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The Curse of Being a New Year's Baby

William J. Brothern at a book signingWith the New Year here once again, I'm reminded that you don't get to pick your birthdate. I don't believe ever anyone asked me what day I wanted to be born on. But according to my father, I didn't come at the right time and it was my fault that I screwed up a perfectly good tax deduction for 1949. He got his comeuppance, though, once we moved to Atlanta.

You see, I was the first baby born in 1950 in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

My mother was pretty excited. She was from a small town (are there any other kind?) in Vermont. Her prize for producing the first child in Spartanburg in 1950 was a year's supply of cloth diapers. I think she was still using those diapers in 1956 when my brother Matt was born. And he followed not only me, but also my brother Steve and my sister Mary Ann. Vermonters are known to be frugal.

My dad though, was from Augusta, Georgia. After service in World War II flying the PBY Catalina, an air and sea rescue aircraft, he came home and like many veterans, was floundering. Finally, a family friend got him a job at a textile mill in Spartanburg, and, as family lore goes, his mother shoved him out the door with all his belongings. Another Augusta friend, also a veteran, joined him in Spartanburg at the mill.

A Polio epidemic hit Spartanburg though, and my dad's friend ended up at the local Polio sanitarium, where a young nurse from Vermont was responsible for his care. My dad met the Yankee nurse, a courtship ensued, and they were married in early 1949. My mother wanted a house full of children, and out I came as the first. But I was due the last week of December, not January 1. My father had apparently planned it that way.

Nowadays, the doctor probably would have performed a cesarean and I would've had a December birthdate. I dawdled quite a bit however, and as my mother described later, the doctor finally got frustrated and used forceps to pull me out by my head. My mother used to tell me that she "didn't think your head would ever be normal after all of that", but my head didn't turn out too bad, I think.

Every New Year until I left home (and sometimes even after that!), my father would remind me of my tardiness and how much it had cost him in income tax. And each year, at Christmas, my father would say something like "we got you an extra Christmas present to cover your birthday". Of course, he wouldn't point out which present was the birthday present. I had to guess. I'll bet there are an awful lot of people who were born on New Year's Day that can tell similar stories.

After hearing my father's complaints about the missed tax break over the years, I came to realize that my Georgia born father was far tighter than the proverbial New Englander. But my mother made him pay the price for being such a tightwad one cold Southern night.

We had moved to Atlanta in the spring of 1950 at my mother's behest, who was fearful I would contract Polio during the next outbreak. Atlanta hadn't experienced Polio like Spartanburg had, and was considered safer. Polio always hit the worst during the summer, so we loaded up in a dilapidated 39 Ford and left in April. Once in Atlanta, my mother convinced my dad to use his G.I. Bill and get an education. Money was tight.

We moved into student housing at Georgia Tech, where my father had decided on an aeronautical engineering degree. It was bitterly cold one December night in the apartment, but my father refused to turn the heat on to save money. So my mother found a large rock out near the parking lot, and heated it up to 500° in the oven. Then she wrapped it in a towel, and put it at the foot of their bed. She fell asleep nice and comfortable with her feet on the hot towel. Putting hot rocks in the bed was evidently a New England custom.

But sometime during the night, the rock rolled out of the towel and up against my father's bare calf. He woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain and let out a horrifying scream. I thought my mother had killed my father. But then I heard hollering as my mother told my father "it's your own damn fault". A few minutes later, I heard the heat kick on, and warm air tickled my face.

My dad got a little bit better about spending money after that, but he never quit complaining about my late arrival. My brother Steve did much better. Not only was he also born in 1950, but he was born on December 30th. My father finally got his end of year tax deduction!

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