If I were to turn the clock back and start all over again, I would go back to that snowy winter night in July, so many years ago, when my mother first suggested that my father should call the neighbours to come and look after the children while he rushed her to the hospital.
Three little girls and their big brother were tucked up in bed when Mrs Smith came from next door to sit with them through the night. Outside, the icy air was filled with occasional snow showers as silver clouds blocked out the stars that heralded the impending arrival of a new baby. Somewhere in the heavens, forces were aligning to influence this baby’s destiny.
The heater in the car struggled to warm itself against the freezing night as my father hunched over the steering wheel, peering into the darkness and trying to follow the road through the frozen windscreen. Beside him my mother sat calmly, rugged up in a heavy overcoat and thick blanket. She had been through this journey a number of times before and the excitement was starting to become part of her routine. With her body aching from periodic contraction pains and the weight of the baby in her belly, my mother let her mind wander as she closed her eyes and waited patiently for the car to find its way down from the mountain pass.
She thought about her children still asleep in bed at home and how they will be well looked after for a few days; it will be exciting for them to have the routine broken and their mother away for a change. There will soon be another little mouth to feed and extra loads of washing and the older girls will have to help more around the house now. The baby’s cot has already been moved into the bedroom and small dresses and nappies unpacked, so there won’t be much to do at home at first. She opened her eyes and watched her reflection in the window, tinged with green from the dashboard lights, and sighed.
After arriving at the hospital I had been in no hurry to leave the cosy world where I was part of my mother, but eventually I poked my head out to take my first timid breath.
‘It’s a girl!’ the doctor announced as he placed me in my mother’s arms.
‘Molly,’ my mother whispered as she gazed into my blue eyes for the first time, her face still flushed and tired. The busy nurses buzzed around the room and took me away from her to be wrapped in a hospital blanket that was coarse against my soft pink skin. The hospital ward was white and scrubbed clean, cold and impersonal, but everything was shiny under the bright fluorescent lights. My mother was allowed to nurse me for a little while but I was soon taken away again so that she could rest and I was put in a crib in the nursery with a whole lot of other small babies, all wrapped in pink and blue blankets. Some were sleeping soundly and others were like me, crying for the gentle touch of their mothers.
After a week in the hospital that was spent sleeping and learning to feed from my mother’s breast, I was taken home slowly in the car, cradled in her warm arms. My father turned the car onto a dirt track at the back of the railway station, searching for the house that would be my first home. The sky was grey with a cold breeze blowing against my tiny face. Inside the house was ringing with the laughter and squeals of an excited group of children eager to meet their new baby sister.
The house and children were my mother’s whole world. She was a gentle country girl with soft freckled skin and red hair that she always kept cut short. Her days were filled with cooking and cleaning, making beds after the children had left for school, putting loads of washing on, and a thousand other tasks. Throughout the mornings she had the radio turned up loud, dancing around the house as she worked and singing quietly and moving in time to the rhythm of the music. After a short break for lunch, the afternoons were spent sewing as she made new clothes for the children or pretty dresses to sell at the local craft shop. She lost herself sometimes when sewing; moments when there was no thought of time, only the world she saw of colours and shapes as her swift fingers stitched pieces of fabric together. The extra bit of money the dresses brought in helped her make ends meet.
The afternoon sun shone through the window, casting a beam of light on her pretty face and making her hair glow in a reddish-golden halo. She stifled a yawn and looked at the clock. It was getting late in the afternoon and the kids would be home from school soon, and it was nearly time to start getting dinner ready and then feed the baby. She looked across to where I was laying in my cot and smiled when she saw that I was watching her. She was my whole world.