Three years after Ruth and Steve’s wedding, Steve’s company promoted him and assigned him to the London office. They had both grown up in Boston, Massachusetts, and had never lived far from their families or traveled overseas. The transfer came with generous perks, and in 1970 the dollar’s buying power was strong. They were an attractive young couple and were soon overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of people anxious to help them settle happily into their new home.
Their first months in Europe seemed like the honeymoon they had deferred. They slipped easily into a whirlwind of theater outings, restaurants, trips to the Continent, and a giddying social life with both American and British colleagues.
After several weeks of hotel living, they found a third-floor apartment in an old building in Mayfair that had survived the war. The once grand home had been divided into flats, with only the most necessary renovations to make each floor a complete apartment. Theirs still bore most of the original molding, and though the heating was noisy and inefficient, Ruth loved the fireplaces, the large rooms, the tall windows and high ceilings. Even an old bell-pull remained in place next to the fireplace in the living room, though it no longer connected to any bells downstairs or otherwise.
During Steve’s frequent absences on business trips, Ruth occupied herself furnishing the rooms with the antiques she discovered in flea markets, in cramped and dusty old shops, and in the countryside barn sales. The craze for discovering rare treasures among piles of junk had not yet caught on. She had a good eye and avoided second-hand furniture which would be discarded when they eventually returned to the US. She chose only pieces with the potential of becoming family heirlooms.
At Christmas she had just finished adding the last touches to each room when Steve returned from a long business trip to the Continent. She took him on a tour of their apartment, leading him into each room with his eyes closed before telling him, “Look.”
“It’s beautiful, honey,” he said, putting his arm around her waist. “Now it’s all done, what are you going to do next?”
“Close your eyes again” she said, guiding him into their bedroom.
When she told him to open his eyes, he looked around, puzzled. The room looked just as it had before he left.
“No. In the alcove by the window.” She turned him in that direction, holding her breath. He walked over to the hand-carved cradle and bent down, brushing the wood lightly with his fingers.
“When? I had no idea. I mean, how—I don’t know what I’m saying—I know how.” He reached for her, then laughed as he hugged her. “It’s just wonderful,” he said. “We’ll be a family.”
* * *
That August, Jonah was born at the Portland Hospital. Ruth had planned to deliver her baby at home with a midwife as some of her English friends recommended; however, when her blood pressure shot up at the beginning of her ninth month, her doctor sent her to the hospital. They kept her there for ten days following her caesarean delivery. By the time she and Jonah were released, her mother had arrived from Boston.
After the excitement of showing off her son to his grandmother, Ruth secretly wished her mother would leave. Their relationship had been difficult ever since Ruth had begun to establish her independence, which was as far back as she could remember.
Steve began working later and later at his office and her mother took charge. She had even moved and reorganized the furniture in the apartment before Ruth’s homecoming from the hospital.
“It’s much more practical this way,” her mother said as Ruth walked in with Jonah in her arms. “And see, I got these cushions to bring in more color. It was all so drab.”
Ruth was too tired to argue, until her mother said, “You know that old cradle will have to go. Your baby needs a real crib.”
Ruth answered, “His name is Jonah and I want the cradle.”
When Ruth tried to breastfeed and Jonah arched his neck and cried, her mother watched tight-lipped until Ruth burst into tears.
“You should give that baby a bottle,” her mother said. “It’s obvious you don’t have enough milk and he’s hungry.”
Two weeks later her mother left, and Steve returned to his normal work routine, often coming home earlier in the evenings to spend time with Jonah before he went to bed. She felt enlivened by her mother’s departure. There was no more nagging about looking exhausted followed by scolding for not paying enough attention to Jonah. Their daily, Mrs. Hurd, changed her schedule from three to five hours a day, and Ruth was grateful for her nonjudgmental support. She enjoyed Mrs. Hurd’s jolly bustling around the apartment, humming show tunes as she cleaned. Mrs. Hurd took care of Jonah whenever Ruth needed to catch up on sleep after a bad night. Once Jonah had settled into a schedule, Friday became Ruth’s day to do errands and meet Steve for lunch. Mrs. Hurd knew a great deal about raising children, having had five of her own. She was a firm believer in babies getting “plenty of fresh air” and encouraged long outings to the parks in all weather. With Mrs. Hurd’s help Ruth and Steve enjoyed a comfortable and happy routine as parents.
Once Jonah started walking, they brought bread to feed the ducks at the park and tossed stones into the pond. Jonah was also talking more and more, and they marveled at all the new words he absorbed and put to immediate use. To Ruth and Steve’s amusement, he pronounced such words as water, banana, and tomato with a decided English accent, stressing the long vowels and the t in water. Mrs. Hurd looked on and smiled with satisfaction.
Steve asked his parents to send over his old baseball bat, mitt, and ball, and whenever he was free, he took his young son to the nearby playing field. Jonah was always excited to go but often preferred to kick a ball.
“OK, then,” Steve concurred. “Go get your soccer ball.”
“Daddy, it’s not a soccer ball,” Jonah corrected. “Mrs. Hurd says it’s a football.”
In the kitchen Ruth glimpsed Mrs. Hurd’s proud smile.
“You’re turning him into a little Englishman,” Ruth rebuked her, laughing.
“Well, he could do worse,” Mrs. Hurd replied.
By this time Ruth was pregnant again. She and Steve had planned to enroll Jonah in a nearby nursery school program after the summer, but when her pregnancy was confirmed, Ruth decided to postpone sending him. Steve rarely questioned her decisions about Jonah, but this time he had his doubts.
“Don’t you think he’s ready to spend more time with other kids?” he asked. “He’d be a lot more challenged.”
“He’ll do that soon enough,” she answered. “I want to make the most of this little time that’s left when I can still give him my undivided attention.”
In the next months, as her pregnancy progressed, Ruth spent all her time with Jonah. They laughed a lot together and acted silly, pulling faces and talking in funny voices. Sometimes Ruth caught a glimpse of herself and thought how undignified she looked but she didn’t care. She had never been happier. Together they visited the sights of London: the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the V&A, the zoo, and the Tower of London. Around Christmas Steve joined them to see the lights and decorations, hoisting Jonah onto his shoulders so he could ride above the crowds. They also had tickets for a performance of Cinderella, a pantomime on ice. Jonah was enthralled.
Ruth read books to Jonah about babies and new siblings. She got him to help her prepare the new baby’s room and hung up the pictures that Jonah had drawn. After Jonah went to bed, she read books of advice on introducing a new sibling.
Shortly before Jonah’s fourth birthday, she gave birth to a baby girl, Jessica, who was also delivered by caesarean section. She had dreaded the time she would be away from Jonah and persuaded the doctor to let her go home eight days after the birth instead of ten.
“It’s highly irregular,” her doctor complained. “But if you insist…”
Mrs. Hurd stayed in the apartment to take care of Jonah and offered to be there as much as she was needed once Ruth and Jessica came home. Ruth succeeded in persuading her mother to postpone visiting for several months and suggested she come together with Ruth’s father.
On the day of Ruth and Jessica’s homecoming, Steve drove to the hospital with Jonah. A nurse pushed Ruth to the curb in a wheelchair. Ruth handed the swaddled Jessica to Steve and climbed into the backseat of the car next to her son. Steve showed Jonah his sister through the open rear window before strapping her into the baby seat they had used for Jonah.
Ruth had envisioned her reunion with Jonah many times during her pregnancy and during the long days in the hospital since Jessica’s birth. The hospital had strict rules that did not allow children to visit. She held out the teddy bear she had gotten for him and reached to embrace him. He stared at her, ignored the teddy bear, and turned his back to her.
When they reached home, Ruth handed Jessica to Steve so she could walk in with her son. But Jonah paused in the entrance and picked up his baseball bat.
“Daddy,” he said, “can you play with me?”
Steve hesitated. “I need to…” he started to say as Ruth took Jessica from him, nodding to say he should go and play.
But, years later, when she described that moment in the car, she always said, “And he turned away from me for the next thirty years."