Janet Hommel Mangas: Stories from a mother

I was in the presence of radiance yesterday: Two very pregnant mothers-to-be sitting and chatting with their 92-year-old grandmother.

Granddaughter Chloe, 29, whose due date for her first son was the next day, was sitting with grandson Josiah Mangas and his wife Sarah, who were visiting from Minnesota and are due with their first son in June.

Carmen, having enjoyed more than nine decades of life, was feeling unusually tired that morning, but as the conversation began to roll out, the stories energized the room. She, along with her husband Jack, raised three boys and passed on their love of lake-life, boating and fishing to the next generations.

Carmen shared tales of her favorite vacations fishing at Sandy Beach in Northwest Ontario, where she would cast #5 Meps for Northern Pike and found herself the lone woman at the dinner lodge with 30 fishermen.

Her stories of raising her boys captivated the two mothers-to-be. I later came home and re-read some of her shared writings:

Lafayette, Ind. 1949

“Age 2 1/2 weeks: One of Mikie’s baby gifts was a beautiful hand-knitted gown made by Betty Grissom. She and her husband were good friends of ours at Purdue. Her husband was Gus Grissom, one of America’s first seven astronauts. So, as we can see, the hand that eventually reached outer space … had touched the hand of his mate, Betty … who touched the yarn … that touched Mikie … which may account for his occasional bouts of spaciness … is the way I’ve got it figured.”

Connersville, Ind., April 17, 1960

“This was no ordinary day. It was Sunday and it was Easter and it was positively the last day of my life when I would get up in the morning and have to put on a maternity outfit. Having babies is all well and good; but after having morning sickness for a seven-month stretch, I was ready to put a hat on the thing. No more babies.

Jack drove me to the hospital in the manner of a teenager on a county road, though he carefully avoided the major potholes. At the hospital reception desk, we were handed over to a nurse who escorted us down a long flight of stairs into the bowels of the old building … to a room that resembled a jail cell.

Jack’s eyes flitted up and down and around, absorbing the gray-green paint peeling off the walls, the rust-stained sink, the overhead ceiling pipes and 40-watt bulb hanging from a frayed cord at the center of the ceiling. ‘I’m not leaving you here,’ Jack fumed. ‘Just look at this place! We’re leaving.’

Such a silly man. Did he think that somewhere on my body there was an OFF button … push it and stop the labor while we tooled away to a city where accommodations were more glitzy? At this stage of the birthing process, I didn’t care WHERE I had that baby — in a broom closet — out in the parking lot squatting behind a parked car, wherever. My one and only concern was obtaining large quantities of drugs.

Two hours later, lying in a narcotic stupor on the delivery room table, I heard Dr. Steinem’s far away voice. ‘Congratulations! You have an Easter Bunny.’

Steven Craig Mangas, weighing in at 6-pounds, 3-ounces, was a carbon copy of his big brother Mike.

The next morning, after speaking to Dr. Steinem, I called Jack for a ride home. ‘They said you can come and pick me up at 2 o’clock,’ I told him.

Right on schedule, a nurse wheeled us to the exit door just as Jack cruised up to the curb. It was a hot afternoon and he had put the top down on our baby blue Buick convertible. The nurse eyed the car disapprovingly. “You’ll have to put that top up,” she said. “You don’t want the baby to be in the draft.”

Jack finished helping settle us into the passenger seat, then turned to the nurse and said, ‘No problem. We’ll just put him on the floor. He won’t get much air there.’ With that, he transferred our precious cargo from my lap to the floor, climbed into the driver’s seat, and, firing those powerful Buick rockets, took off. I was going to turn around and wave to the nurse. But I didn’t.“

Chloe and Sarah will be making beautiful memories of their own — but probably not putting their sons in the bottom of the Buick.