As told by Fireman Charlie Freeman
I was happy to trade duty on the eve of eves with Mike, a brother-fireman, so he could be with his family. Dave and Mark, who were probably asleep in the duty room as the midnight hour approached had also traded duty with other members of our fire brigade. We were a close-net group which made us so committed on the job when we depended upon one another in life and death situations.
Before I closed the overhead door for Engine 6148, I stepped outside into the clear cold night air and gazed up at the moon. It was so quiet I heard a barn owl off in the distance courting a potential mate. I envied him in a way. I was thirty-two and had not met my soul mate. I was beginning to doubt there was such a person.
The moon was so clear and bright, I got the feeling I could reach up and touch it. I smiled when I realized Mr. Moon was over 225,000 miles away and was already seventy-seven feet away from where it appeared to be. The only reason I knew this was because of a high school science project we were given to justify Einstein’s theory that light bends over a given distance. I forgot the details but the result was seventy-seven feet.
As I readied to go inside and close the overhead door, I spotted a shooting star and thought what a perfect symbol for the moment. I took a deep breath, stepped inside and was about to press the button to bring the door down when I thought I heard someone whisper, “Wait.”
I glanced outside and saw no one. Then I heard someone approaching from the side of the building. I stepped outside and beheld the figure of a woman walking into the light coming from inside the fire station. She carried something in her arms wrapped in a blanket. Her face was covered in a scarf wrapped around her head against the cold, but I could see her eyes. They were cast down until she looked up at me; they were crystal blue. “Please,” she whispered.
The moment she moved the bundle in her arms toward me I knew what it was and thought, ‘Oh, dear God in heaven, not me, please, not me.’
What else could I do? I opened my arms and accepted the bundle. She placed a shoulder bag next to me, turned and was gone. I felt a slight movement and a tiny sound coming through the blanket. I grabbed the bag and went to the duty room and woke Dave and Mark.
“Holy crap,” came out of Mark’s mouth when he realized what I had in my arms. “What do we do now?”
Given the hour, it was a good question. “One of you guys close the overhead.” Dave raced from the room. I heard the door close and then he returned, looking quite helpless.
“Mark, you empty the bag and let’s see what we’ve got.” I placed the bundle on the table and began to unwrap it. There was a second blanket in pink. I mused as I began unwrapping it, “It’s probably a girl.”
“How do you know?” Dave stood next to me.
“Pink. Mark, turn off the overheads … don’t want to blind the little thing.” When the lights went out, I pulled the last layer of the blanket off, revealing a smiling bright-eyed baby.
“There’s a card here; says her name is Natalie.” Mark brought the note closer. “Jesus, she was born three months ago.
“What else is in the bag?”
Dave sorted through the contents, “Formula, a bottle, diapers, and changes of clothing.”
“Read the directions on the formula and let’s get some food ready in case she’s hungry.” I felt the diaper and gave a sigh. It didn’t need changing – yet. I picked her up and cradled her in my arms. “We need to find something to put her in. I can’t hold her all night.”
“Why not. Charlie, you look like a natural.” Dave laughed as he walked out, “I’ll check storage and see what we’ve got.”
“Anything else … on the card?”
“I don’t believe this.” Mark turned the card over.
“She said she gave birth by herself.” Mark looked up. “Is the umbilical cord gone?”
I pulled the shirt up and the diaper down slightly, “She tied it off with a string and cut it. We probably should get her to the hospital ASAP. Child Services … do we have their number?”
“Here’s a box,” Dave announced as he returned.
“Perfect. Throw a blanket in the bottom and I’ll put her in.”
“Here’s the number,” Mark announced. “I’ll call and see if anyone is on duty.”
Through all the talking back and forth, Baby Natalie seemed quite happy and interested in what we were doing. The formula was made and offered. She happily accepted and drank half the bottle. I knew a little about babies and figured she needed to burp any air she took in. So, over the shoulder she went and sure enough, she burped twice. She was sound asleep when I laid her in the makeshift cradle.
The three of us stood over the box with this beautiful sleeping baby and looked at one another in wonderment.
“Hey, I guess we’re the three wise guys.” Dave grinned.
“Wise men.” I corrected him with a whisper.
Mark called Child Services and was only able to leave a message. We had no choice but to wait. Natalie slept soundly; the rest of us were wide awake until the phone rang about 5:30 a.m. Child Services was on their way.
Marge Bauer came into the duty room and looked at our charge. “Anyone change her?”
“She was dry when I put her down. She’s been sleeping the whole time.”
“Well, let’s take a look before I take her in.”
She changed her diapers and was gone in a matter of minutes. The shift changed at 8 a.m. and the incident was all but forgotten.
Several days later I stopped by the local convenience store for some supplies. My breath caught when the checkout clerk looked up at me. It was her. I could tell by those crystal blue eyes. I pretended I didn’t recognize her, smiled, thanked her and left the store. Her I.D. badge told me her name was Samantha.
On the way back to the station I was excited about telling the other men that I had found Natalie’s mother but decided it was a bad idea as I entered the station. Her anonymity needed to be protected. Giving Natalie away was traumatic enough; I was sorry I knew who she was.
I called Marge at Child Services and found out Natalie was a healthy little girl. She had been taken to the hospital, given a physical examination and had her belly button repaired. She was doing just fine.
Then I asked Marge an unintended question. “What about adoption. How is that going to be handled?” Marge gave me a brief rundown of the procedure and then asked me a question I wasn’t prepared for.
“Charlie, are you interested in adopting her.”
My knee-jerk reaction was, “No, of course, not. I was just curious about her well-being.”
Her response was subtle but unsettling, “Yes, of course.”
The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about the idea. But how would I care for her? I’d have to get married which didn’t seem likely. Then I wondered about a nanny. Could I afford something like that?
I found myself making excuses to go to the convenience store so I could watch Samantha. What kind of a person was she? Was she married? Was she nanny material? That was a dumb question. She was the mother. Of course, she was nanny material.
I decided to have my sister, Ellen, do a little detective work for me. I swore her to secrecy and told her what I was thinking of doing.
“Charlie, you can’t do something like that; it’s crazy. What do you know about babies?”
“Ellie, I’m thirty-two years old and alone. If I don’t do something now, I’ll die a lonely old man. I need your help.”
She flatly refused and refused to discuss the subject. In the meantime, I called Marge and told her I had changed my mind and wanted to be considered for the adoption of Natalie. Her response was so positive it only encouraged my determination.
I knew Ellie well enough that if I didn’t say anything further on the subject she would come around. I almost laughed when she called me, “Okay, what do you want me to do?”
When I told her I knew who the mother was, she flew off the handle again and hung up on me. I finally went over to her house and faced her off, “Ellie, I’m going to do this with or without your help.”
“Jesus, Charlie. I think you’ve lost your mind.”
“I have, Ellie. If you saw Natalie, you’d lose your mind, too.”
She took a deep breath and said something I didn’t expect. “Maybe I should adopt her.”
I grabbed her and held her so tight she gasped, “Thank you. A thousand times thank you. But that won’t be necessary.”
I told her everything I knew about Samantha and outlined what I needed to know before I asked her if she wanted the job as nanny to Natalie while I was at work. She reluctantly agreed, but her attitude changed after she had a chance to observe Samantha at the convenience store.
Once she was fully on board, she enlisted the help of her attorney husband, Harry. He counseled me on the difficulties I would be facing but finally gave up when he realized how determined I was.
It didn’t take long for him to find out Samantha was twenty-eight years old, widowed, and had no means of support other than her job at the convenience store. If it weren’t for Harry, I doubt I would have been able to achieve my goal. He worked closely with Marge at Child Services regarding the adoption. Once my application was accepted, the next challenge was contacting Samantha to see if she would accept the position of nanny to her own child without anyone ever knowing she was Natalie’s mother. The worst part was, she would have to sign away all parental rights which meant she would have no legal claim to Natalie if she changed her mind and wanted her back.
Harry spoke with the manager of the convenience store on a confidential basis and was happy to report that he would adjust Samantha’s work schedule to coincide with mine, which changed every month.
But how to approach Samantha – that was the question. I stopped going to the convenience store. It became too difficult to continue pretending I didn’t know who she was. I figured she probably recognized me and was hoping I didn’t recognize her.
Ellie came to the rescue. She agreed to go to Samantha’s apartment and wait outside until she returned from work. The meeting did not go well.
“She was suspicious the moment she saw me. I smiled and said ‘Hi.’
“The first thing out of her mouth was ‘What do you want?’
“Then I said, ‘I’ve come about Natalie,’ which was probably the wrong thing to start out with.”
“What was her reaction?”
“Charlie, her face turned to stone. She said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please go away.’ She turned, walked up the stairs and slammed her apartment door.
“I’m afraid it’s no use. Perhaps it would be better if you dropped the adoption application. Better for Natalie for one thing.”
“No, I’m not going to let her go. I’ll find a way.”
“Well, you better find a way soon. They aren’t going to hold her indefinitely. Please let me help if I can.”
“Thanks, Ellie, you’ve done enough. And thank Harry for me also.”
I gave Ellie a big hug and sent her on her way. If nothing else, it had brought Ellie and me closer. We had drifted apart after she married Harry.
But I had one more idea.
As soon as I walked into the convenience store, Samantha spotted me and the expression on her face told me I was in big trouble. I heard her tell her co-worker she was going to take a break. She glared at me as she approached. “Please step outside. I have something to say to you.”
I felt crestfallen like never before as I followed her outside.
She stopped, lit a cigarette and turned to me, and very calmly said, “How did you know it was me?”
I smiled. “It was your eyes. How could anyone not know? They are so beautiful.”
“That’s how I got pregnant in the first place … by falling for that line.”
“It’s not a line. It’s true.”
“Baloney … what’s your name?”
“Charlie … Charlie Freeman, the fireman.”
“Well, Mr. Fireman, I suppose the whole world knows now?”
“No, no, that’s not true. Just me and Ellie.”
“She’s my sister, the gal who spoke to you at your apartment. And no one else knows if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“What about that lawyer … Harry whatshisname?
“That’s Ellie’s husband. He’s nothing to worry about.”
“That is exactly what I’m worried about. It’s bad enough I had to give her up which I thought was going to be anonymous.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“What’s your interest in this?”
“I’ve decided to adopt her.”
“You WHAT?” The color drained from her face as her arms dropped to her side.
“I want to adopt Natalie.”
“Are you married?”
“What do you know about babies?”
“Nothing, but I can learn.”
“You’re nuts. Go away and stay away from me.” She glared at me for a few seconds, stepped on her cigarette and went back into the convenience store.
I was so beaten down by all the negativity of the situation, I was about to throw in the towel when the phone rang. It was Marge from Child Service.
“Hi, Marge. Say, I…”
“I’ve got some good news for you.”
“Well … I could sure use some of that. What is it?”
“Natalie’s caregiver has consented to let you see Natalie whenever you want to.”
“Yes, really. What do you think?”
“I think that’s great. When?”
“As soon as you like. Her name is Doris Randolph.”
I wrote down her name, address, and phone number.
“Hi, Charlie. You’re just in time. I’m about to feed Natalie. You can wash up in there. Then come on into the kitchen.”
I don’t believe I ever washed my hands so thoroughly. I brought the towel with me as I dried them. I was surprised when I saw her. “She’s in a high chair?”
“Natalie is so strong. She’s four months old now, so, it’s time … Oh, look at her waving her arms. I think she recognizes you.”
“Hi, Natalie. How’s my good girl?” I spent the next two hours getting acquainted with this angel and her caregiver. When I left, I was more determined than ever to adopt her.
I remember thinking of the word Kismet as I drove away. I needed help … and badly. Maybe I should give up the idea of adopting Natalie and work toward making sure she got the best family ever, to live and grow in an environment which would give her every advantage to meet her potential in the adult world.
I’ve never been a religious person in spite of being raised in the Catholic environment, nor have I given much credence to prayer. But I sent out a plea for help like never before. I remember my grandmother telling me as a child when I was caught in a dilemma. “Let go and let God,” she’d yell. I seemed to have no choice in this current dilemma but to let it go and see what God, fate or whatever had in store for me. Perhaps it was something entirely different from what I had been aiming at. Little did I know the laws of the Universe were already working on the problem.
The one thing that I was not going to do: I was not going to discontinue seeing Natalie. I simply could not get the idea out of my head that she was my little girl.
I suppose it was inevitable … my growing affection for Natalie and my admiration for Doris Randolph in her role as caregiver for Natalie. A friendship with Doris naturally evolved in a short period of time … to the point where I felt comfortable asking some rather personal questions about her reason for taking on such a responsibility.
The part of her answer that caught my attention was, “…someday I plan to have children of my own…” caught me off guard. I wondered why she was waiting. She ran a successful business from her home which allowed the time needed to care for Natalie, so I asked the question to which the answer totally floored me.
“So, what does your husband think about that?”
“My husband? Oh, I’m not married.”
I’m not sure if my jaw hit the floor or not, but it definitely was not where it should have been. Suddenly, I began looking at Doris in an entirely different light. Now, what do I do … make some kind of juvenile advance and make a fool out of myself? I should not have worried; kismet was working on that also.
The Police and Fireman’s Ball was coming up when the idea hit me. Why not ask Doris to be my date. But what if she said no because of Natalie? I called Ellie and asked her if she would babysit.
“But that means I can’t go to the Ball.”
“Ellie, please.” And then I told her about Doris’ situation.
“Oh, all right. But you owe me.”
Doris was reluctant but did accept my invitation to the Ball once she found out Ellie would be caring for Natalie. Dancing with Doris provided my first opportunity of holding her in my arms; as well as being annoyed by my brigade brothers cutting in more than what I considered appropriate. She did have a lot of well-earned fun. And could she dance! Wow!
It wasn’t love-at-first-sight but when it happened, it began to build on a solid foundation of friendship. When I finally asked her to marry me, her tongue-in-cheek nonchalant response was, “I thought you’d never ask.”
As if by magic the adoption papers for Natalie flew through the system and before we knew it, she was ours. I suspect Marge, of Child Service, was a match-maker in disguise. Later, she became god-mother twice.
Natalie graduated high school last month; we readied her for college in the fall.
Ellie wound up doing more babysitting than she bargained for as Doris and I added three more babies of our own to our family. Phillip came first and was born in the traditional hospital manner. Clare, on the other hand, decided to make her appearance in the middle of the night. We never made it out the front door before I had to put my birthing training to work. When Christopher was due, we decided that home was the best place for him to make his entrance. We hired a midwife to take the strain off of me. Ellie became god-mother to him.
Each Christmas Eve that comes along, I can’t help but remember that clear, cold midnight outside the fire station when a frightened young woman came out of the darkness and placed – what was to become the joy of my life – into my arms.