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 or midwife 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 around the same time, on the other side of the world, 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 and 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.
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 of hard work, 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.
I was in fact, legally named Baby until I finally got a second birth certificate, this time, I appeared as Vanessa. With no middle name.
- My birth certificate: Baby Katsoolis
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 a baby girl only two hours old, 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 our 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 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 presents’
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.
But anyway, once the pig was fed my father took me 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 a baby.
My parents had met overseas in Greece. My mother was an Australian nurse and modeling to earn money to fund more travel and my father who was a kiwi and who had just finished acting as Peter O’Tooles stunt double in ‘Masada’ 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 the very brown, yet very great Northern Wairoa River.
Dargaville holds the proud title of being ‘The Kumera 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 and it quickly went from being about travel and adventure and modeling and flying to a life that sounds familiar to your run of the mill foot rot flats cartoon.
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 after that.
A woman named Annie who had been divorced by her husband and left childless after he unjustly stole her children and demanded she sell the house they had owned together and give him whatever money she raised from the sale, so Annie, bitter and angry at the bastard who ruined her life sold the house to my parents for only $28,000.
The reason we still refer to this home as ‘The House’ will become clearer later on, for now it will have to be enough to simply 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 home births. 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 anyone reading who grew up in Whangarei: Do you remember those old tired houseboats that sat in the mud in the harbor between Whangarei and Onerahi? Remember how people used to acutally live on those damn things? Well guess where dad moved his new wife and 3 young children?
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 boat’
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 meat 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 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 mould 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 floating ‘B&B’, the tide began to come in…. but the pump had broken down. Faced with the reality that if she didn’t get the pump going we were going to slip beneath the water, mum shooed Nelly and I up onto top 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 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 of here.
So dad moved his exhausted and muddy family off the boat, and into? A quarry.
And by quarry I mean quarry as it is defined in any standard dictionary: A large, deep pit, from which stone or other materials 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.
We managed to make the place homely enough. Dad ensured he salvaged the brown corduroy armchair and one of the many sheepskins we had and set up a little living area in a tent we had pitched against one of the caravans. And we had a christmas tree at christmas, and we had a TV. When worse gets worst, if you can say you still have a TV in the living room, then things are going to be okay, right?
So anyway, we left there eventually, and moved onto the farm with the circus performers, but the rest of this story will have to wait until next time and can be read here in the story called ‘the baby named Baby, part 2’