My cousin Terry Ann went into labor at my Aunt Honey’s annual Labor Day picnic. (Possibly she was already in labor when she got there.) Her sister Jackie timed her pains while Terry Ann sat at the picnic table sideways to give room to her stomach, drinking coffee and smoking (because that is how you went on when you were pregnant in those days). The aunts kept asking her if she didn’t want to go to the hospital and Jackie kept begging and then ordering her to go, but she went on her own schedule. She slowed time down, she told me later, one deep breath after another and everything slows, goes deeper, until time becomes a still pond. This was a skill she had in those days. The gathering was suffused with significance that hovered over the barbeque ribs, the potato salad, the strawberry pie, the chocolate chip cookies the size of the wheels on the red wagons we had played with when we were kids. The sun shone fitfully, and the muted dreams of labor and unions, of the heat of the blast furnace, the steam rising off the newly rolled steel cooling in the snow, all of what our fathers had given their lives to, drifted under the trees. We looked at photo albums and laughed at the ancient hairdos of our mothers, their outlandish clothing, until Terry Ann said that it was time, and she went at last to the hospital to join them.
Mary Grimm, whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Antioch Review, and the Mississippi Review, among other places, is currently, working on a historical novel set in 1930s Cleveland and teaching fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.