Today is my birthday, July 1, same day as the births of Princess Diana, Olivia DeHavilland, Tommy Dorsey and Esteé Lauder. This day also marks the invention of sunglasses in China, in the year 1200, and the start of the bloody Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. In 1898, the Rough Riders stormed San Juan Hill, and in 1916, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower said “I do” in Denver, Colorado.
On the day I was born, Albert Einstein graced the cover of TIME magazine. A portrait of the bushy-haired genius is in the left foreground, and the formula E = mc2 is etched in the mushroom-shaped cloud in the background. The cover story was about the testing of the world’s fourth atomic bomb in the South Pacific. It was July 1, 1946.
The Washington Post described the flash as a “fearsome blaze of light” followed by a “giant rumble” which reached the command ship 18 miles away from the target area. “A creamy canopy of cloud, tinged with pink writhed and twisted 5 miles high,” reporter Gerald G. Gross wrote, “temporarily blotting out the result of history’s greatest experiment.”
While the radioactive cloud was dissipating in the Bikini Atoll, in central New Jersey my mother was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. When my father got word, he left his office and hurried to her side at Rahway Hospital. Because of my mother’s age and life-threatening complications, my father was asked who to save first – mother or child. He opted for my mother and probably spent the rest of the prolonged delivery time pacing in the waiting room, smoking cigarette after cigarette, just like they do in all those old movies.
With three girls and only one son in the family so far, hopes were high for another boy. He would be called Daniel, the name my father had been given at birth. In the Bible, Daniel was the prophet who rose to prominence by interpreting the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar during the Babylonian Captivity. Daniel’s vision included the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – pestilence, war, famine and death – pretty heavy portents for a newborn babe, so perhaps it was good fortune that the Alexander issue ended with a girl.
Why “Constance” was chosen is something of a mystery. My mother said she liked the old-fashioned sound of the name, but there were no relatives who were so christened. As far as origins, there was a daughter of William the Conqueror named Constance, and the name itself stands for steadfastness and constancy. Actress Constance Bennett was popular at the time, and she had just been in the headlines the month before my birth because she divorced her fourth husband. In July, she turned around and wed for the fifth and final time, to Air Force Col. John Theron Coulter.
The story goes that when I was brought home from the hospital, the older children lined up to inspect me. They were not impressed, and my sister closest in age, Jeanne, took one peek at my wrinkled red face and scrawny, flailing arms and ran out of the room, weeping inconsolably.
For as long as I can remember, my brother told me I was adopted. He swore that they found me in a garbage can and though Mother wouldn’t let them have a dog, she reluctantly agreed to let me stay as long as everyone took turns taking care of me. One of my sisters added to the tale by saying I’d been abandoned by gypsies. Some day, they would skulk back to our house and snatch me up, she said, so I’d spend the rest of my life in the circus, telling fortunes.
My good fortune is that my brother and sister were both wrong.
This year, I’m celebrating another birthday, and it’s all a miracle to me. Being happy, in good health, and with the blessing of a loving family, who could complain? No matter what else did happen on this day in history, July 1, 2019, suits me just fine.