Saturday, March 14, 2009

Birth Day: When...but Where?

Hi Friends,

I recently needed to obtain an "official" copy of my birth certificate. I called each of my parents, neither of whom possesses one of these useful documents anymore, so I resorted to contacting the Vital Stats Bureau...but where?

I asked my 81-year-old Mom, down in Florida, and my eighty-five year-old Dad, down in South Carolina's Uplands.

"New Rochelle," my Mom stated unequivocally.

"New York," my Dad declared, definitively. "Mount Sinai Hospital."

Well, I figured Mom must be right, right? After all, she was the one who carried me above her heart for nine months and went through labor and delivery. So New Rochelle it was.

The website was not helpful, so I placed a call. I needed to send in a written request by post with my name, birth-date, have it notarized, to ensure I was me, and mail it along with a self-addressed-stamped envelope, oh, and the fee for each official copy to a specific address. Done. A tad expensive, what with the notary's fee and the fee for the document, but well worth the price.

A week or two later, I recognized my own stamped, self-addressed envelope. My birth could not be New Rochelle. Perhaps I had the wrong name! Or the incorrect date.

I called Mom back, peeved. She was fretful.

Very late that night, she phoned me.

"Ami! You were born in New York City at Mount Sinai Hospital. I remember the evening better than some things which happened to me yesterday. I left your Dad and Andy who was just 18 months old home in Larchmont and visited my doctor in New York City. Later that evening, I attended a performance of the opera Othello with my parents at the Met. You were sitting on my sciatic nerve, I was in agony. Then I went into labor.

"At four a.m., my parents took me to Mount Sinai Hospital. You were born at 8 a.m. the next morning!"

So, I have now made my request for my birth certificate for Amy Susan Brodoff (my real name, as opposed to my pen name) on March 18th to New York City's well-organized Bureau of Vital Statistics.

I am waiting. (Hmmm, maybe this is why Othello is one of my favorite plays and the Met one of my special places.)

This little splice-of-life burrowed into my mind. Why? I am fasccinated with the theme of identity. All of my stories and novels wrestle with this timeless journey. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Many of my characters don't have clear answers to these basic questions. Funny how I don't either. Despite the fact that I have living birth parents.

Hopefully, I can report back that I not only know who I am and when I was born, but where as well. (Because if it 'aint New York, there is no there, there.)

A New York City babe. I like that!


Leo said...

What a cool story. I wish I had something similar to tell, but I don't.

I had a plain, ordinary birth in a plain, ordinary country hospital in Interior BC in the early sixties. All duly noted and documented.

When I met my spouse, however, I learned that she had a different experience. She was born around the same time but in Quebec, where the Catholic Church was in charge of the all the record-keeping related to births and deaths. All she had was an official-looking Church document which indicated when and where she was born. But it wasn't an official birth certificate.

About ten years ago, the Province of Quebec took matters into their own hands and sent letters to everyone who was registered this way and forced a change to official birth certificates. What triggered it for us was getting a passport. You need a birth certificate to get one and if you don't have one, well, you just need to get one.

I like your story, though. To discover that you're actually a native New Yorker is a special thing, given the status of that city in the hearts and minds of all. Maybe you should apply for citizenship, New York citizenship that is. And then get front row seats at the Opera.

Leo said...

Origins - Updated.

It seems I missed an opportunity here. I do have an origins story that is intriguing but I am not sure what to do about it, or whether anything can be done about it.

I know my father and mother were born in Germany and emigrated to Canada in the early fifties. I know they had parents - my mother's emigrated to the United States and my Grandmother is still alive living in Florida. My father's remained in Germany and died but when I was a young un.

There was mention of their Grandparents, but that is where the story begins to get really hazy. Not much is known about them, except what my father remembers (my mother has since passed away). And before that, the geneological tree taps out. A big blank.

I have asked my father about this and his standard explanation is that, during the war, many records were completely destroyed, either through bombing or the subsequent fires that leveled many of Germany's cities. That is certainly true, but as life continues to show, strange things can happen and there is part of my mind that wants to know how far the roots extend back, and to what type of family situation.

Speaking German would help but, alas, my parents decided upon arrival in Canada, full as it still was of hatred towards the Germans fueled by the primitive propaganda of the day, that English was the language of choice and, sadly, none of their three children knows the language of their ancestors.

As a result, I may never know from whence I came. Or maybe I just need to knuckly down and learn enough to ask some questions. Perhaps that is a project for a future time.