I have a guest post on the Slow Church blog, which is written by my friend and fellow forthcoming IVP author Chris Smith (also of Englewood Review of Books. Chris recently asked a number of friends to read, reflect, and write on Wendell Berry’s essay “Health is Membership.” Here’s my contribution.
The Groaning Table
My grandmother was born at home in New York City in 1925 – exactly the time when more and more women, especially city women, began to choose hospital over home as the place to have babies. It wasn’t that my great-grandmother was afraid of the hospital or of doctors; or that she wanted to keep the baby away from sick people who might have contaminated the hospital halls. Rather, it was that she’d heard that the hospital didn’t have very good food.
I remember great-grandma Katherine the way you remember a dream by the mid-afternoon, in random yet related pieces. When I think of her, I see first a shadowy image of her – a tall, square-shouldered woman – in a chair, which cuts quickly to a snapshot of her smiling over a plump, baby version of me in a garish vinyl seat. There’s also a 5-second clip of the two of us laughing over the black dog, Chloe, who prances and plays a piece of red blanket. And that is it. The rest of what I know is what I have been told.
She was born in the 19th century to a mother who had left Ireland in the potato famine and who then married a horse trainer that she met on the steps of the 42nd Street library. She had influenza in the pandemic of 1918; she spent a year in bed and recovered. This is a fact my grandmother will refer repeatedly to as evidence, first, that we are the inheritors of ‘hardy genes’; second, that resting in bed is the best medicine for a cold; third, that, before going to bed with a cold, you should have a hot toddy made with Christian Brothers brandy, a remedy of Irish Catholic grandmothers, never known to fail.
I want to believe all of this so much; to exist someplace where the advice to drink a hot toddy and go to bed when I’m feeling achy and congested is solid wisdom (not antiquated and vaguely irresponsible) while the advice to take some drops of echinacea and zinc and continue dragging myself through my routines is dangerous and faddish. To live in a world where a woman’s decision to give birth at home because she knows that, at home, the food will be good is sensible, not selfish.