I went out with Chip on New Years Eve, 1992. As we danced at midnight, I realized, "I love this guy."
The next morning I tested positive on a pee stick.
I always thought it happened in that order for a reason. That Life was telling me something.
I called him to come over. I answered the door with the pee stick in my hand. "Do you know what this is?" I demanded. "It's a positive test." I'm not sure why I thought that was the best way to approach it, except maybe I wanted to get his true reaction.
He was actually a lot happier about it than I was.
The poor guy was 23 years old. What did he know.
We discussed it and decided we were going to have the baby. I am 100% pro-choice - and I'm ever so grateful that I had a choice. But the choice I made for myself at age 26 was to have a baby with a guy that I loved. We opted not to rush into marriage, but we knew it was going to take two parents to raise this child, so we began looking for a place to live together.
We rented a tiny 800-square-foot house in Sherwood Forest near Memphis State. I hadn't lived in an apartment since I moved to Memphis with Casey, so I was glad that we were able to find a house for us. I dropped out that semester because I was so tired and sick my first trimester. When I wasn't working (waiting tables at The Bottom Line), I was laying dormant on the couch. Chip's parents generously bought us a washer and dryer so I wouldn't have to drag my new baby to a grimy laundromat.
When Chip and I would go somewhere - me, visibly pregnant - people would assume we were husband and wife. Some time that Spring, he said to me one evening in our living room, "I don't like telling people you're my wife when you're not."
I said, "So let's get married."
(Not exactly the romantic proposal a girl spends her life dreaming of. Technically, I guess I kind of asked him.)
Keep in mind that I was an ungraduated 26. Chip was 23 and also still in school. Until we moved in together, he was living at home. We'd known each other a year. Been dating six months. Everyone...literally EVERYONE...scoffed, "Oh, this will never work out."
Chip's parents were older when they had him, like my dad had been with me. Jerry and Estelle had three children, two who were married and one who was a senior in high school. They already had two granddaughters. His mom, at 46, went to the doctor because she thought she was going through menopause. "Mrs. Hyman," he said, "you're not going through menopause. You're pregnant again." They called Chip the Menopause Miracle. His mom and her daughter were pregnant at the same time! His dad put off retirement to support another (unexpected) child.
Chip was raised as an only child by a stay-at-home mom who had a full-time (five days a week) housekeeper named Jeanie. Jeanie was really the one who raised him, as Estelle went off to play mah-jongg or whatever it is Jewish ladies who don't work do during the day.
By the time Chip and I decided to get married, his parents had been married more than 50 years. His mother sat me down in her kitchen and told me, flat out, "We have no divorce in our family."
Jerry and Estelle had been married 53 years. His oldest brother, some 30 years; his two daughters 10 years each. Chip's sister had more than 20 years. The other brother nearly 20 too. I don't remember all the exact figures, but I remember adding them up at the time, and it was a lot of years.
Estelle's message to me was clear: Your parents didn't value their marriage. Our family does. Make the call now, before you take the vows.
She must have believed in us, though, because she gave Chip his grandparent's wedding ring for me. It's engraved "February 1, 1920" inside. I found out later (from Jeanie) that even before we knew I was pregnant, Estelle said to Jeanie, "I think this one's the one." Jewish mothers know.
Chip and I got married May 30 - three months to the day before Elijah was born - in a garden wedding in our backyard. His friend Richard got us a tent from his company. Our neighbor Nathan from across the street lent us all his huge potted begonias to hang around the edge. Susan's mom put her decorator skills to work and made us some beautiful flowers and centerpieces. My mom made the wedding cake. My brother walked me down the aisle.
Feminist side note: I didn't really feel like I needed someone to walk me down the aisle - especially at six months pregnant. But it seemed like a way to feel like my dad was there. And my brother and I have been very close since high school; I wanted him to have a role.
The night before the wedding, my mom and I got in a huge fight. She had lent me a bedspread since all these wedding guests were coming to our humble home. We were getting married Memorial Day weekend, and several of our guests were coming in from out of town, so we had plans for us all to attend the Memphis Sunset Symphony in the Mississippi River park the night before our ceremony.
My friend Piper was going to go down to the park early and save a large spot for all of us. She stopped by my house to pick up some blankets to lay out and reserve our spot. (You can see where this is going...) I foolishly gave her the bedspread from my mom. It was king-sized (my bed was only queen); I figured the huge size would save a larger spot.
Ironically, my mom and her husband rode downtown that evening with Chip and me. We parked and walked to the riverfront. Upon arrival, my mom completely lost her shit, right there in front of my wedding party and out-of-town friends. She ranted about how expensive that custom-made bedspread was and she could not believe I had laid it on the ground. My step-dad looked at me (six months pregnant, and getting married in the morning), and said, "I hope you have nightmares about this for the rest of your life." In case you were wondering why I mentioned in Chapter 5 that I couldn't get along with him.
Chip was a trouper. He took $20 out of his wallet, handed it to my parents and said, "Go get in a cab and go home." They left. The rest of us had a wonderful evening.
I stayed at our home that night with Susan, my maid of honor. Chip stayed at his parents' house with his groomsmen, Mike (from
Minneapolis) and Trey. The next morning, my mom called me at my house. She said that they weren't coming to the wedding because it would be too awkward for all my friends who'd been at the Sunset Symphony the night before. She said she would bring the cake and drop it off.
I called Chip at his mom's. When he got on the phone, I burst into tears - pregnancy hormones, a history of fighting for my mom's acceptance, maybe some continued underlying anger at her. Chip said, "I'll take care of it."
And he did. He called me back a few minutes later. "I told them they'd be there or I'd break both their legs," he said. Not all heroes wear capes.
Chip and I married May 30, 1993. Elijah was born exactly three months later on August 30. We will celebrate our 26th anniversary this year. So all those people were wrong about us not working out. His parents are gone now, but I suspect Estelle would be satisfied that I've not divorced her son.
Later that summer, Susan married John in a more planned, traditional wedding. (That's me - eight month's pregnant on the left.) Susan was with me at the hospital when Elijah was born. We asked her and John to be his godparents.
Funny story sidebar: When I was dating Chip, and Susan was dating John - whose college nickname had been Biff - my bartender at Bottom Line was all, "Wait...ya'll are dating guys named CHIP and BIFF?"
Chip was in school that summer and worked weekends 7p-7a at a hospital. My due date was August 23 so I was going on a week past due, and that was the longest week of my life. Chip was at work Sunday night when my contractions started.
He got home around 7:30 Monday morning, and we were at the hospital by 10 a.m. Elijah was born at 6 that evening, 7 lbs, 21 inches. My first thought was that he looked just like the profile in my ultrasound photo.
Susan stayed with me overnight at the hospital as we all agreed Chip needed to go home and sleep. If I'm ever in a trivia game
where I need to know the night David Letterman's CBS show premiered I'm all set - Susan and I watched it in the hospital the night Elijah was born.
We took our baby boy home to our tiny little house with the terra cotta walls and started our life together as a family.