I had known that my parents had lived in Monterey. They were both in the Air Force (my mother for about seven years, my father for nearly 30) and, when my father was assigned to be a cultural attache to the French armée de l'air, they spent several months studying at the Defense Language Institute. My mother was pregnant with me when they arrived, and I was due on St Patrick's Day. They expected I would be born there; their short-term lease ended on March 31st, at which point they planned to briefly return to Scott Air Force Base, in southern Illinois, before setting off for France.
Yet March 31st came and went without so much as a rustle from me, and my parents, having arranged a hotel for a few extra days at the end of the stay, decided to chance the return trip. Even when my mother's contractions began, on April 2nd, they decided to proceed with the return flight to St Louis, scheduled for that day. They reasoned that it would be impractical to bring a newborn to a hotel, and difficult to travel with me just a few days later.
On the first leg of the flight, from San Francisco to Denver, another passenger, visibly alarmed, asked my mother how far along she was. "Seven months," my nine-and-a-half months pregnant mother lied. "Oh, honey," said the woman. "You need to get a new doctor. You look like you're about to have that baby today." Just about. By the time they reached Denver, the contractions had worsened, and my mother thought they might want to stop off at a hospital there. But my father prevailed on her to push on: a hotel in Denver would be as impractical as a hotel in Carmel, and the next leg of the journey was a short one. My mother reminded herself of a military dictum: feet and knees together!
They landed in St Louis around midnight, and were greeted by my aunt, who had moved to St Louis partly to help my mother care for my older brother, the only child at that point. My parents asked her to take Danny home, because they had to go straight the hospital. The obstetrician, hearing this story, scolded my mother for not having called him. She explained that she hadn't called because she thought he might tell her to stay put. He said that he certainly would have told her as much. I was born at five in the morning on April 3rd. My aunt returned around seven, pale and shaken, with my brother Danny and a box of Dunkin' Donuts.
As they were talking, it occurred to me that this story has some similarities with Sarah Palin's account of the birth of her youngest child, Trig; she was in the early stages of labor when she boarded a flight from Texas to Alaska, where the baby was born a month early. Palin arguably had extra reasons to be careful, because of the length of the journey to Alaska, the baby's special needs, and her relatively advanced age. On the other hand, Palin had given birth four times before, apparently without extenuating circumstances. My mother had only given birth once before, and it was long and difficult and involved medical complications. But both cases involve women who were far from home, due to their professional responsibilities, and who experienced an inconvenient onset of labor. What carried the day for my mother was a sort of homing instinct, more practical than instinctive or emotional. Anticipating the constant needs of a newborn, my parents wanted to be near their friends and family, among the familiar comforts of even a temporary home, preferring the short anxiety of a tense journey to a potentially prolonged dislocation.
In retrospect, my mother reminisced, she regrets having rushed away from California under the circumstances. But I liked the story. I had no part in the decision to journey from sunny California to snowy Colorado to moonlit Illinois, but having been born I've continued to hopscotch around the country with equally deluded optimism and similarly successful results. My father went ahead to France shortly thereafter, and my mother followed about six weeks later, carrying a toddler and an infant and no francs and no address or telephone number, another odd decision that gave us an early example of an observation I've found to be true in my later travels: you can typically depend on the kindness of strangers. My greatest regret about the situation is that I didn't have the foresight to be born on April Fool's Day, which would have been an enduring source of fun and mischief.