Notable Birthdays: 1976

February 28, 1976, 6:55pm EST

Venue: Bristol Memorial Hospital, Bristol, TN.

I was supposed to be a boy. They had the name picked out—Thomas Butler Fields. They had a Peter Rabbit-themed nursery. They had, what I suspect given my parents’ interests and affinities, a notion of some floppy haired young son that would age into a sensitive preppy with a fondness for golf, tennis and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I was also late. Two weeks or so. I’d managed to shirk off the doom of being born on Valentine’s Day and barreled right on through the various Presidential birthdays to push the envelope on a leap year. My mother, understandably impatient with my delay (though chronic tardiness is a family trait for sure), had embraced various, non-peer-reviewed strategies to encourage me to leave the womb. The night before I was born, for example,  she and my father attended a cocktail party. Afterwards, they got a ride home from their friend Frank, who repeatedly drove the car back and forth over the railroad tracks in the center of town to try and jostle me out. This maybe(?) worked, as my mother went into labor several hours later.

At the time, my parents lived across the street from my recently divorced grandparents, in a duplex that would one-day house my alcoholic grandfather, his standard poodle, Barkus (pun probably intended– assume a non-rhotic Mississippi accent if you’re confused), a collection of Faulkner novels and a reasonable stock pile of both golf shirts and Tanqueray. When we’d visit Grandjay later, my mother would remind me this is where we lived when you were born. And I would think, no wonder I’m so comfortable around genteel poverty and disappointed literary ambitions.  And she would go to great lengths to tell me how different it was when we lived there.

In Bristol, the state line runs through the center of town. There’s a giant metal arch commemorating it that runs over some train tracks, possibly the same train tracks that catalyzed my birth.[1] My parents lived in Virginia, but the local hospital was in Tennessee, ensuring that I would spend the rest of my life wrestling with the mixed bag that is being a native of Tennessee.[2]

It was an unseasonably warm February and the hospital air conditioning was on the fritz. Mom sweated her way through hours of labor. I arrived at the tail end of Happy Hour, 6:55pm, as the obstetrician complained about how my delivery would force him to miss “The Lawrence Welk Show,” which aired at 7pm.

Surprise Factor I think I threw pretty much everyone for a loop when I turned up female. They’d kind of like, maybe, sort of  talked about girl names. Mom tells a story about hearing church bells on the breeze, whilst standing in the alps some years previous. They sounded like Al-is-on. And I thought I would name my daughter, if I had one. Judging from the name’s popularity, a lot of people must have heard Alison bells in the mid-seventies including the guy still recording demos as Declan MacManus at the time. Like my mother, he went with the traditional spelling, absent y’s, extra-Ls and all the other bells and whistles teachers, friends, employers and grandparents have since tried to add to my name. Years later, I’d sit over his record sniffling at how his aim was true and was all and you even spelled my name correctly *swoon.*  

Evidently, there was a rash of births at Bristol Memorial on February 28. The nursery squirmed with newborns by February 29. I was the only girl, a phenomenon that would be coincidentally replicated throughout my childhood. The nurses delighted in my female-ness, coaxing my baby hair into cartoon-style curls with Vaseline and horrifying my mother. My maternal grandparents doted. Dad’s parents, drunk on divorce and actual drink, scheduled visits so they wouldn’t risk running into the other.

Best Gift: 1976 was a weird year, the middle of the ugliest part of the 1970s that bottomed out the birthrates and gave rise to all sorts of terrible ideas like  brown shag carpet, bicentennial kitsch and the mass-popularity of The Eagles. On the other hand, I like that I emerged around the same time that popular culture started to step out of bell-bottomed denim and into either leather and ripped fishnets  or spangled chiffon and disco heels and let me sort of carve out my way with both at the same time and all in-between.  Oh, and I’m not always 100% sold on The Endless Joy of Living, but if I’d never been born, I probably would have never been introduced to, like, negronis in Italy or triple crème cheese or David Bowie (who played (possibly cheese-less) Cleveland, Ohio the night I was born).  So I guess that counts too.

[1] The celebration of the state line as an attraction was apocryphally  the brainchild of my great-great grandfather, during his brief tenure as Governor of Tennessee in the early part of the 20th century.  If I know members of my family, he was probably like “this is maybe the sort of thing that will encourage town unity and discourage the half of my family that act like assholes just because they live in Virginia from lording it over the  rest of us.” It didn’t.

[2] Pros: Stax Records. Hot Chicken. Alex Chilton. Dolly Parton. Weird Memphis. Graceland souvenir shops. Lambchop. Robert’s Western World. The Metal Dude I Saw once walking around the Parthenon in Nashville playing the  Electric Guitar. Are you from Tennessee? Do I like you? Then, pro.

Cons: Whatever I didn’t list in “pros”

 

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