Joseph Stone 15/09/1980

Joseph was born sometime in the early hours of the morning, September 15th 1980. It was one-thirty in the morning. Or at least I think it was. I have a clear visual recollection of the clock on the delivery room wall - one of those standard, circular hospital clocks with clean black figures and hands - and it reads just after one-thirty. I can even see the slim, red second-hand ticking round. It's just that I can't be sure whether it's a real clock or not. I may have made it up.

That's the trouble with memories. You never really know where they're coming from.

I have other memories too. I can see the flushed effort on his mother's face as she forces down and down to the cheer-leader chants of the nursing staff. "That's it dear: push, push." I remember thinking that it looked like mighty hard work, that's why they call it labour. And one funny incident. One of the nurses handed me a glass of water. "Thanks," I said, taking a sip and setting it down on the side. The nurse gave me a curt, disbelieving look. It was only later that I realised that the water was meant for the woman on the bed, not for me.

Later I remember the surrealistic image of his head pooping out from between her legs, poised in a moment of Monty Python silliness, before the rest of his body slithered out like a blood-flecked snake from its red lair. And I remember the look on his face too, like one of those Buddhist demons, all crimson fury, as if he was fuming with indignation that we had dared exorcise him to this place, when he was perfectly happy where he was.

Mostly I remember the moment when he was laid upon his mother's breast, and how she glanced from him to me. There was something indescribable in her eyes, like some glint from another star; something warm but wise, elemental but kind, strange but friendly. All-embracing. Call it love. There is no other word.

There were only three people in the world in that moment. No one else mattered.

Scunthorpe

And then, when it was all over, and his mum was taking a well-earned rest, I was cast into the neon emptiness of a Scunthorpe night, and I felt strangely bereft, strangely choked. Why Scunthorpe of all places? Because that's where we lived at the time. Or rather, we lived in Barton-on-Humber, about 15 miles away in what was then South Humberside. So Joe has "Scunthorpe" as his place of birth, both on his birth certificate and on his passport. Poor Joe. Of all the legacies of an itinerant life, this one must be the most peculiar for him, the most difficult to comprehend. Because that's all it is to him, a mystical place-name on his birth-certificate. He's only ever been there once.

I rang up my parents from a telephone box and told them the news. They congratulated me. It didn't help. I felt very alone. Later I slept on a wooden bench in Scunthorpe bus station, and awoke in the grey dawn to the sight of oil-stained concrete and scattered crisp-packets.

Well I may have got the details wrong here. I may be romanticising. But one thing I am sure of. One thing I know for certain. I know how it felt for me. It was as if, in being born, Joseph had changed the world forever. I remember thinking exactly that: that this one, small, bright new life had breathed new light into the world; a new perception, a new thought. It was a spiritual thing. He was like Jesus to me. I was absolutely certain about this, that the whole world had changed because of the birth of this one child.

Which it had, of course. But only for me and his mum.

After that they came home, and there were several weeks - months maybe - in which I had a pang in my chest like a hot dagger. It was difficult to know what this meant. It was a very corporeal kind of a feeling. Not mystical or emotional. Of the body. Maybe the body is the soul in another form. Maybe what hurts is what is real. But a baby is a very demanding creature. All tongue and arse and lungs. An innocent dictator, he stands over everything, a little Hitler making raucous, unintelligible speeches about the Motherland. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer. Gimme, gimme, gimme. I want, I want, I want. Sometimes it became very hard to bear. Sometimes, I'm afraid, I even resented him.

WOULDN'T YOU AGREE, BABY YOU AND ME,

WE'VE GOT A GROOVY KIND OF LOVE?"

— Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders

Groovy Kind of Love

But there were compensations too. There were the Arabesque swirls of a black, wrought-iron candle-stick holder hanging on a hook on the back of the bedroom door, and Joe's reaction: how he would look at it and point and laugh, as if this was the best joke in the world, as if this mundane object held some immense secret and he was trying to impart it to us. And the song I used to sing, rawly and croakingly, into his ear, as he lay with his head on my shoulder, as I danced about trying to get him to sleep:

"When I'm feeling blue, all I have to do
Is take a look at you, then I'm not so blue
When you're close to me, I can feel your heart beat
I can hear you breathing near my ear
Wouldn't you agree, baby you and me got a groovy kind of love."

It was a song I'd loved as a child.

We moved around a lot in Joe's early years. From Barton-on-Humber to Bristol. From there to Whitstable in Kent. From estuary to estuary, for some reason. It's because I'm a Brummie. Brummies always have a fascination for the sea.

And, despite the moves, life developed a routine. It was one of those things. Always, "who's going to look after Joe today? It's your turn to get him up." "No, it's your turn." And in the following years his mum and I drifted apart. We no longer knew whether we were together because of each other, or only because of him. I became sullen and depressed. She was much younger than me. She'd had Joe at a very early age. Maybe she longed to have her own young life back. Eventually we split up.

This is a very ordinary kind of a story, of course, and I'm sorry if you've heard it before. It is the story of the late-twentieth century. Where it is maybe a little different in our case is in the situation we found ourselves in when we split. We were living in a commune. I'd had enough residual hippiedom in me to have been able to engineer this situation. So, while his mum continued her college course in London, Joe stayed with me. And - being sullen hippies, all of us - child rearing was a shared occupation. Later, again, I moved out of the commune, but the shared child-care continued. So that was how Joe was brought up, shuffling between a shared house in one part of Whitstable, my council-owned maisonette in another, and his mum's flat in London.

It's a surprise he isn't completely mad. He told me he's been counting the times he's moved. Thirteen times, he reckons, in only a few more years.

Where we can thank that commune is that Joe never felt the split like a schism in himself. He never felt like he was forced to choose between the two adults. Because there were many more adults in his life. I was only one of them. His mum was only another. So: no problem really. He could navigate his way between the emotional reefs with a certain grace. He had other people to refer to.

Which kind of brings us up to date. Joe is 18 years old now, and he lives with me. We share a rented house in Whitstable. He's just passed his driving test, and is currently doing his A-levels. The other people in the commune have moved away, though he keeps in contact with them. His mum still lives in London, where she pursues a successful photography career. She's married, to another photographer. We all seem to get along.

And Joe is a typical young man. Smart-casual, with a citrus-gel quiff, and a habit of wearing aftershave though he hardly needs to shave. He drives his car - a Citroen AX - with a kind of controlled insouciance, changing up the gears and accelerating at an alarming rate. He's not at all like me. He's not at all like his mum. He's not at all like the other people in the commune, though he's learnt a lot from all of us. In my case, what I've had to teach him has been mainly negative. How not to live your life. How not to mess up your relationships. He's learnt his lessons well, being self-possessed and extraordinarily loyal. It's like he has learned the courage to be ordinary.

A credit to his Old Man.

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Comments 23 comments

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi CJ

Joe sounds like a great kid, and proof that love is everything in bringing up a child. Any child that knows he's loved can weather a good amount of life's turbulence.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks Amanda. Yes Joe's great, and seems to have survived fairly well all the trials I've put him through. As you say, love is everything.


pgrundy 7 years ago

Wow, you are SUCH a wonderful writer.

You water glass story reminded me of something that happened when my second daughter was born. Her father was seated just behind me on a tall stool and the nurses were all doing that "push, push" cheer and one of them said, "The baby's coming--Quick! Stand up and look!" And I wailed back in frustration, "I CAN'T!"

She was talking to him of course.

I think sometimes kids turn out the way they do in spite of us not because of us. If it's all about nurture and not nature, my kids should all be serial killers, but they're not. They're all lovely.

Thank you for sharing this. It is beautifully written as usual.


NYLady profile image

NYLady 7 years ago from White Plains, NY

Hey CJ: A wonderful story. Just love all the details and how self-deprecating you seem in the piece. Made me laugh and broke my heart a little, too. As a Yank, I was enthralled by Scunthorpe, and the bus station, and your son. And crisp packets! Well done.


Em Writes profile image

Em Writes 7 years ago from Upstate NY

This is a piece of beautiful writing, CJ! I laughed at this: "An innocent dictator, he stands over everything, a little Hitler making raucous, unintelligible speeches about the Motherland." Absolute genius!

Joe sounds like he's grown into a wonderful man.


Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

What an interesting and lovely written testimony of love for your son. :) I enjoyed the journey and thank you for sharing. I've always been fascinated by communes and how that really worked out for people. :) It would be great to read a hub with more details about that way of life.


Catherina Severin profile image

Catherina Severin 7 years ago from Arizona, U.S.A.

Lucky Joe... To give and discover love is really the purpose of life, isn't it?


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

that was unutterably wonderful.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Thanks everyone for your lovely comments. Glad you all like this. HubPages have peralised me for it as it also appears on my website. Oh well.


Melissa G profile image

Melissa G 7 years ago from Tempe, AZ

Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story, CJ! As others have pointed out, you're a wonderful writer and this was a very enjoyable read.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Nice story, CJ. Took me back to when my two girls were born in Greenwich (Connecticut.)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

A wonderful bit of writing as usual, but I must say you didn't do a bad job "writing" Joe either. It's a myth that children *have* to be raised by both parents (together), and that moving a lot will turn them into fearful little mice.  Quite the contrary. Children are adaptable creatures. They can adjust to changes much better than adults, and - surprise - develop poise in the process.  Congratulations on your part in raising what sounds like a delightful, responsible young man! (The baby picture is adorable, btw.)


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 7 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Great story, CJ, and Joe Joe sounds like an interesting dude with a genuinely interesting upbringing.

And I just learned a new word: "Insouciance."


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

What a beautifully told story, CJ. It has something for everybody - wonder, beauty, love, sadness....

This is a great tribute to your son, and judging from what you've told us, you have every reason to be proud.

You are a wonderful writer!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

Great read CJ, Real humanity may not be perfect, but it is real, just like a fathers love.


Cailin Gallagher profile image

Cailin Gallagher 7 years ago from New England

Wonderful writing CJ. Your son can look back on this piece as the lovely story of his birth. Just a note...his mother probably "popped" him out--not "pooped" him out. Just a typo you may want to fix if it was an error. If not, then it actually does feel more like pooping than popping anyway. But, the babies aren't poop. Okay...this is going nowhere. A lovely piece of writing.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

No Cailin, I meant "pooping". It goes along with the phrase about him being poised in a moment of Monty Python silliness, plus I've heard women say it feels more like pooping than popping. Glad you liked it though.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

love it!


RooBee profile image

RooBee 7 years ago from Here

I am so glad to have found you and your hubs! I really enjoyed reading this, as it stirred great emotion in me - to my surprise. :O

Maybe its because I was born in 1980 (to hippies, no less!!) or because I am the parent of a beautiful boy myself (mine's one yr) or perhaps because yours is some of the lovliest writing I've had the pleasure of reading.

Seriously.

Off to devour some more!!!!! :)


d.c.gallin 5 years ago

What a great piece of writing! Love the description of the birth and how you felt bereft afterwards. You should have slipped into bed with them...but it needs to be a home birth for that shared feeling!Would love to read a book about relationships written by C.J.Stone:)


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

It would be a very short book Denise. And yes, I wish I could have slipped into bed with them. In later years I used to dream about that. But it was a hospital, and the Midwives are the not-so benevolent dictators of their own realm, and they made it clear I wasn't welcome.


John Adams 5 years ago

Ah Chris, Barton on Humber wasn't so bad. Scunthorpe though! Good to read your musings.

Jenny and I split 20 years ago after three kids: Jessie, Douglas and Danny, sculptress, musician and photographer. Now happily re-married to Debbie and living in the Scottish Borders. Take care.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

John, nice to hear from you. You can contact me via hubpages if you want. It's up on the right hand side near the top.

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