PHARR – How long the neighbor was knocking Mary doesn't remember. She just remembers their neighbor's frantic plea.
"My wife's having a baby and I can't get her in the car! Can you help?"
"My husband had been a medic in the service," Mary said. "‘Honey, you go over there,' I said."
"No, no," he said desperately. "I only drove the ambulance."
"I'd had two children by then so I knew what happened at the other end but I didn't know about delivering. I went over there thinking of these terrible stories I'd heard," said Mary. "I saw the cord around his head and thought, ‘Oh, my God, it's going to die!' But the baby turned over and off it falls. Then I see the baby is blue. I thought the worst not realizing when it finally screamed the oxygen brought the color.
By this time the baby was halfway out.
"I said, with a mouth like that, it's got to be a girl. Sure enough, a beautiful blonde haired little girl. The daddy was absolutely useless - didn't know what to do. When I asked for the string, it was the wife laying there in labor who said, ‘Strings in that drawer,' pointing for me.
"There was no time for boiling water. The baby was already crowning. I washed some scissors under hot water. My father in law, who had delivered two babies in my husband's family, had said, ‘Whatever you do be sure you cut the cord long enough so the baby doesn't bleed to death.' When I was done, the baby was about a foot and a half long and the cord was three feet long! They laughed when they got to the hospital but the baby didn't die. It couldn't have been too bad because she had three more kids after that. Holding that baby was the most beautiful thing in the world!"
Mary Kitkowski was 24 when she delivered that baby. When she was 10 she almost saw the opposite of birth.
"Don't go too deep," her parents warned her.
"My brother threw the ball and I went for it in the deep water. I was playing and forgot about what they said. I don't swim and down I went," Mary said. "My father pulled me up by my hair and took me over his knee and spanked me, which I deserved because I was misbehaving."
Driving through a yellow light, the driver of an empty semi couldn't stop fast enough to miss the young 16-year-old woman crossing the street.
"The semi hit me, but luckily it was an empty load, so he threw me across the road. When I woke up I saw the poor guy sitting on the curb with his hands holding his head.
"I'll never drive again!" he said, miserably, thinking his job was over on his very first day.
"‘No! It's my fault. I ran against the light to catch the other bus. Don't you even worry about it.' I stood up and climbed into the ambulance. All I ended up getting was a bruised ligament for about a month. That was all," she said, calmly.
Swimming up to the pier in Lake Michigan about 20 feet from shore, Mary started climbing up the ladder.
"A teenage guy, who thought he was cute, pushed me down and sat on my shoulders, holding me down just long enough to make me wish I was dead already. I could see the lifeboat going around and I'm down under the water. Luckily he let me out by the time my lungs were ready to burst, but I did have a real fear of water after that," Mary said.
"I'm a cat," she said, laughing merrily. "The Lord didn't want me to go then. Driving in the snow I've been in the ditch several times. The Lord didn't want me then either. He probably likes it quiet up there."
Nicknamed Motor Mouth or Jaws because she loves to talk, Mary was born that way.
"My mother told me when she was staying in the hospital after I was born she was folding diapers and there was a baby screaming among the newborns. My mother told the nurses, ‘I wish that gal would go home with that kid!" Mary said, relating her mother's story.
"It's yours," they told her mother, probably with secret grins.
Attending an all-girl Catholic school, Mary's sense of humor showed through. Sitting in a sex education class presented by a nun, Mary questioned the nun's ability to lead the class - at least in Mary's own mind. Talking through the class instead of listening made the nun offer her the dunce chair at the front of the class.
Then there was the time in science when everyone was supposed to be dissecting their frogs.
"I was bored in class, I had some Kleenex, so I diapered the frog," said Mary, still amused at her antics. "That didn't go over so good."
One thing she never joked about was family, commitment, love. Going out on a blind date after she had graduated and entered the working world as a secretary, Mary wondered why this cute guy standing at her doorstep needed help in getting a date. It seems he was in the Air Force and had been in Japan for a time, losing touch with friends and the rest were married.
Thinking it would be a one time only date, Mary had prepared for it.
"I got all dolled up with high heels and everything!"
A tear jerker of a movie was the first course. Second course was a hamburger and a night of talking, talking, talking with Matt.
"We never went with anybody else after that," she said. "We fell in love that same night - February 13. He was a good kisser - still is! When he came home on his next leave in June we got engaged. His next leave was in October and we got married. That was 57 years ago."
The years saw Mary having five kids, own a few restaurants - one being Kit's Kozy Korner, become a caterer and go back to school for an associates degree at 40 to learn how to better take care of the food, own a campground and finally, become a nurse's aide, now known as a Certified Nurse Assistant.
Moving out of Milwaukee where she was born and raised, Matt and Mary moved the family north where the trees were big, the small towns they lived in were full of people who stuck together and did everything together - funerals, weddings, pot-lucks. It was a great place to raise their five kids, one foster child and a mother-in-law.
It was as a nurse's aide that Mary found her second favorite job, for she did, and still does love to cook.
"I'll cook for 100 for New Year's, but after cooking for 400-700, 100 is nothing," she said.
"As a nurse's aide, I had the privilege of taking care of them and holding their hand when they died in a nursing home and getting them ready for the mortician. I've seen the babies being born, the people going out the door - it's what you do in the middle that counts, isn't it?" she said, thoughtfully.
Finding the Valley by accident - a white-haired fellow was cutting their children's lawn as Matt and Mary were babysitting their grandchildren - and they happened to ask where he went.
"To the most wonderful place in the world, Tropic Star in the Rio Grande Valley," he told them.
They had tried Florida and were too busy there. So they tried Texas and wound up at Tip O'Texas, a full two years before they ever got a chance to explore Tropic Star. By that time it was too late. The people and activities of Tip O'Texas had ensnared them and they settled in for the long run.
Now, 15 years later, Mary still cooks - sometimes - for the park. Monday mornings will find her collecting goods and food for the Matamoros Children's Home with. Three times a week she teaches Senior Weight Lifting and Stretchersize and she teaches the lap robe program where they make crib-size lap robes for Su Casa de Esperanza.
"We absolutely love it here and the people are so dear!" she said. "I sometimes wonder how much better can it get. But it does. It just keeps getting better and better. I've got a wonderful husband the Lord gave me, wonderful children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. And top it all off - Tip O' Texas."
Summing it all up Mary states emphatically,
"It's been one hell of a ride!"
If you have a story idea, please email Roda Grubb at firstname.lastname@example.org.