13th Child

Warm, happy waves of excitement and cold, shivery chills of nervousness washed over me in turns. Daddy was driving me into town on a Saturday afternoon for a birthday party. I alternately fiddled with the wrapped present on my lap and the hem of my Sunday dress. My friend, Karen had invited me and more than a dozen other classmates. The party was at her house in Stratford. Along the road, we passed homes that I recognized. We were getting closer to where Karen lived.

I was used to birthdays celebrated in class rooms. Usually the birthday person’s Mom would send a pan of brownies or a jar of chocolate chip cookies to school to be passed around when Sister said it was okay. Many birthday parties that I’d been to, were for my nuclear family or for one of my neighborhood cousins. Those parties were limited to cake and ice cream after supper. Today was different. Today I was going to a real birthday party with games and many other children!

The afternoon passed in a blur of play and goodies to eat. Towards the end of the afternoon Karen’s Mom asked every girl there to pick a number from one to fifteen. I was slow, so by the time I finally picked a number, only 9, 11, and 13 were left. I chose 13. Karen’s Mom said she had a basket with numbered slips in it. Someone had to reach in and pull out one of the slips. A doll would go home with the person who had that number!

Since it was her birthday, Karen stepped up on a stool and reached over her head into the basket that her Mom held aloft. After an entire afternoon of chatter and laughter, there was suddenly silence. Then Karen’s Mom said, “The doll goes to the person who picked number 13.”

I’d won the doll! It wasn’t even my birthday, yet I’d received a present! Not only did I win a doll, but I’d learned that 13 was a lucky number.

Many people are superstitious about the number 13, especially when the 13th day of the month lands on a Friday. Many good things probably happen on Friday the 13th, but I suspect that only the bad things are remembered.

Superstition is so prevalent that many skyscrapers don’t have a 13th floor. Surely if the building has 20 floors, there has to be a 13 among the lot, but developers bypass it by skipping the 13th floor number. Recall the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Observation, knowledge and reality tells a person that there most definitely is a 13th floor even if the elevator lists them as 11, 12, 14, 15…

My family was never superstitious, so what one of my brothers said to me a few years ago surprised me. We were talking about how many grandchildren Mom and Daddy had. My brother suddenly stopped speaking for a moment, then turned to give me a dismayed look as he said, “Your Christy was their 13th grandchild!”

My late husband and I were 19 when we had our first baby. Christy was born with a severe birth defect and our sweet little girl died at two months of age. The first Monday of February would have been her 46th birthday.

I have no idea why things happen the way they do in this world, but I am not superstitious. We did not have the problems that we did because our baby had the supposedly unlucky 13th grandchild position in the family tree.

Christy was born, lived and died in a short space of time, but she existed and I was never again the same. That’s because she made me a mother. I am grateful that she was mine though for so short of a time.

When people ask me how many children I have, I think they want to hear how many living children. As a mother, it feels so wrong to not include Christy when I answer, but mentioning her always makes my inquirers feel uncomfortable. In many ways, Christy is like the 13th floor in a skyscraper. That unlucky floor is not so scary if it is not counted or talked about.



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