Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Loneliest Liberal: Call the midwife

By James Knudsen

People of a certain age grew up learning that cats are finicky eaters. Morris the cat, the mascot of the 9 Lives cat food brand, presented the image of cats as creatures who play with yarn and children because stupid humans expect it. When summoned for dinner, Morris would be initially bored by the whole idea, but upon hearing that it was scrumptious 9 Lives Chicken Parts, well that’s another matter entirely.
    Having become a cat guardian – I’m still avoiding the term “owner” – I have learned that, in fact, cats can be very particular about what they put in their mouths, at least when it comes to food. From a financial standpoint, I’ve been blessed to have acquired cats that actually prefer the cheap stuff. The more expensive and healthier (so the manufacturer would have us believe) brand is sniffed and then the cat will paw the surrounding area in much the same fashion as when it is in the litter box.
    I respond by applying tough love and letting the dish remain where it sits, and the battle of wills begins. Of course, I am the one who eventually capitulates, and I replace the offending mound of mechanically masticated mystery meat with a more acceptable version of various and sundry vertebrates, usually fish. By this time, the rejected meal has oxidized, and the stray bits have become bonded to the dinnerware with a strength that equals the best two-part epoxy. And I get to clean it up.

It was while cleaning it up that I observed something that got me thinking about the things we have replaced that were still serviceable when they were declared obsolete. My hand, which I observed scraping the old cat food off the plate and into the garbage disposable, was doing a perfectly acceptable job that in a more civilized household would probably be done by a rubber spatula. I own a spatula, but it was on the other side of the kitchen and my hand was…handy. In other situations the spatula proves its superiority. I cannot get every last bit of mayo out of the jar – my hand, while nowhere near as large as Donald Trump’s, simply won’t fit into the mouth of the jar. Likewise, the horse and carriage still soldier on admirably in Amish country, but for most of us the automobile – faster, safer and, in all likelihood, friendlier to the environment – is the transportation of choice.
    There are two other areas of life – inextricably linked – where the method of dealing with the job has been modernized, systems replaced that in most cases served us well for eons: entering this world and leaving it. I’ve done one, once and only as the birthed. (Or is it birthee? No, that can’t be right, because then Mom would have been a birther.) The other end of the equation awaits me in what I hope is a distant future. And as luck would have it, I have in my family three people who have been connected to those definite points on the finite human time line.

With a nod to the BBC/PBS TV series
    My great-grandmother, Emily Souza, was a midwife. There was a time when a sizable percentage of the children born in Tulare, California were delivered by Mrs. Souza. Local doctors, when told by phone of the impending arrival of a newborn, would ask who was on the scene. If told, “Mrs. Souza’s here,” the doctor knew he could finish dinner, things were well in hand.
    As told by my aunt, herself delivered by her grandmother, Mrs. Souza, a young mother in the care of a midwife had a coach – a woman who had been through the process many times herself and could offer advice and reassurance that no man could ever provide. Progress brought doctors and often longer delivery times. And yes, many previously high-risk pregnancies, with potentially fatal consequences, have been made survivable with the advent of modern medicine. But it seems odd that something humans did unaided for hundreds of thousands of years has become unimaginable absent the presence of professionals.
    Progress at the beginning of life, while slow, has still outpaced changes at the end. My sister Claire, following a tragic event in our family, began researching the process and business of death and dying. She learned, as I did, that many of the “traditions” we had become so accustomed to in dealing with our dearly departed are merely that, traditions, with no basis in law or actual need. Embalming fluid and the lead-lined casket no doubt ensure that the mortal coil buried in the ground will be in pristine condition when it is removed 500 years from now. But do we want to be removed? And if we do, wouldn’t it be more noble to be rediscovered as a bare skull and addressed by a melancholy prince as someone he knew well? “A fellow of infinite jest, and reasonably sized hands.”

Copyright © 2016 by James Knudsen


  1. Very entertaining this morning. You forgot the dish washer. We didn't have such a thing in Costa Rica, so I got out of the habit of using one. The house we live in now has a dish washer but I've never used it.

  2. James, when I read your submission on Thursday, especially with its concluding quote mimicking Hamlet, and thus reminding me of your soliloquy as I was leaving Jim Rix's mini reunion that weekend, I realized that there is no greater pleasure associated with editing Moristotle & Co. than the magical buoyancy of your monthly columns! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You enrich my life, and the life of our readers, like our colleague Ed Rogers (see above).

  3. What a lovely--no, gorgeous piece of writing. Absolutely wonderful, beginning to end.

  4. Thank you for the kind words Chief. Now you have to scold your cub reporter 'cuz I got the name wrong. Turns out she, Mrs. Souza, was an Emily like her daughter, my grandmother Emily Souza. Very confusing.

    1. James, a little slowly on the uptake, I have changed "Mary" to "Emily."