Snowbound

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Our son, whom we named Joseph Whittier, was born in mid-May of 1977.  It was a little less than a year after we had the bright idea, a no-brainer, actually, to buy a used trailer (what is known in more civilized parts of the country as a mobile home) and move from our in-town apartment to the land we had bought.  We wondered why that plan hadn’t come to us sooner than it did, for building a house in one place while living in another some twelve miles away was a pretty ridiculous and unrealistic scheme.
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Within a week we had found a trailer.  It was quite an interesting experience.  The thing was 12 x 60′ and had two bedrooms and two baths.  Part of an estate sale, it sold completely furnished. The thing cost around $2,000 – less, at the time, than a late-model used car.
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We’d been living in it for a little more than a month when I began experiencing some nausea. Our water was being pumped from a spring about 500′ away, in a pipe laid on top of the ground.  This was a temporary arrangement, as a well would soon be drilled at the actual house site.  We attributed my illness to the water and began boiling it for drinking.  It was now at least mid-September, and in addition to nausea, I began feeling physically exhausted.
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Finally, it seemed to me that I had only felt this way twice before:  when pregnant for our daughter, and when pregnant for a baby we lost.  But that couldn’t be.  I had been diagnosed sterile.  I had seen the x-ray of my blocked fallopian tubes.  Not possible.  And yet the signs were there, such that I finally made an appointment with a local doctor.  As the doctor would later say, “Well, if it’s the water, there’s a lot of fertile water around here.”
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During the long winter nights of that first year on Orebed Road, as I grew in girth, Bob and I frequently read poems from a collection of John Greenleaf Whittier’s work.  We’d take turns reading aloud just before turning out the lights for the night.  I think it was Whittier’s Snowbound that had spoken to us because of the cold darkness and snow that surrounded us on those nights.
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Our due-date was the end of May, and while we had settled on a girl’s name, the right choice for a boy had eluded us.  Two weeks before I was expected to deliver, I felt particularly tired and lay down on our bed with our copy of A Gazillion Names for Your Baby (or whatever it was titled). An idea came to me: Why not Whittier?  But what if the kid didn’t like that?  Well, maybe Joseph Whittier… Joseph is my husband’s middle name, and if the kid didn’t like Whittier, he could choose to be Joe.  I wrote the name Joseph Whittier  on the inside back cover of the book, but I didn’t think to mention my idea to the father-to-be.
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The next morning, my water broke and we were hospital-bound.  On the 25 minute drive to town, he spoke.  “What do you think about naming him Joseph Whittier if it’s a boy?”  I replied that he must have seen that I wrote that in the baby names book.  “No, I just thought of it.”  And that was that.  The baby was a boy, and Joseph Whittier has called himself Whit ever since.

 

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