One evening, I looked up from clearing the dinner dishes to see a small herd of deer dining on holly bushes near our patio. I yelled for Steve, and we both flew out the door to shoo the uninvited diners away. After checking the yard to see that the interlopers were gone, Steve put on gloves and “yard garb” to begin repairing the fence the deer had broken down. I headed back inside but soon heard Steve shouting for me to come outside.
A doe was lying just outside the fence, directly opposite our back patio and garden. It was hard to see her; she blended in with the surrounding bushes and brush. Lying next to her, and even more difficult to see, was her minutes-old fawn with the afterbirth still clinging to him. We made the huge mistake of approaching; and as we neared, the mother deer bolted leaving the baby who began struggling to his feet. Steve and I both stood horrified, paralyzed as the baby wobbled and staggered through the wire fence. With spindly legs barely able to hold him, the fawn stepped over and between the wires, and headed directly to Steve.
Since mom was gone, a surrogate Steve would do, I guess.
Okay, so what do you do with a newborn, minutes-old baby deer that wants to nurse? We mined our considerable years of combined life experience and decided we would put the baby back into the woods, and mom doe would find him. Steve, who was wearing heavy-duty work gloves, gently picked up this all-legs baby (he said it probably weighed only five pounds) and carried him through the woods, down the hill to the creek at the back of our property. Maybe the fawn’s mom would be hanging around waiting and looking for him. Steve deposited the fawn at the edge of the woods near the creek.
Steve went back to repairing the fence, and I joined him to help as it was dusk now. Not ten minutes passed, and the amazing little creature came wobbling back . . . up the hill, stepping over branches and through brush and right through the fence again . . . and straight back to Steve. The fawn again nuzzled Steve’s leg waiting for “Mom” to get with it.
We were astounded. What do we do? It’s 8:30 in the evening, very little daylight left, oh my gosh. (The option of bottle-feeding, looking after, and nurturing a young deer in our backyard was just . . . well, not an option.)
So once again, Steve picked up the baby and carried him (her?) back through the fence and down a path alongside our lot toward the creek again. He again left him at the edge of the woods near the creek. (The doe had headed in that general direction.). We returned to our back garden to finish repairing the fence (wondering all the while if the fawn would attempt another return.
The newborn fawn did not return. Our best guess—and our best hope—is that Mom was hiding out near there and found her baby.
So, I guess if you happened to see a slightly crazed couple racing into the woods with a little bundle of spindly legs . . . now you know. For me, I will always have the image of this sweet little wobbly Bambi nuzzling Steve . . . a new life that was absolutely soundless, that did not squeak, bleat, squawk . . . was totally silent. It just seemed to want someone—even a six foot-two-inch, two-legged someone.
Talking about this later, we realized that it was very important to us that this tiny creature be re-united with his mother, and that he have a chance. There is just something about a baby anything, a small new life—innocent, unspoiled—wanting to get it all going, struggling to be part of the plan. We hope “Steve’s fawn” had “a chance.”
And yes, we learned later we made a big mistake by moving the fawn. According to those “who know these things,” we should have left him alone and—perhaps—in an hour or two, Mom Doe would have come to shoo him home. Well, we do live and learn.
Published in Raleigh News Observe
We’re three expat Americans on our way from Singapore to Johor Bahru, Malaysia. We plan to visit a community center where they employ disabled folks who make beautiful photo albums and scrapbooks. We’re going to buy a bunch . . .
And we Americans, to our Singapore and Malaysian neighbors, look rich. We aren’t.
We merely have hardworking husbands whose skills happen to be needed in this growing ASEAN region. Roberta’s husband is an architect-engineer who’s helping to build one of Singapore’s multi-story towers. Christie’s husband is an admiral with the US Navy, heading up the US fleet based here. And my husband’s with a California company that makes wire and cable. (Not exciting; but, hey, somebody’s gotta make this stuff.)
I’m the driver today. And I’m driving probably the most expensive car I’ll ever have in my lifetime. The lovely Volvo sedan is a company car. (Not mine, but I do get to drive it once in a while.) Its purchase price is over sixty-thousand US dollars. For the privilege of driving in the island nation of Singapore, the Singapore government demands a tax assessment equivalent to the purchase price of the auto. One new Volvo = $60,000 USD. Tax assessment = $60,000 USD. Total cost paid by my husband’s employer allowing me to drive this very nice car: $120,000 USD. Did I say we look rich?
We head across the causeway connecting Singapore and Johor and stop at the Malaysian checkpoint. We draw up to a booth and hand our passports to the guard. He glances at my companion’s passports, stamps them, and hands them back. My passport he continues to scrutinize.
“Move over to parking and wait,” he says. I pull the snazzy Volvo into a parking space and do as I’m told. The guy in the booth hands my passport to another guy who sprints to a low stucco official-looking building across from the parking area. We sit and wait.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting and wondering if there’s something wrong with my passport, a uniformed guy informs me, “You go to office.”
“Okay,” I say. “is there a problem?” He shrugs his shoulders and escorts me to a cramped dingy room. A haze of smoke envelops me. Five men are crowded into the 1 cramped space, each smoking a strong Malaysian cigarette. One guy is literally sitting on the desk and puffing away.
I’m taken aback—not exactly nervous or worried, but thinking, “what is this?” I’m standing at the desk of a surly looking guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I’m surrounded by a bunch of onlookers. Are they here to “observe and or to intimidate me?”
“I need an explanation for this delay, sir,” I say. I look straight into the eyes of the guy—who for a moment seems intimidated by me.
He recovers and attempts to be official saying, “You have many stamps on your passport. There is no space for us to stamp. You must get this passport fixed with more pages.” I give him my best “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me look.” I point out several spots that appear to have enough space for a stamp. He protests, “This is too close to the edge of the page, that one is too close to another stamp, this one will be over the middle seam of the book . . . ”
I sigh and say, “Well, I guess we’ll have to return to Singapore. One of my passengers is wife of the admiral with the US fleet here. She’ll be very disappointed not to go to Johor today. I wonder what the Admiral will say when he hears . . . ”
With that, there’s shuffling as a couple of the hangers-on shoulder their way out of the room. The guy at the desk grabs the passport from my hand and stamps one of the places I had pointed to. He waves me out of the room.
I head back to Volvo and tell my friends what happened.
“Katherine,” Christie says, “they wanted money. They expected you to hand over at least ten Singapore dollars to each!”
Duh? I never thought of myself as naïve, but I really didn’t recognize this as an extortion attempt. I do like to think that my telling them I was accompanied by the wife of an American Navy Admiral brought a conclusion to their corruption.
More than likely, it was mentioning we’d turn back—not go on to Johor –that made the difference.
No stamp, no bribe. So, just let the rich Americans go to Johor Bahru and spend their money.
Weather. Un-San Francisco-like.
A gray-washed, foggy sky over Baker Street gave way to a hazy sun, a gold-orange disk huge and near. Way too close. The predictable, brisk breeze off the Bay fell stagnant. Too warm, too humid. Like July in Atlanta.
Strange for San Francisco.
Steve was at Candlestick Park for the World Series game. Invited to go with someone from work. Boredom propelled me upstairs. I’d listen to the game while doing some work, straightening, maybe much-delayed ironing.
I slid open a mirrored closet door. 0The closet door began a slow wobble, startling me. Earthquake?
I moved to my right and into the dressing area’s doorway. I grabbed the doorjamb and hung on.
The house moved—sharp thrusts—back and forth, east to west. Shower doors rattled; cups and dishes danced. As suddenly as the movement began, the house stopped, shuddered, and turned—groaning—to the right. The house groaned again and moved back to the left—as if it were sighing, relaxing.
(Oh right, I hear you thinking . . . you felt the house turn and groan?)
Read on, dear reader.
Once more—utter silence. Strange, strange stillness.
Whoa, I thought . . . somewhere, someplace, somebody got a good shake. I hope it’s not bad. I think we’re okay, though.
Little did I know the Marina district sat on fill dirt. The quake whipped it into jelly. Houses, unlike ours, did not make that turn to the right. Footers snapped; walls collapsed. Soft buildings, a term I learned later, were first to go. When there’s a large open area such as a garage on the lowest level, there’s nothing to withstand the jolts. Our house—just four blocks from the Marina and technically a “soft building”—sits on granite, not jelly. Lucky.
At that moment, I didn’t know people were caught in their kitchens, under crumpled walls. I didn’t know, on Beach Street, people were trapped under walls and debris, firemen working hours to free them, talking to them, reassuring them.
I didn’t know how lucky I was.
But a San Franciscan (with a house built in 1910 and still standing) knows what to do. I headed downstairs to the workman’s entrance—a narrow corridor alongside the garage leading to the back garden.
Shut off the gas. First thing to do. Dark—electricity out. I ran upstairs for a flashlight. Down again. Find the wrench taped to the gas meter. Cannot turn the darn thing. Maybe I can find a neighbor with a stronger arm. I opened the door to the street.
Slightly past five o’clock. Eerie shreds of gray daylight. My next-door neighbor drove up and opened the car door. “The Bay Bridge is down,” she said, with no emotion or surprise.
It took a moment to process. If the Bay Bridge is down, what’s with Candlestick Park? Steve’s there—at the World Series opening game. What about Stanford University in Palo Alto where Lyn is? I don’t know why the words “unreinforced masonry” sped through my mind. Have I lost two most important people? The house is standing, but where am I on the luck-o-meter today?
I returned to the gas meter but gave up trying to shut off the gas.
Back inside—no lights, no phone. Crazy house. Pictures askew, pillows rearranged. Statue of St. Anthony on the floor. He took a dive off a shelf.
I walked through the kitchen and opened the door to the deck. Silence replaced by screeching sirens and car alarms complaining. Heavy air smelling of gas and fire. Feathers of thick black smoke plume to the leaden sky. Cinders, like burnt offerings, float into my postage-stamp garden. What do I do now?
Where is Kitten? I looked everywhere, walked through every room. No gray and white feline. I walked through our bedroom one more time. A large lump in the bed. Kitten—under covers, curled up, safe.
Three hours later, Steve pounded on the door. Home safe. Circuitous route via Hunters Point. Freeway closed, no traffic lights. Slow going.
The phone rang. One of only two phone calls that came through for weeks: Lyn, safe at Stanford. Her residence badly damaged, bunking in another dorm with a friend. The second call was from Cindy, Steve’s admin assistant. Please call Antonia Kristen at Northwestern University we asked. Tell her we’re okay.
In the days that followed, I noted my statute of St. Anthony, still intact in spite of the nosedive, had a broken toe. I like to think he “took the hit” for us—that day of the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco—that day, October 17, 1989, at 5:04 pm in the evening.
Grateful, grateful. We scored perfect on the luck-o-meter.