The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Stork is a 3-letter word

Stork deliversI liked Joan Rivers. In “Tonight Show” doses, she was hilarious, and made Dad guffaw. Now she’s gone. The world keeps spinning, but there’s a hole where Joan Rivers stood.

She was 81, and it was her turn. One day, it will be mine. A friend’s brother visited two weeks ago and was the picture of health. He went home and had a heart attack. The doctors opened him up like the little guy on the TV series “Extant,” fiddled with some of his plumbing and circuitry, and David is doing just fine. It wasn’t his turn.

Last week I watched the NBC and ABC “documentaries” about Rivers. One scene – Rivers on the Ed Sullivan stage – took me back to my childhood.

Ed Sullivan was a Sunday evening staple in our house. He stood at the side curtain, arms folded, and brought us such acts as Elvis Presley – from the waist up. Elvis had hips, but they weren’t to be shown on family TV.

And Joan Rivers. In a maternity “shift.” It started at the neck, followed the body line to tips of her, uh, … and ballooned from there down. How you knew a woman was “in a family way” was she wore that “shift.” (Though sometimes they were not pregnant, and a young man learned not to ask the question before he already knew the answer.)

Some of our biggest TV stars were in family sitcoms in which, occasionally, an addition to the tribe suddenly appeared. For instance, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. In their show, which ended in 1966, the year after I graduated from high school, we sometimes saw them in beds – plural. Women and men did not sleep together. And suddenly, Little Ritchie, appeared. Not a baby. A child maybe five or six years old.

When Rivers mounted Sullivan’s stage in 1968 – nine months pregnant and wearing that shift – she wasn’t allowed by censors to say the word “pregnant”.

A young woman may have been “preggers,” or with “a bun in the oven,” but she rarely was pregnant. Sometimes babies were brought by “the stork,” or found in a cabbage patch. A girl in my Eighth Grade class simply went away to visit relatives.

I was born first of four siblings. I arrived in 1947, my brother in 1950. My first sister entered the scene two years later. I do not remember her arrival. At the tender age of 5, I would not have paid attention to Mommy walking around the house naked. I think. She never walked around the house naked.

But by age 12, one might think I would have noticed the impending birth of my youngest sister. One might be wrong. Somehow the message that hung in the air was “Don’t even think you noticed something.”

One morning in late May, Dad called up to the boys room where brother and I were trying each to be the last one out of bed. Dad said he was taking Mom to Farmington – the hospital was there, but Dad didn’t mention that.

When our new sister came home a few days later, we first three siblings still had no idea Mom had been “in a family way.”

I don’t remember much of the baby-ness of Lil – the feeding, diaper changing, etc. I remember her toddling around the yard, but Mom pregnant, and sister born? Never happened. One day we were three kids, the next day four. Somehow, under cover of a shift …


We will miss Joan Rivers, or should. She could turn that stuff into laughs and make us talk about things we “shouldn’t” talk about.


  1. Ah yes, the good old days . . . Some things were better, some not. More openness is good, but I think the media reveals a bit too much now.

    • Sometimes a little less would be more, but I have to argue mostly more openness is better than less. We’re better of when we think for ourselves than when we set others up to think for us.

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