My Taxicab Confession
Reflections on a checkered birth.
By Mary Beth Crain
Since it’s almost Christmas, the celebration of the world’s most humble and spectacular birth, I’d like to take this opportunity to reveal the story of my own rather amazing entrance into the world.
Jesus might have been born in a manger, of a virgin. That’s certainly impressive. But I have a good story too. I was born in the taxi on the way to the hospital.
But wait! as those infomercials say. There’s more! My twin brother was born just minutes after they got to the hospital and whizzed my mom into the delivery room. Kind of like, order now and we’ll give you a second one, absolutely free! Shipping and handling included!
The other day I was reminiscing with my mother, Hazel, about the big event. Here’s the whole story.
Hazel had always wanted twins. Not just wanted, but believed firmly in her heart that she would one day have them. So, when she found out she was pregnant, she just knew it was going to be twins.
Everybody in the family laughed at her. There goes Hazel and her imagination again. Remember, this was way back in the Cro-Magnon Age, before the days of ultrasound. The doctor never gave her any reason to believe two babies were on the way. It wasn’t until Hazel was some months along that he heard two heartbeats and relayed the happy info, which sent everybody spinning except my psychic mom. I understand that her older sister, my Aunt Helen, the cleverest, most beautiful and most smugly sophisticated woman in the family, actually fell right on her butt on the sidewalk when she heard the news.
The family rang in New Year’s 1951 with a toast to “Hazel’s twins,” who were due in March. And then, on January 26, 1951, the unthinkable occurred.
It was what would turn out to be one of the worst nights of the year. A blizzard raged. My dad’s car had conked out and was in the shop. No wonder he thought—or desperately wanted to think—Hazel was crazy when she poked him in the side at 3 a.m. and said, “Butch (his nickname), I think my water just broke.”
“That’s ridiculous,” my father replied. “The babies aren’t due for six weeks. Go back to sleep!”
My father was Austrian, and extremely authoritarian. When he told you to do something, you did it or else. Unfortunately, even he couldn’t order God around.
“I’m telling you, my water has broken!” Hazel persisted. My dad grumpily got up and called the doctor. Hazel said they argued for a long time before “Butch” handed the phone to her.
“Tell your husband to get you to the hospital NOW!” the doctor barked. “And by the way, he’s a very difficult man!”
Well, having no car, they called a taxi. They weren’t in the cab five minutes before Hazel began going into labor. The driver, a young man in his early 20s, was absolutely petrified, as you might imagine. But Butch was cool as a cucumber. Luckily enough, he’d gone to medical school at the University of Vienna before he had to flee to the U.S. in 1938, one step ahead of the Nazis. He delivered me in the taxi right in front of the Rochester Public Library, cut the umbilical cord with a knife he had in his pocket, and wrapped me in his coat. The cab tore through the blinding white-out conditions and somehow made it to the hospital in one piece. Hazel was rushed inside and my brother David emerged exactly 52 minutes after my grand entrance.
We were 3 pounds apiece. The next day, both the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and Times-Union blared the headline “Baby Born in Taxi, Twin Follows in Hospital,” or something like that. Right there on the front page was a big photo of my father, grinning like there was no tomorrow and looking through the nursery window at the nurse who was holding me in one palm and David in the other. While David was very bald, I had a full head of dark hair. Our legs and arms looked like Popsicle sticks. David was staring calmly into space but I was screaming my head off. Our personalities haven’t changed. To this day, he’s the cool, rational twin and I’m the drama queen.
But here’s the best part of the story. After they delivered my brother, my dad went outside to find the cab driver. But he’d already gone. So, the next day, my dad called the Yellow Cab Company to ask who the driver was so he could give him a big tip.
“Listen,” the guy at the other end of the phone laughed, “it was the poor kid’s first night on the job! He dropped the cab off and disappeared and we haven’t seen him since!”
David and I spent a month in incubators until we were deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital. And now it’s almost 57 years later and—we made it! Hazel, who’s 87, made it too. My dad, I’m sad to say, passed away in 1988, but Hazel is still PO’d at him for his behavior on that January night so long ago.
“Your father!” she grumbled, as we wound up the story. “Mr. Know-It-All! Oh, he made me so mad! Telling me my water hadn’t broken! As if I couldn’t tell!”
“Hey, Hazel,” I said. “Daddy’s been gone 20 years. David and I are going to be 57 next month. Do you think maybe it’s time you got over it?”
“Oh, I suppose,” Hazel grudgingly agreed. “But on the other hand, I don’t think you ever get over having your baby in a taxi. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday.”
God bless her!
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Senior editor Mary Beth Crain's last essay for SoMA was From Humbug to Humble: A Christmas Carol Lives On.
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