Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blizzard Baby...Filled with Sunshine

Spencer...loving the sunshine
Today is the 29th anniversary of the great Blizzard of "82 here in St. Louis. At our house in St. Charles County we received 22 inches of snow in less than one day. January 31st also happens to be the 29th anniversary of my son, Spencer's, birth. Uh-huh. That fact is responsible for the most incredible day of my life, and for one of the funniest stories in which I've ever had the pleasure to play a role. I wrote the story of Spencer's birthday last year, and have decided to share it once again here on Smiling Heart this year. Truth be told, I'll probably run it every year hence, it's just that special to me.

I hope you enjoy it, too.

My twin remembers that day with me sitting calmly on the bed "like a Madonna," unperturbed by the events transpiring around me. I remember it as some sort of cross between "Touched by an Angel" and "Keystone Kops Deliver a Baby." The cast of characters were as follows:

Leading Lady: Me, pregnant for the third time, experienced at this "home birth thing", and excited that my parents were in town and might possibly be around for this birth (having missed the first two).

Spencer & Daddy, 2nd Birthday

Leading Man:
David, my husband, incredulous when I woke him at around 5 am to tell him that I was in labor. (I'd only been through it twice could I be sure?)

Snow that started falling...well, make that dumping on St. Louis on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 30, 1982, and didn't stop until late in the day on Sunday, January 31 (despite the predictions by the weather forecasters that assured the skittish St. Louisans that we would get 1-2 inches at most).


Dr. Duhart

The Doctor: A gentle soul of a man, Fred Duhart, D.O., who had delivered our first two children (along with hundreds of other families' children), and would also express doubt ("Are you absolutely sure you're in labor?") when he was called at 7:30 that infamous Sunday morning.

Bob - My Dad

The Father/Grandfather: My dad, Bob Floyd, who, upon realizing he was trapped in St. Louis, began to pace the floor brandishing his pocket knife, and proclaiming it to be "the sharpest knife in the house."

Elly - My Mom, Joyce - center, Me - on right

The Mother/Grandmother: My mom, Elly, whom I suspect (though she was one of twelve children born at home to her own mother) was more nervous about this "home birth thing" than she would let on.

The Sister/Aunt: My twin sister, Joyce (an M.D.), who somehow, through the grace of God, was with us that weekend, the knowledge of which gave me great comfort and courage, even though she kept repeating, "I'm your SISTER, not your DOCTOR."
Court and Tony

The Little Tots: Our two sons, Tony and Court, who were born just 18 months apart, and were just 4 and 2 1/2 yrs. old, and oblivious to the excitement about to occur. A baby brother or sister was about as interesting as watching paint dry to these two active little best friends. Little did they know just how much fun they would have that day!

The baby: My precious third son, Spencer, who decided he was going to distinguish himself from his brothers right from the very beginning!

Angels: Played by themselves:


I woke up to use the bathroom at around 3 am and realized I was having contractions. Not the kind of contractions that scream, "Your time is now!", just the kind that makes you wince and say, "Ohhhh, I remember you." Standing in the dark, I looked out the window to see snow falling, gently, beautifully, outside. I remember thinking, "Maybe Mom and Dad will stay and get to see the baby come."

I got up quietly every half hour or so, and went again to the window to watch the snowfall in the stillness of the early morning. It was a special kind of solitude. I felt alone...but WITH my baby, who I knew would be born the following day. I cherished these final few hours with just the two of us. Each time I arose, I could tell, through the darkness, that the snow was picking up in intensity, along with my contractions. By 5:30 or so, I couldn't wait any longer. I woke David and the excitement began.

Bless his heart, David has never had a very good poker face. When I told him that I was in labor, I could tell he was alarmed, and a little frightened (given what was going on outside), but I was certain I could see excitement on his face as well. After reassuring him that I was fine, but that we should call the doctor to give him plenty of time to traverse the snowy roads, David clicked into his "action" mode.

Mom and Dad woke shortly after, and came into the kitchen dressed and ready to hit the road to escape the storm. There was nothing I could say to deter them...their minds were made up. they didn't want to get snowed in, they didn't want to make me nervous (haha!), and they were leaving as soon as possible. Uh-huh.

Joyce heard the conversations in the kitchen and came out to join us. She doesn't have a good poker face, either. The shock and concern on her face were obvious.

By around 7 am, the contractions were becoming stronger, but still weren't alarmingly bad. I was easily distracted by the activity around me...little boys wondering why Mommy wasn't fixing their breakfast, my father stubbornly loading his car with suitcases, and my sister looking forlornly at me, wondering, "Why does she always put me in these predicaments?"

David called Dr. Duhart. "He wants to talk to you," he said, handing me the phone. We'd been through this before. It's Dr.Duhart's way of determining just how far along you are by listening to the tone of your voice. Uh-huh.

"Hello?" I said.

"You must be joking," Dr. Duhart replied. "Are you absolutely SURE you're in labor?"

"This is my third time...yes, I'm sure, " I said meekly, feeling a little flummoxed and a lot guilty.

"Have you looked outside?" he asked. Okay, maybe he wasn't trying to determine how far along I was.

I feigned a contraction, hoping to relocate some of my guilt onto him.

After a few minutes, I had convinced the good doctor that I was, indeed, in labor, and that I was also very well aware of the meteorological conditions outside. He had convinced me that he would leave his home immediately and TRY to make it to our house, which was, inconveniently, in another city, another county, and across a river, from him. Uh-huh.

Soon after this exchange, my parents got ready to leave, convinced that they could make their way from St. Louis to Kansas City, despite the now-intense news coverage relating all the car accidents on the roads, and despite the fact that we hadn't seen one snow plow anywhere yet that morning. I'm sure I get my optimism gene from both of them.

Their trip lasted all of about 10 minutes, the entirety of it spent in the driveway in a futile attempt to back out. My father was not happy to come back into the house...the house with the feral boys, the worried doctor/daughter, and the couple who were about to pop a baby out into his midst. Gamely, though, he took a look around and assessed the situation. He reached into his pocket and took out his treasured pocket knife...the one he had carried with him since before I was born, and which he carried with him till the day he died, and said in a hushed voice, "Now, just in case, this is the sharpest knife in the house." He said that to me.. Uh-huh.

While this was going on, my dear husband had received a phone call from Dr. Duhart telling him that his car had made it as far as the bridge going into St. Charles, and was stuck on the bridge in the snowdrifts. Dr. Duhart had trudged on foot to the quaint little Noah's Ark Hotel on the banks of the Missouri River, and was calling from the hotel (yes...before cell phones), where he expected he would wait. He suggested we call the Sheriff's Department to see if they could send someone to pick him up and bring him to our house. David agreed. I love it when guys have a plan.

David called the Sheriff, who politely explained that it was not a taxi service. No, a squad car would not go to the hotel to pick up Dr. Duhart, but if we wanted an ambulance to transport me to the hospital, that could be arranged. David, upset that his years of negotiating skills in the business world had gotten him nowhere, declined the offer and hung up. What we didn't realize was that the wheels of the emergency medical system were already in motion. Literally.

Evidently, the phone call alerted every emergency team in the St. Charles area that there was a crazy pregnant woman in labor at our address who did not want to go to the hospital. We heard sirens approaching. Lots of sirens.

Within minutes, a SWAT team of EMTs was swarming around our house. Fire engines, trucks, ambulances, and yes, the Sheriff's Department arrived, parking on the lawn, in the street, and anywhere else they could find a spot. Firefighters in full regalia stormed into the house, carrying medical kits the size of Rhode Island up the stairs.

"Where is she?" they demanded. A stunned family pointed down the hallway to the bedroom, where I was taking refuge, sitting on the bed.

Next came police officers of every variety, and all of them, police, firefighters, and EMTs alike, had the same idea..."Let's try to convince her to do the right thing and go to the hospital!" Uh-huh.

Now, my mother may not have been on board with the whole "home birth thing," but she was still a mother with decades of experience and a boatload of mother's instinct. When she heard that first siren off in the distance, her first thought was, "I don't want these little ones to be frightened." And so, she did what any good mother/grandmother would do. She got those boys downstairs and came up with an idea that would entertain them MORE than the appearance of fire engines. She covered the carpet with black trash bags, opened up the back door, and scooped the 6 ft. snowdrift right into the house, whereupon the two boys "helped" Grandma make an INDOOR snowman. Uh-huh.

Okay, so now, you're getting the picture. Firefighters with helmets, hatchets, and RI-sized medical kits, police officers wondering why in the world this insane woman wants to stay here, my mother building a snowman in the playroom, and my poor father fondling the knife in his pocket. David is still trying to obtain the good doctor with all the skill of a hostage negotioator, and my twin is reminding me that she has no intention of delivering this baby. What else was there to do but sit and smile at what was going on around me? One thing's for sure...I barely felt the contractions at this point.

Unbeknownst to any of us, an amazing thing was transpiring while chaos reigned. Dr. Duhart, stuck back at the old Noah's Ark Hotel and Restaurant on the Missouri River, was sitting in the hotel restaurant (no cell phones, remember), wondering what he should do. Should he continue to wait for the Sheriff? Should he try to find a tow truck for his car? Should he find an easier line of work?

At that moment, a young man walked in and saw the good doctor sitting there. "I recognize you," he said to Dr. Duhart. "You delivered the baby of some friends of mine."

"That may be," the good doctor replied. "I'm trying to get to a delivery right now, but my car is stuck on the bridge."

"No problem," said the, man. "I have a four-wheel-drive truck right outside. Hop in...I'll take you."

Back at home, Joyce had taken over the negotiations from my frustrated husband, and had procured a birthing kit from the group of emergency activists. They left us reluctantly, slightly depressed that they would not be media heroes after all. I relaxed a little, knowing that we had the supplies we'd need, the children were being cared for (my, they're being good...I wonder what they're doing), and my sister was capable of handling the birth, should it be necessary. Even though she REALLY didn't want to. We settled in to wait.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang, and I heard a bit of commotion downstairs. Suddenly, a beaming Dr. Duhart appeared at the door of the bedroom, removing his coat and setting down his own small bag. With all that had happened, I had almost convinced myself that quite possibly I wasn't in labor. After all, I wasn't in pain. I wasn't even terribly uncomfortable. I was just...happy. Was I going to be completely embarrassed to find that my labor had stopped and all this...this...hubub was in vain? "Well," said the good doctor, "Let's see what's going on now."

After a brief examination, he declared, "Okay, time to push." Uh-huh.

A mere forty-five minutes later, with my husband, two sons, twin sister, my parents (okay, my father was peeking in from the doorway), and the good doctor at my side, we brought Spencer into the world. We rejoiced and laughed that we had another boy..."A few more and you'll have a real team," my father had said proudly. I couldn't have possibly been any happier that day.

After things quieted down, I rested and cuddled the new baby and his brothers while Mom dished out homemade chili for the the family (when had she made that?), inlcuding Dr. Duhart, who proclaimed it to be the best chili he'd ever eaten. He was then able to recount the story of the man who had so generously driven him to our home then declined to come in, not wanting to "intrude." ( We never learned the name of the man who was our angel that day.) The doctor was able to leave later that day and retrieve his car, and I hope that when he left our house, he carried with him the love and gratitude of our entire family for going "above and beyond" any of our expectations that day.

My parents and sister left the next day. The snow had been plowed, the highways cleared, and the new baby had been welcomed in love. They each played a special role that day, and we never, never, never, could have gotten through it without them. Moreover, they each left me with the feeling that I was loved...really loved. And there is no better feeling than that.

We were suddenly back to our own little family being on its own. No more snow, no more fire engines, no more wonderfully quirky relatives. All that was left of the "Blizzard of '82" was a sweet, happy baby named Spencer, and a strange, as yet unexplained dampness on the carpet downstairs.

Postscript: When my father died a few years back, guess what Mom had set aside for me? Uh-huh...his pocketknife, which I will carry with me till the day I die.

2011 Postscript: Another "historic" snowstorm is occuring, and the St. Louis region is once again in a dither. I smile and wonder how many mothers-to-be are shaking their heads (as I did) and saying to themselves, "No, I surely won't go into labor tonight."

Spencer is a married man now, a high school teacher and coach. He and his lovely wife, Camille, make their home in Las Vegas. I'll bet he misses the snow.

Spencer and Camille


  1.'re fast, Vicki! I didn't expect anyone to read this until tomorrow!

    Stay warm and watch out for ice this time around! xoxox

  2. Hi, my name is Natasha I as well was born the same year at home just like you, but on the 31st.

  3. Yes, son, Spencer, was born on the 31st, too! The snowstorm began on the 30th, but ended on the 31st. I should have made that more clear.

    It's so nice to hear from you. Thank you very much for visiting and leaving a comment.

    Happy Birthday, Natasha!

  4. OK. You know I LOVE this story. So cool to have the photos to accompany the tale. It's an epic! Keystone cops, eh? Ha!

    Dr. Duhart is beautiful! Also love seeing David from that period of time.

    The pocket knife ... yes ... oh and the angels playing themselves! Ha!! Beautiful story.

    Happy birthday to Spencer, happy day of memory to you. Life is made up of these incredible stories. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. Thank you so much, Reya. Comic relief is a great prescription for labor pain!

    Dr. Duhart was a beautiful, poetic, funny man who performed a great service to hundred of women (I know you know exactly what I mean). He passed on two years ago...from a sudden heart attack suffered in his office after a full day of seeing patients. No one will ever be able to fill that void.

    I'm sure he went through some kinds of trouble in his line of work, but none any stranger than that day!

  6. What a great story! Funny, funny. I can just see the snowman in the playroom.
    Happy birthday Spencer! Job well done Jo!

  7. Oh, mom did some funny "out-of-the-box" things, but that was the BEST EVER.

    Great to hear from you, girl. Stay warm! xoxo

  8. Jo -

    That was just too funny. Very well crafted. Loved the literary construction of the entire story.

    I could envision my own images to go with what you described as well as the ones you posted (mysterious water = Natl Lampoon Christmas and how stereo was smashed). It made things seem so alive and real .. and so very personal

    In the end, glad things turned out so well ... uh-huhhhh

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. LOL...thank you for the very kind words, Mike!

    I guess there were elements of Monte Python and the Three Stooges, as well! But then again, I tend to see comedy where others see drama. :-)

    I'm so happy you stopped by with a comment to share. I hope you'll visit more often.

  10. Jo, I'm a sucker for birth stories but this one takes the cake. I laughed out loud about the indoor snowman.Twenty-five years ago when I was having my first and wanted to have him at home, I could find not a single medical professional who would help me. Your Dr. Duhart sounds like an angel as well. Happy Birthday to Spencer. Your story written for him will be with him forever.

  11. Thanks very much, Delana.

    I'm sorry your wish for a home birth didn't come true. Dr. Duhart delivered all four of ours, and was a true Godsend, an angel, as you said. Every woman deserves to give birth the way she feels she should.

    I still look back and smile at the wonder of that day. I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about it. ♥

  12. Hi, Jo, enjoyed this story last year and again this year with pictures! Hope you don't get as much snow as 1982! KLG

  13. Thanks, Kathy! I doubt I'll care about it much at all compared to '82!

  14. Uh-huh, great story Jo, thanks for sharing it with us!


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