I thought I would tell you the very strange and curious story of the baby named Baby. Some of the things you are about to read will sound too strange to be true, but it is this story that will prove that sometimes truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, and I know that everything in this story is true, as the baby is me, and the story is mine.
I call this tale "The baby named Baby."
At 6.25 on July 29th, in a little house in Norton Street, Te Kopuru, a woman named Debra gave birth to a baby girl. There was no doctor to advise her over the duration of the labor. She was alone save the man biting his fingernails and pacing backwards and forwards before her, the father.
It was a Sunday and at the same time on the other side of the world, Richard Parfrey, who had acted in Planet of the Apes, enjoyed broadway, and was orphaned as a teenager, was dying of a heart attack, and in Defiance, Ohio, another woman was also in labor and gave birth to a son they later named Chad Billingsley, who would grow up to marry Tiffany and pitch for the LA Dodgers.
But Debra didn't know any of this, all she knew was that her baby was 22 days late and she was giving birth alone in a little house in Norton Street.
Finally, after 12 hours the little baby girl was born. She didn't cry, she didn't make a sound, she just lay there on the bed blinking her eyes at this new place they called life.
And so there I was, and they named me Baby because they simply couldn't decide on a name. In a way, Baby was a rather fitting name, as it described me perfectly at the time.
They had no choice but to put 'Baby' on the birth certificate when, after a few weeks, they still had not made a decision. I was in fact, legally named Baby for the first three months of my life, until I finally got a second birth certificate, this time, I appeared as Vanessa. With no middle name.
Vanessa means 'Butterfly' as Vanessa is the name of a genus of brush-footed butterflies which contains 21 varieties, my favorite of which is the 'Vanessa Atlanta' because there are red markings on the wings which remind me of the impression women leave when they kiss love letters with freshly painted lips.
My mother was taken to the hospital in an ambulance two hours after I was born when there were complications after the delivery. My father should really have been right on the tail of that ambulance that morning, but as he watched it drive away, holding his baby girl he realized there was something more pressing that he had to attend to, so he rang a family friend to come and hold me so that he could attend the very urgent task of: Feeding the pig.
As it turns out,
this is quite a habit for this man, and I can't tell you how many
Christmas's that followed, that we have all sat around staring
hungrily at the presents under the tree, trembling with the
desperation to open them all, only to have dad suddenly jump out
of his seat and say 'WAIT, I will just quickly trim the
hedge so I can see the ocean better, then we can do the
Our hedge ran the entire length of our property.
He missed the birth
of Jodi, the youngest girl in the family because he was outside
in the garden. Chasing guinea pigs.
No I'm not kidding.
But anyway, once the pig was fed it really was time for me to be taken to the hospital to see my mother.
My parents owned a
black 1952 Wolseley at the time, and so I was swaddled in
blankets and carefully placed on the front passengers seat the
only way my father could figure to carry such a precious and
delicate creature such as I was that morning.
In a cardboard box.
Apparently the residents of the small district knew I must have been born when they saw my father rolling through the little town in that old Wolseley, as slow as slow can go. I suppose I am thankful he drove so slowly that morning, what with me being in a cardboard box and all…
My mother recovered
quickly and came home that same day. The 23rd summer Olympics
had officially opened the morning I was born and so there I sat
between mum and dad, watching the fireworks and the dancing and
the celebration of the opening ceremony, just happy enough to be
My parents had met overseas in Greece. My mother was an Australian nurse and modeling to earn money to fund more travel, my father was a kiwi who would have taken one look at my mother and fallen in love with her, as many men had before.
My mother is an incredibly beautiful woman.
Now of all the places in the whole world they could have gone to settle and begin a new life together, they somehow chose to make a little life for themselves in Dargaville.
Dargaville is a town in the North Island of New Zealand. It is situated on the bank of the very brown, yet very great Northern Wairoa River.
Dargaville holds the proud title of being 'The Kumera (sweet potatoe) Capital of New Zealand' and if it were not for this reputation, the cartographer may forget to put it on the map altogether. It is tiny. They don't even have traffic lights….
And so the new chapter of their life began in Dargaville. Mum and Dad christened that first year back in New Zealand by truly diving head first into that New Zealand dream, and joined a shearing gang.
Mum was a Rouser, and dad was a presser. After mum fell pregnant with me, she lasted no more than 3 months in the shearing sheds as the sight of the sheep going bald before her very eyes with the occasional shaving cut was to much for her newly softened and pregnant soul, and so she left the sheds for a position more suitable for a pregnant woman… a waitress in a nightclub in an old industrial building in the township.
It was within those
first 3 months of my life that my parents bought a property that
our entire family would refer to as 'The House' for ever and ever
As to the reason why we called it 'The House' it will have to be enough to say that as a family we have moved countless times, and yet this was only one of two actual houses we ever lived in together as a family. Our other homes were not houses. No…. they were certainly not houses. But that will come later…
My younger sister
Nelly was born in The House. And then later came Teraza.
Both arrived into the world with no one but mum and the occasional nervous face of dad to welcome them.
When teraza was 8 Months old, dad suddenly decided he had had enough of the place and we found someone to rent The House and packed up and moved 70ks east to Whangarei to live on a houseboat.
The houseboat was, according to my father, going to be the beginning of a whole new adventure. His ideas for the boat ranged from transforming it into a floating restaurant, to hosting guests onboard in a one of a kind bed and breakfast.
In reality the boat was full of holes, and would sit awkwardly on one side upon the sticky stinking mud while the tide was out which we had to share with hundreds of mud crabs.
When the tide was in water leaked into the hull constantly and despite dad taking up arms in the form of quick drying cement, and militantly patching it up every time a new leak appeared, we still had to have the pump going around the clock, just to keep the boat on the water and not under it.
'It was a lovely
boat' my mother says in memory of it all 'It was just a sinking
Us girls were often found by mum or dad, armpit deep in mud and surrounded by crabs if we happened to slip off the narrow boardwalk that connected the boat to the land. Too bad if we were in our Sunday best and leaving for church. A girl in the mud was guaranteed to ruin the day, because that stuff will stick to you like tar and it ruins the dress.
One Wednesday, mum hears a thump on top deck and goes to see what had landed on our boat.
It was a lamb chop.
Why a chop had fallen from space and onto our boat was a mystery to which mum had no sure answer to.
But the Wednesday after that, just like the Wednesday before, there was another thump, and another chop. The Wednesday after that there were more thumps and more chops and as the Wednesdays came and went, so did our weekly delivery of meat from the heavens.
The mystery was
finally solved when we learned that Wednesday was rubbish day for
the local meat works. We also learned that while a wall of
mangroves interrupted our view, we actually shared our
neighborhood with the city dump, and hence, the local population
of 100,000 seagulls.
Let me tell you something about seagulls. Their behaviors are almost entirely learned as opposed to inherited. This is particularly true when it comes to salvaging food. If a gull comes across a food source that is protected by bone, or shell, they learn how to overcome this problem in creative ways. Some seagulls learn to drop shellfish on rocks to break them open, while others drop food on the road and let cars shatter the barrier.
From the skies, I imagine our big old tired boat, looked somewhat like a big old tired rock. It seems the seagulls thought so too, and so every Wednesday, after the much anticipated delivery of bones and carcasses and chops from the meat works, the seagulls would take their prize, fly over the mangroves to the nearest and biggest 'rock' and drop their kill in order to smash it apart so they could feast.
Hence, every Wednesday, it rained meat.
While we had to move
ourselves and our possessions higher and higher aboard the ship
to keep it dry from the salt water and the mold the water seemed
to accept the challenge and put up a more fierce fight and one
day, while dad was no where to be seen and mum was alone with
three daughters on this wooden death trap, the tide began to come
in…. but the pump broke down. Faced with the reality that if she
didn't get the pump going we were going to slip beneath the
surface of the water, mum shooed Nelly and I up on deck and with
an 8-month-old baby on her hip, began manually pumping water out
of the boat. For two long hours, mum fought against the angry
tide with one arm pumping fiercely away, the other cradling the
baby. By the time dad returned, I imagine it only took one look
from her to confirm that this was madness. It was time to get out
So dad moved his
exhausted and muddy family off the boat, and into?
A quarry… Yes, a deep pit, from which stone or other materials are or have been extracted.
Dad had purchased 2 caravans and had enquired at the local caravan park if he could negotiate a cheap rate for long term occupancy in their lovely seaside park. When dad came home rubbing his hands together and smiling as smugly as the cat that got the cream, we learned that he had indeed gotten an unbelievable price for long-term occupancy: In the rocky, barren and harsh environment of the city quarry, which the owners of the park had access to. I suppose it was a good deal really. Sure we had to live in a pit of rock, dust and boulders. Sure we were parked over hills and far away from any running water or flushing toilets but hey, we saved a buck, and for dad, that was reason enough for just about anything, and so we lived there until mum got tired of plucking us kids off the face of rocky cliff faces and moved onto the farm with the circus performers.
There was once a man named Harold, who owned a farm in Whangarei, and he must have been a social kind of guy, or maybe just a kind hearted kind of guy, but nonetheless, he offered his farm land to many people, the orphans of society who had found no other place to feel at home, and somehow the wind blew us in the direction of that farm and so our environment went from being one that looked not unlike the surface of the moon, to this big beautiful farm.
How we came to
possess such a big bus I do not know, but the next memory I have
is being set up on a hill, with one very large bus and the two
caravans.. Our neighbors were Lisa and Carlos who had their own
three boys and their own big bus.
Oh, and they were Circus performers.
At 7 years old, the fact that I lived on a farm, in a bus, with circus folk was not at all remarkable. When school friends stared bug eyed at me asking with skepticism 'So, you live..in a bus. On a farm' I would just shrug my shoulders. My name had been Baby, I had been carried to my mother in a cardboard box, I had lived on the moon. This was no stranger, or no more normal than anything else I had known.
When dad got bored from living on a regular bus, a bus that looked like every other bus that every other gypsie had ever lived on, he cut the very back of it off, and modernized it by building a huge wooden box on the end of it, an additional living space, which made our home look, not quite like a bus, and not quite like a box, but something in-between.
But we moved on from that farm eventually.
Again, I am not sure why, maybe it was because Nelly set one of the caravans on fire. But in any case, we moved out our box/bus spaceship and moved into a regular house. Friends of ours had taken a 3-month holiday in the States and needed house sitters and I'm sure we all nearly dislocated our shoulders from shooting our arms up so quick in keen self-nomination for the role. So we lived in that house for 3 months, and then mum had the baby.
This is how mum has a baby. She goes to her room. And comes out with a baby. As someone else may go into a room with laundry, and come out with neatly folded piles of clothes. This is how my mother does labor. You never hear a thing, you would never know there was a baby coming, with no more than a cup of tea to ease the pain, my mother faces up to the task of giving birth like she does every other task and burden in her life: with silent strength and bravery.
So now there was mum, dad and the 4 girls. Nelly, Teraza, Aliyah and me. But we had to move, because the Torvicks had come home and needed their house back.
Dad decided it was
time to return to The House, so we journey 70ks back west and
rolled up our long driveway to see our beloved white house and
walked through our front door and down the hall, and turned into
the lounge room to discover that our tenants had ripped up some
floor boards, ripped off some of the panels in the ceiling, and
had been growing dope in our living room.
Aside from the remnants of the dope factory, there were also hundreds and millions and billions of fleas.
Well we couldn't
live there now could we?
So where could we go?
In 1903, at the top of Te Kopuru hill, a hospital was built to treat the accident victims from Te Kopuru and Tatarariki with Te Kopuru being the site of choice rather than Dargaville because the mill towns had a larger population.
In 1959, fire destroyed the Te Kopuru hospital block but the hospital carried on until 1971, when the last of the maternity services were finally moved to the new hospital in Dargaville, and the hospital doors were shut for good.
And so the hospital
How convenient, an abandoned hospital lay only minutes up the road.
So we moved in.
And so began another era of my life that would be a little bit backwards and inside out.
Most children are born in a hospital, and live in a house. But I was born in a house, and now lived in a hospital… We chose the old staff quarters, which were directly connected to a hospital ward.
Huge, heavy old wooden doors separated our 'lounge room' to a long corridor, with hospital rooms off either side.
At night it was the spookiest place imaginable, and not just because I was a 7-year-old kid with a wild imagination.
20 years on it still spooks me. I remember that old ward had a chill to it that felt more than just the winters cold. If you opened those big old heavy wooden doors, and stood on the other side, peering down into the empty space, you would feel this heaviness approach you, and settle silently on your chest. Breathing became labored and despite that icy, frosty chill, your skin would begin to prickle with sweat. If you should be brave enough to walk down, down, down that long cold corridor, you would find rooms still littered with the equipment from a hospital nearly 90 years old. Some rooms just had old beds and chairs and cupboards, sitting under decades of dust and neglect, but others were left just as they would have been the day they were last used. Cots with sheets and blankets for the new baby, still made up, only ruffled slightly as if someone had just picked up her baby for nursing.
These were the rooms that really got under your skin. They had a presence to them. They looked as though people had up and left very suddenly, with no time to gather up even a wrap for the baby.
I only ever went
down to those rooms 2 or 3 times, and certainly only ever went
down there alone once, and never again would I do that. There was
heaviness there, something you can't see but something that
settles upon you like dew, and to be perfectly honest, it scared
the living daylights out of me.
Behind our house we had what seemed to be old miscellaneous rooms… kitchens perhaps I'm not sure but to the left of our 'house' was a building whose bricks had tumbled and crumbled slowly under the burden of time and from the outside looked plain and unremarkable.
This was the old
We weren't the only ones who had seen the abandoned hospital as a viable living arrangement. It was a huge hospital, spread out over a very large piece of land. We shared this hospital home with half a dozen Maori families and a typical day for us girls looked something like this: 12 kids, 10 dark, and 2 white (Nelly and I) running barefoot from building to building with no sense of time or structure but for the hunger in our stomachs which suggested it was lunch time, or dinner time.
There was a large old pool, which was gated, and if you told me it had not been cleaned since the hospital closed in 1971, I would believe you. You have never seen so many shades of green as you saw it that pool water, and I truly believe that every frog in the north of New Zealand must have been bred in those murky waters. If you got close enough to the edge of the pool, the water could be seen to be pulsing and trembling, as if it were alive. Upon closer inspection you saw that the movement was caused by hundreds and thousands of tadpoles and frogs. It was an amphibian breeding ground such as you have never seen.
Then there was this old rooster on the old hospital grounds. We called it Rooster. It was the most pissed off rooster that ever strutted the face of the planet. It hated being a rooster, it hated living in an abandoned hospital, and it hated us kids. Yes, more than anything it hated us kids.
And so day in and
day out, we would play a game with Rooster. If one were to see
the rooster, you might be nominated to enter the duel of death.
The aim of the game was for the nominated kid to stand at a
distance and put in a decent effort to piss that rooster off. One
had to be on their toes however, as rooster would stand
there…blood pressure rising, face going redder and redder and
feathers rising more and more and you never knew when, you never
knew the moment it would happen, but in the blink of an eye, in a
moment known only to Rooster, he would launch at lightening speed
and chase you like a cheetah on the heel of a zebra.
We didn't have a hope, we never did.
He was faster than any of the kids in that block and we knew it, so the fun came in watching the nominated kid try to find higher ground, out of the reach of Roosters angry beak.
It was always hoped that the kid wouldn't make it, that Rooster would win, and sometimes we got lucky, and enjoyed the site of some panicked child being forced to the ground and mercilessly attacked by the most pissed off rooster that ever strutted the face of the planet.
One time when we
were tormenting Rooster, I was nominated kid, and Rooster turned
and went for me at a moment in which I wasn't prepared. I knew I
was in trouble, there was no high ground, no tree to scramble up,
no tank to scale. It was me, the rooster and about 10 acres of
clear, flat land. Rooster had me in the bag and we both knew
But then a van pulls up and the side door opens and I knew it was my only hope. I put my chin against my chest and ran for my very life. Rooster had had enough, and should he catch me, he would kill me. So I'm going at it, I can feel rooster on my heel, the wind from his beating wings breathing upon my calves and I think I dove, yes, I dove for the opening of that van and it's all such a blur now, but I know that I had time to turn and close that door and less than one second later I hear rooster SMACK into the side of the closed van door.
I was safe.
I would live to see another day…