Part 24: Autumn showers
"Do you believe I'm doing this?" says Kathy, surrounded by wrapping paper and ribbons. "I never thought I would do this."
Opening baby gifts, she means.
At a baby shower.
A baby shower for her baby.
She's a long way from the days when it seemed God intended motherhood for every woman but her.
"Oh, Wendy, Wendy!" Kathy cries, ripping open a package to find a bin called a Diaper Genie. "I wanted this!"
Between mid-September and early October, there would be four showers in all - a veritable monsoon season of showers.
The first was thrown by a neighbor for friends and relatives on Joe's side. The second was thrown by Wendy and Louise for their friends and family. Then two more follow, hosted by Kathy's coworkers, including the men, some of whom have never been to a shower before.
"I thought, like, secret things go on," says the boss, Mike Koback, one of the four men standing in the lunchroom of the East Providence office of the state Department of Labor and Training, their arms crossed over their chests.
Kathy, too, senses the oddness of it all, this collision between personal and office life. When someone asks about her nursery and she begins gushing about her Benjamin Bunny decorations, she suddenly stops herself in mid-sentence.
"I can't believe we're talking baby talk over here. It's so cute!"
* * *
None of the showers is a surprise to Kathy; she'd registered for gifts and has a keen sense of when something's up. "When has this family ever had an engagement party?" was her reaction to the ruse her mother used to get her to a VFW hall.
But though the showers are anticipated, that takes nothing away from them. They are suffused in warmth and joy and a feeling of happy excess, as if, like Kathy, no one can believe that the impossible is actually happening.
At all of the showers but the one in East Providence, Wendy is there, calmly making a record of who gave what.
"She is so laid back about the whole thing," notes Louise's cousin Sheryl Pizzi. "(As if to say,) 'Why are they making a big deal of this?' "
"I told her she's gonna go to heaven," says Louise's Aunt Shirley Ruggieri. At one point, Aunt Shirley calls for a round of applause for Wendy, which Wendy acknowledges by shyly tilting an ear to her shoulder.
Kathy, meanwhile, unintentionally keeps the crowd giggling.
"What do you do with these?" she asks, curiously regarding a set of plastic containers.
"Feed the baby]" the audience of experienced mothers replies. "It's called feeding the baby!"
At another point, she holds up a one-piece outfit and announces her big discovery - "Snaps! So you can change the diaper!"
"You won't think it's cute when you're changing it," calls out Joe's cousin Lynn Tellier.
But that's where they're wrong; Kathy can't wait to change diapers, to be up at 3 a.m. for feedings, to pace the floors with an inconsolable child. She's waited 20 years for such perfect agony.
"Oh, guys!" she says, touched by the sight of a diaper bag.
"It's just what I wanted!" is a frequent refrain.
Indeed, Kathy's excitement over all her gifts, large and small, handmade or purchased from the registry, is so contagious that one older woman, a mother of seven, envies her - "I wish I was having a baby."
More than one guest weeps, especially when Louise's cards to her daughters are read aloud.
To Kathy, she writes:
"Our baby is almost here. I've waited a lifetime to hold your child and very soon we will! What a precious gift you will receive in five short weeks. Life will never be the same for you again. I hold the love I have for you and Wendy deep in my heart and I know you have made the perfect choice. I love you, Kathy, and I wait impatiently for the day Wendy hands you your baby and says, 'This is my gift to you,' words she has wanted to say for years. God watch over you and Joe and our baby. Love, Mom. XX"
And to Wendy:
"I am so proud of you. You have gone through these months with love and dignity. Soon this phase will be over and you can go back to your life with Andy and the girls, and Kathy and Joe will have a new life because of your love. I love you, Wendy, Mom. XX"
"If any family would do it, it would be this family," says cousin Lori Della Grotta, whose mother is Louise's aunt, "because that's the way our family was brought up. If there's something we can give, we do it.
"We've lost so many people. We've lost people to cancer very young," says Lori, who underwent a hysterectomy at (have to find her age.) So "this is a blessing. This is a miracle. And to happen in our family - we needed it."
"Lotta lotta love in this family," says cousin Sheryl. "We're not rich in material things, but we got a lotta love. Plenty of it to go around."
Kathy, meanwhile, is still busy opening presents; they seem to come from a magical stack that won't be depleted.
"A stroller! This is beautiful!" she cries. "It's - well, you know what I'm gonna say!"
"Is it what you wanted, Kath?" calls a voice from the crowd.
"It's what I wanted," she says.