The big day had finally arrived. We piled into a borrowed schoolbus/Rainbow Family rig and made the sixty mile trek to the place where the twins were destined to be born. To the casual observer we would have appeared to be a group of hippies on their way to a rock concert or love-in. On board were Mark and Mary Emma, who had finagled the transportation (and lodging, such as it was), my mom and stepdad, Steve "Wildman" Lee (just a friend), Sheri (practicing her Lamaze breathing exercises) and myself. On the way to the hospital, I reviewed the events leading up to this momentous occasion.
Sheri and I had come to Arkansas for a visit, after a year of traveling on a shoestring budget, literally living out of backpacks. We had been from Brownsville, Texas to Spirit Lake, Idaho, up to British Columbia where we spent a summer on a houseboat with my grandparents. From there we hitched a ride back to Eastern Washington state where we picked apples through the season, hitchhiked to Columbus, Ohio to see Sheri's mom and borrowed Sheri's cousin's VW bug to go to Arkansas. Neither of us had ever been to Arkansas before and might never have, either, except that while we were in Washington my sister informed us that my parents had moved there.
That came as a shock, because when we had parted company with my parents the plan was for us (Sheri and I) to hitchhike around the U.S., following our slightest whim, while my parents and siblings went back to Ziracuaretiro, Mexico, where we had all spent the last six months together. Once we arrived at their door in Karen's red beetle, I asked what had happened to their plan to return to Ziracua, and Russ, my stepdad, informed me that the border hassles were just too much. It seems the border officials didn't like their appearance. Unwilling to bribe their way in, they took a U.S. map and spread it on the floor and looked for a small town in the states that was the farthest from anything. "What about this place in Western Arkansas?," my mom asked. She had her finger on Mena, in the Ouachita Mts.
I wasn't at my best in the hospital. When the nurse asked our mailing address I got a "deer in the headlights" look and turned to Sheri, who said, "Just a minute." She was having a contraction. We actually had one by this time, I just went blank. It was hospital policy that husbands weren't allowed in the delivery room so once things got serious I had to stand outside and peek through this little window. I remember at one point shouting, "Breathe, you remember this part!" Lucky I was there. We still didn't know if it was girls, boys or a mixed bag. My mind drifted (it did that a lot) back to the day we found out we were having twins. I had been teasing Sheri saying she would have twins because she was so big. We had to take the bus to Dequeen since the borrowed pickup we used wasn't licensed. So we would drive to town and hide the old pickup at the edge of town, hike to the bus station (a couple of miles), catch a bus to Dequeen and then hike a couple more miles to the hospital. Reverse that for the trip home. I sat in the waiting room in the hospital lobby while Sheri and the doctor did the x-ray thing. This was before ultrasound was available out here. Sheri finally came out and said, "Do you want to go for a walk?" Sure, why not? We hardly ever walk. She seemed, I don't know, edgy. As soon as we were out the door of the hospital she turns to me and gushes, "Do you still want twins?!" Then bursts into tears. I think I said, "Sure, honey," or something equally brilliant. And I held her real tight.
Sheri refused any pain medication lest it hinder the birthing process. I remember one of the nurses saying, "Whoah, we have a brave one on our hands." Before it was over they had a big crowd in the delivery room. Twins were unusual enough in a small town hospital, but twins born natural?
We had discussed names. It is hard enough when you only have to agree on one name. We had a "hunch" that we were having boys so we had decided to name them Jacob and Joshua. Mark and Mary Emma wanted to name them Dark Sky, Night Thunder because it stormed that night. Native American type names, I guess. When the second girl popped out, seven minutes after the first one, Doc Daniels said, "So is this one Jacob or Joshua?" I think we dodged a bullet there because we definitely did not want common names. Little did we know that half the boys born that year were named Jacob and the other half, you guessed it, Joshua.
Doc Daniels was my kind of doctor. We had asked how long Sheri would have to be in the hospital and his reply was, "I'm gonna get you out of this place as quick as I can. You don't want to hang around this place. It's full of sick people!" So bright and early the next morning we all gathered around to see the mom and her new babies. Steve "Wildman" Lee had dropped acid at first light and Sheri made the mistake of telling him she sure did wish she had a phone so she could call her mom. Steve ended up going all over town asking store clerks if he could borrow their phone, this lady had just had twins and needed it to call her mother.
When we were getting ready to go a hospital employee asked us what we wanted for names on the girls birth certificates. We had already decided to wait and get to know these brand new people a little better before we saddled them with names that they would have for the rest of their lives. We told the woman that. No, they had to put something down before we could leave the hospital. "Just put down twin A and twin B," we said in frustration. "Now, really," said the woman with the clipboard. "Do you want that on their birth certificates when they start school?" Probably not. I remembered when we discussed names with my mother she was reading some Asian text that mentioned a Swami Shantiananda. She had told me what the name meant in Hindi and I liked the sound of the words when separated. So I made the call. Firstborn and elder by seven minutes would be Ananda (rhymes with anaconda) meaning joy or bliss. Second born and younger by seven minutes would be Shanti (rhymes with Monty), Hindi for peace. They fit. What a day!