In 1929, the first year of our parents’ marriage, Mother gave birth to a little girl, Birdie (named for our father’s mother) but after twenty days the baby died, never having left the hospital. Miscarriages followed, in ’34 and ’35, so in 1936 it must have seemed almost a miracle to our mother and father when their healthy little girl, Edna Raine, came surging into the world. Then began the desperate strategizing of how, this time, to hold death at bay.
Mother’s doctor insisted, “After all your troubles, consider yourself lucky to have one healthy child, and leave well-enough alone,” but my parents wanted at least one more. I figure I was conceived late at night when they got home from “The Nine O’Clocks,” their traditional big-party-of-the-year celebration, bringing in the new year of 1938.
Nine months and nine days later, I was lagging behind schedule. Mother, when I was old enough to understand her teasing, told me that I was probably just lazy. But, hey, maybe she and I were both locked into last-minute fears and indecision. Good grief, would anyone blame me for hesitating, what with the world situation I was being implored to join? Fascists, supported by Hitler and Mussolini, were crushing the Spanish Republic. A couple of years earlier, young idealists from around the world had formed International Brigades and rushed to try to rescue the people of Spain, only to be manipulated by the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin who, with the Great Democracies of France, Great Britain, and the United States standing idly by, gained decisive control over the Republic’s struggle. The Russian dictator’s subsequent betrayal of both the Brigades and La Republica is now pretty well understood: The last thing Stalin wanted was a truly revolutionary government, anywhere in the world, able to threaten his totalitarian regime. Spain’s courage and suffering were reduced to a testing ground for the ideologies and weapons and strategies of a second “world war” — and The Holocaust — which our world’s democracies missed their chance to prevent.
Maybe I was reluctant to come out into this world during the week when remnants of the decimated Brigades were being pulled back from freedom’s last lines of defense around Barcelona. But who knows? Marian Anderson was scheduled to sing at the Lincoln Memorial in a few months. If the color line dividing the country I was to be born into was — at least, at last — going to begin to be crossed, perhaps I felt sufficient reason to relent. At any rate, Mother’s doctor used forceps to assist my grand appearance into Atlanta early one October morning, and, after the traditional ten-day hospitalization, I was brought home to Peachtree Battle Avenue.
My sister, Edna Raine, starring in a shaky home-movie, stands on tip-toes, shifting back and forth, eagerly trying to see and touch the little baby in his carriage guarded by a uniformed nurse. Two-and-a-half years older than I, my tender-eyed, protective, ever-nurturing big sister would continue to look over me, on into our adult lives, ever my comfort and support.