feel sorry for you. Wisconsin has nothing
but cheese and beer, and they don't even have a rodeo, 'cause dairy
cows are dumb."
There was no talking to her.
Even I slipped one day and said she was a native, much
to her delight. The look on her face told me I must have, in fact, been
wrong all along. Texans must know who they are wherever they are born.
Her line of cowboy hats hung from every hook in her room,
and her boots were her prized possessions. I got tired of the rodeo,
but that seemed absurd to her, as she rounded up friends for the "greatest
event" of the year.
Just when I was getting used to the idea that it was my
mistake that she had been born overlooking a snow bank, she started
dating a "Canuck" - you know, the guys who say "eh" before everything.
She took my breath away when she said "eh," too. It shocked me to hear
her speaking the national language of Fargo, N.D., and when she was
25, I got my first "Oh, Ma."
Well, the "Canuck" and my daughter had their first real
fight and their first separation. She swore she was never going to talk
to him again, and I got my Texan back, twang and all. I'd missed her.
I learned there is no sweeter sound than "mama" dragged out all afternoon
over a mint julep on the veranda, or at least an iced tea in the kitchen.
Rocking on the porch, she told me she's met a really great
dancer from Australia. I stirred my tea and sighed, considering the
possibilities, when she interrupted my thoughts.
"Mama, are you listening?"