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My Birthday

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January 30, 1947 brought a snowstorm to northeastern Iowa. By early evening John Chase was calling the doctor in West Union. He told the doctor, “Mildred has started having contractions.” With dismay the doctor told Mr. Chase that his car had slid off the road, was stuck in the ditch and he had no way to get to Fayette. John said, “I will come there to pick you up.” He then called his brother, Alva, who lived just a few blocks away. “Mildred has started labor, so bring Mabel, pick up Ma and get over here right away. We have to go pick up the doctor in West Union. I already called Ma so she will be ready. Pa is going to watch the girls so don’t waste any time ‘cause we have to drop them off over there.”

Within ten minutes Eva and Mabel came through the front entry door. Eva announced loudly, “Johnnie, we’re here.”

Mabel followed with, “Alva is waiting in the car.”

John emerged from a doorway with no door but just a curtain just to the right of the entry. “Mildred is in here Ma.” He gives his mother a quick kiss then yells, “Girls come on. We’re going to see Pa.” Betty and Geraldine, coats already on, came running through the kitchen door just opposite the entry. Within seconds they are all out the door.

The next few hours pass with Eva and Mabel tending to Mildred between hands of cribbage.

John LaVern Chase and Mildred Venus Sewell were high school sweethearts, Fayette High Cardinals. John class of ’37, Mildred class of ’38.

John lettered in football on the team that, according to him, was undefeated and even beat the Upper Iowa College team. I never verified that record but never felt a need to. He had a very likable demeanor that evoked his friends to call him Johnnie instead of John. He was agreeable enough to this handle that he even wrote his name as Johnnie (preferring “ie” instead of “y”). Another name he would often use was “The great John L” which was famously used by a late nineteenth century prizefighter. I became to know him as “The Great Exaggerator” as most of his stories employed that attribute. In fact, probably due to his extreme devotion to honesty, he would often end his tales with, “...and that includes the exaggeration”.

Mildred lettered in band, playing the French horn. She also played the guitar but not in band. She would use it to accompany her vocal renditions, oftentimes with her friends, at picnics, her father’s lodge or any opportunity that would present itself. She was also affable enough to provoke the moniker Millie which she did not like. She would correct people but much to her chagrin aunts and uncles would not hear of it.

They married June 9, 1938. In October ‘39 the Chases were blessed with Geraldine Myrna. Blessed again in April ’42 with Betty Jean. A few months after Betty’s birth Johnnie and Mildred with all the Chases participated in the migration to Milwaukee to help in the war effort by working in the many manufacturing plants. In 1944 Johnnie took Mildred and the girls back to Fayette. He went to Des Moines to enlist in the Marine Corps. He served in the Pacific, survived the battle on Iwo Jima then returned to the states in 1946. Finally back in Fayette he and his brother Alva started their own business, Chase Brothers Plumbing. Now we return to that memorable January day in 1947.

Stuck in her house during a snowstorm, my mother’s only rescue is her mother-in-law Eva Chase and sister-in-law Mabel Chase. They anxiously awaited the return of Johnnie and Alva with the doctor. At about 9pm there was loud knocking on the door. Mabel eagerly ran to the door wondering why Johnnie or Alva would be knocking. She swung the door open as four college age boys barged in stomping the snow off their feet. Eva came out the bedroom and pulled the curtain shut on the door as she scolded, “What do you boys think you are doing? Get back out that door with your snowy feet.”

Two boys, one on each side of an obviously injured fellow, were supporting him with his arms around their necks. His left leg was bent at the knee as his foot dangled above the floor. The boy in the lead said while pointing at the bent leg, “We were playing basketball at the college when he collided and we think his leg is broken. We heard you had a doctor here.”

People in a large city would never understand this but Eva found nothing odd about someone knowing there would be a doctor here. Immediately showing compassion she held her hand out toward the kitchen door and said, “Okay, bring him out here and get him into a chair. The doctor should be here soon. But he may have to deal with us first.”

The hours slowly ticked by as Mildred worried about her missing husband and unborn child. Midnight was approaching with a basketball team of rowdy boys in the kitchen. The contractions were getting closer together. To aid in the delivery all she was two midwives with no experience. Eva comforted her by reminding that she had been through this before.

“In fact,” Mabel pointed out, “between the three of us we’ve had nine babies. We know what to do.”

“But,” Mildred protested, “I have all those boys just on the other side of this curtain. I can’t go through this pain without some groaning.” In typical Mildred form she was concerned about embarrassment at a time like this.

“They are always yelling about their stupid card game. They are not listening to you,” Eva consoled. “Don’t hold back. Just get through this.”

Eva’s pep talk helped. Finally at 1:10am Friday, January 31st John Orrin Chase came into this world. The doctor showed up shortly after but my Grandma Eva and Aunt Mabel had already done what needed to be done. The three of them have retold this story several times throughout my life. My Aunt Mabel always ended her version with this threat: “I picked you up by the ankles and spanked your butt then and I can do it again if you don’t behave.” The last time she told me that I was in my sixties.

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