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Syndic Literary Journal

Miracle Baby


Charles Rammelkamp

I’d be entering my final year of college at Oberlin in the fall. I was back home in Potawatomi Rapids for the summer with my father. Mom had died just the year before, an aneurysm, only 58, and Pop was still reeling.  I was their only child and, though we weren’t Jewish, the joke was that I was the Isaac to her Sarah – not that Mom was 90 when she had me, but it still apparently felt like a miracle to them, having a baby after they’d been married for over ten years.  Maybe for that reason – because I was Miracle Baby – I’d always felt especially protective of my parents. Somehow I even felt responsible for my mother’s death, as if I could have prevented it, should have seen the signs. I wasn’t even a doctor then, but maybe it’s what made me drop out of a Ph.D. program in History to go to medical school.

Pop still had his job at Potawatomi Rapids College, wouldn’t retire for another half a dozen years, and that kept him occupied, but the summers were especially tough. He had his endless research – Amerigo Vespucci and the American Experiment – but he was lonely. So I gave up the summer internship in Washington that I’d secured from an Ohio congressman and came home to be with him.  It was not a difficult decision.  I got a job at the college on a maintenance crew, painting dormitory rooms.

But then Pop sprang it on me: he’d volunteered me to recite the Gettysburg Address at the town’s Fourth of July celebration!

“Are you kidding?” I cried. It felt like a joke – Pop had always been a sort of practical joker – but I knew he was telling the truth this time. “You didn’t even ask me!”

“They couldn’t get anybody from the high school, and it was either you or Clint Marshall. You remember Clint? From a long line of thick-headed Republicans. He drives around town with a bumpersticker of a an American flag on his truck with the slogan, ‘These Colors Don’t Run.’ Trash talks about ‘towelheads’ the way his daddy did about ‘gooks.’”

“But I –” I sputtered, feeling a mix of betrayal and disbelief. He couldn’t have done this, could he?  He hadn‘t exactly become unhinged when Mom died, but he did seem to feel a need to control more things that were by definition out of his control. “I mean, what made you think I’d –”

“I’m sorry, Jeff, but I thought you’d understand.”

Understand? Understand what?

“Look, if you’d rather not….”

But then the Miracle Baby in me took over – My Freudian superego? My guilty conscience?  The obedient son? – and I waved it away. I simply asked, adjusting, “How did this come about?”

“This 9/11 business and the Iraq invasion have a lot of locals up in arms, calling for all Muslims to be thrown in prison or out of the country or what not. Somebody in the town hall called for a jingoistic speech to replace Lincoln’s address, and I for one was horrified. I made up a story about how you’d always wanted to be the one to do it, when you were in high school.” So in a sense it was a practical joke, only the joke was on me!

But then a funny thing happened. I started to warm up to it, get into it. Maybe I always had wanted to recite the Gettysburg Address at the Potawatomi Rapids Fourth of July celebration. Maybe I’d always been a closet thespian, wanting to perform on stage. For the next six weeks the project became a compelling force in  my life, something I looked forward to, something way beyond painting dorm rooms. I even scoured the attic for a fake beard and a stovepipe hat. Committing the speech to memory wasn’t a problem. It’s short enough, and like every school kid of a certain age, I already knew big chunks of it.  Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

And it was like Pop and I had a goal together now, and it was transformative. I swear it got him over the hump of his grief. Mom had been dead for over a year, and of course he’d always feel her loss. They’d been married for thirty-five years, after all. But maybe this put the immediacy of the loss behind him. This was our private resistance against the Clint Marshalls of Potawatomi Rapids with their simple hate-mongering slogans. This had a riveting sense of purpose.

And when I climbed the concrete steps onto the bandshell stage that July evening perspiring in my black swallowtail jacket, there was Pop in his lawn chair in the front row, the look of satisfaction on his face that he always got when one of his practical jokes found its mark. It was as if the axis of evil – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and their clueless leader – had stolen our democracy, and we were stealing it back. It was like a miracle.






Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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