Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eila's Eve

Of the 36,524 days in the 20th Century, Chicago’s temperature fell to -20 or lower on only ten of them. Two of them occurred in January, 1982: January 16th, when the temperature plummeted to -25 (that's -32 Celsius) and the 17th when it dropped to -23. In fact, there were only two days in the 20th century that were colder, Jan 10, 1982 and Jan 20, 1985.

Why do I bring this up? Well, you see, our little red Ford Fiesta was designed more for the south of spain than it was for the suburbs of Chicago. It didn't like to go out in cold weather, preferring peaceful days in the parking lot outside our garden apartment to the hustle and bustle of salt-encrusted roadways. I had to coax and coddle it for it to consider starting. Even after physically warming the engine by covering it with a blanket and piling on bricks I'd heated in the oven, it often insisted on a jump.

So the night of January 16, 1982, I got up every forty-five minutes or so and went outside to start the engine, just to be sure.

You see, earlier in the evening Rene had begun reorganizing furniture and cleaning everything. Really, everything. Once she started, she couldn't stop. She emptied the kitchen cabinets, piling the contents on the round pine table I'd built before we were married, and then scrubbed every last nook and cranny before papering the shelves and returning the contents. She washed all the dishes, pots and pans--the ones that had been in the cabinets. She scoured the counter tops with a sponge and Ajax cleanser and then decided to apply the same treatment to the floor.

There was no stopping her; she was obsessed. The furniture in our tiny living room had to be rearranged, three times. We had to change all the bedding and wash the curtains. And the bathroom, well you can imagine.

The last time I'd seen Rene this way, the only time, was December 1, 1979, the night before Joy was born, or "Joy's Eve" as we used say. So, as Rene began rinsing the soup cans, I had an epiphany. January 16, 1982 was about to become Eila's Eve. All I could think as I reassembled the stereo components for the third time, as I replaced the screws before reattaching the the toilet seat, as I ran a Clorox-drenched rag down the back wall of our bedroom closet was: What about the Fiesta?

So on the third-coldest night of the twentieth century, every forty-five minutes or so, I pull up my boots, pull down my hat, don my parka and walk out to the parking for a therapy session with our little red Fiesta. About 3:15 AM, I begin to think, OK, we're good. We're gonna make it. About 4:30, I stifle a cry as a vicelike grip wrenches my shoulder and drags me out of a beautiful dream in which the Fiesta was starting over and over without even a hint of hesitation.

"Ow!", I say.

Rene says, "My water broke."

I look at the clock. Shit, I missed a therapy session. I race outside coatless, shoeless and hatless, praying, "Oh please, oh please, oh please!"

I yank open the door, slide into the driver's seat, slot the keys and crank the engine.


Na... da...

I close my eyes and sigh.

"It didn't start, did it?"

I lift my forehead from the steering wheel. Rene's standing beside the car, her packed bag in one hand, my boots, hat and coat in the other.

"Nope. We're gonna need a jump."

Twenty minutes later Rene's dad and her four younger brothers pile out of his car. Mike flips up the hood of the Fiesta and John the hood of the Cressida. Jimmy grabs the jumper cables from the trunk. Casey takes the wheel of the Fiesta, and Jack, Rene's dad, shouts out the occasional order as he explains to me why I should have bought a Toyota.

Jack revs the Cressida's engine as shouts to Casey, "OK, give it try!"

The Fiesta's engine coughs, hesitates for a second, and then, vroom.

I thank Jack and the guys for their help, promise to return to our discussion regarding the merits of Toyotas, and jump into the car next to Rene. She waves as we back out of the parking lot and head west to Geneva, to the hospital where Rene's four brothers and my three kids were born.

Eila Rose (or Eilarosamundo as I like to call her), joined us a few ours later. Thirty years later, the exceptionalness of the night preceding her birth seems more than appropriate.

And that's the story of the very first Eila's Eve.

Happy Saturday,

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