The Longest Night

“Occurs at the instant when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer’s hemisphere”…this is part of Wiki’s  definition of  Winter Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, it occurs between December 20th and 23rd. The seasonal significance of winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening nights and shortening days. Worldwide, cultures interpret the Solstice event in varied ways, but most cultures have a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, rituals and celebrations (‘Amaraterasu’- Requiem of the Dead in Japan, ‘Mankara Sankranti’ -India and Nepal, ‘Lucia’-Feast of St. Lucy in ancient Sweden, ‘Deygan’- Zorastrian, ‘Christmas’- Natalis Domini in 4th century Rome and 11th century Christian etc.)

The start of Winter Solstice in 1955, had a whole other meaning for my mother. It was a bitter cold night (I am told), when she laboured to bring me forward onto this good Earth. At age 37, this small Quebecois woman found herself giving birth to me, her fourth of five children, in a private maternity clinic near Montreal. My father was present to witness this…the only time he would be around for the birth of any of his five children.  My father, a Master mariner, happened to be home on leave. My mother appealed to him to come to be by her side. She further convinced him to put on his naval dress uniform for the occasion.  (He would don that full uniform only twice more in his 35 year career). My dad was a ballcap-wearing kinda guy, even while at the helm of the dozens of ships he would command in his lifetime. Dad obliged. The result of this compliance in putting on his hot, itchy blue serge uniform, was being granted permission to enter the labour room with my mom. This was unheard of in a Catholic birthing clinic of the 1950’s. I guess even Catholic nursing nuns are patsies for a guy in uniform.  My dad held me in his arms, (or so the story goes) and mom asked him what my name should be.  He grinned and announced, “Helen”. Mom thought this was pretty a pretty good handle for the bald 8 pound, 4 ounce healthy girl she had just unleashed on an unsuspecting world. It would translate nicely she thought (Helene) for the predominately French relatives in her life. She asked my dad about the significance of ‘Helen’. My dad, painfully honest man that he was most of the time, told mom that in his youth he once had a ‘nice girlfriend’ with the same name.

As we move into the Winter Solstice and the longest night, I pause and think about my departed parents whom I miss. This morning, I went into my sea chest of personal memorabilia and I found the very same Master’s cap which my dad wore in the birthing room on that night, 53 years ago. I reflect on the good life my folks gave me, the values they instilled in me, the love of life I acquired from them. Mostly, I think about the lesson they taught by example; how to care for all of Earth’s creatures I encounter on my journey through this life. We were not the perfect family. We had our ‘issues’. They cut me a lot of slack in my troubled times, and I reciprocated in their less inspired moments. While most people entertain the idea of creating New Year’s Resolutions at this time of year, I do not. I do, however, make a point on my birthday, (today) of evaluating my life and its course and come up with ‘Birthday Resolutions’. They mean more to me, and I ‘stick to them’ better.

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2 responses to “The Longest Night

  1. Helen,
    For some reason I can’t explain, I love adults’ stories about circumstances or settings surrounding their birth, especially those of the forties and fifties. Maybe because I was born in the forties and some of my younger siblings in the fifties. Your story is different and most interesting. Your dad sounds like a character (the good kind) and so was my dad. Happy Birthday, Helen !

  2. Thanks Etta,
    I moved beyond beyond the nostalgia of early morning to Dim Sum with family and now bound for a rendez-vous with LA.

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