Field of Poppies

Nov 2, 2014

Trav_Disney1I am the light that lives in me. The only voice I need tonight is here inside.
Travis Dow, The Light That Lives


“Let’s go for a ride and show your mom the desert. April is the best time to see the poppies.” My husband Ralph was excited.

I was tired. My head ached. But when would I have another chance like this?

In six days we would move to Massachusetts. When would I see poppies in the desert again with my mom, my newborn son and my husband? Many decades later I would make the connection that my son Christopher’s first trip to nature would be his lasting love. He became a science teacher.

In the garden of my mind I see the burnt orange poppies in the Mohave Desert. Christopher is four days old. I’m so sore I am barely able to sit down. My mom has traveled from New York to help me through these first few days.

I reluctantly agree to the poppies excursion. Ralph packs us into the old white panel truck: my mother, my newborn, my pillow and me. Bright poppies bob in the light wind. Sweetly scented wildflowers dot the bone dry brown hills. Even the desert knows it’s spring. My mother kneels in the orange field of poppies as she poses for a photo, my young son in her strong arms.




It was a good time, filled with so much hope-dreams of a future with my new family in a rambling old house with a big front porch in a small town near Boston.

Two and a half years later, I am a continent away in a wet blustery New England fall in that small town outside of Boston. Natick, Massachusetts is situated on the shores of picturesque Lake Cochituate. I stare out the living room window of our tiny cottage as I watch rain soaked leaves drop by the barrel from ancient oak trees.

I am nearly ten months pregnant. Christopher is a terrible two. My long haired black Labrador retriever is in heat. She’s supposed to be only six months old. How can she be in heat? The rubber band of a migraine headache stretches tightly across my temples.

My geologist husband is away on business. The drenched leaves cover the yard. I reach over my swollen belly and thick ankles as I stretch to lift handfuls of the heavy leaves into black plastic bags. There are so many leaves I can stand in place as I lift. I hardly need the rake. Chris rolls in the leaves and chases the dog.

In the mist of a gray morning the scent of fresh pine and a wood fire reminds me of a recent camping trip to the Berkshire Mountains. Suddenly I am shaken out of my reverie by barking dogs as they race into the unfenced yard. Big and small, black, brown, white, short hair and long. Every male dog in the neighborhood. They sniff around me. They rush for Bussy, my black Lab. Chris starts to cry as they knock him over. I grab the toddler and the stunned Lab and drag them both into the house as I fend off dogs with my kitchen broom. I feel defeated and exhausted. I throw the dog a bone and give Chris a box of animal crackers.

I have heartburn, I vomit. My body doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore. I want my body back.

“How can the baby be healthy if I’m this sick? I’m overdue. Can’t we induce labor?” I beg my doctor.

“It’s too soon. You know this isn’t an exact science. Let’s wait another week or so. The baby will come when it’s ready. Could be tomorrow.”

I had begged my husband Ralph not to leave this time.

“I have to go. It’s my job.” His jaw set tight.

“You could explain to them. Surely they would understand? “

But off he went, leaving me with a crumpled sheet of paper: a phone number for his hotel somewhere deep in the Vermont woods where he would stomp around and give advice on how to build hydro- electric power plants.

I was furious. But I knew it wouldn’t do any good to argue when Ralph dug his heels in. He was a responsible man but one who wouldn’t talk about much, especially when it involved changing his mind. Although I had spent most of this pregnancy alone with my infant son and working the evening shift as a nurse, I was more vulnerable now with the baby due any minute. I felt abandoned.

I wondered what I would do when I went into labor. I had no idea when the baby would come. I plowed through my chores and planned things to do with friends. On that day, Wednesday, November 3, 1971, I mopped the kitchen floor and picked up some groceries. Then I drove to my friend Lynne’s home in rural Sherwood.

My friends wanted me to teach them how to bake apple pies. My wonderful mother in law, Gramma Dow had taught me the art of baking pies. My girlfriends and I chatted and drank steaming mugs of instant coffee. Lynne’s kitchen smelled of apples and cinnamon. Four pies filled the big electric oven.




Our two year olds wore each other out as they ripped through the house. Lynne and Linas worried about me but I forged ahead, rolling dough and shoving pies in the oven. And I ate. I was hungry all the time.

“Are you sure you should eat that? What about the heartburn?” Lynne said as I wolfed down half of a bologna sandwich with lots of mayo.

The next thing I knew my water broke and the long awaited blessed pains of labor began. First the familiar low back ache, then cramps in my abdomen turned to sharp spasms, closer together. I was ecstatic. Maybe it was the mayo. I downed another half sandwich and washed it down with a fresh cup of freeze dried coffee and milk. Life was good.

My friend, Linas, wrinkled her Spanish brow,

“You should get to the hospital. Second babies come faster.”

“No chance of that. My first labor was thirty six hours. I’m not hanging out in the hospital all that time. Besides, I have to wait for the pies. You guys don’t know when to take them out. This is a fine art.”

Linas frowned and fretted, Lynne clicked her tongue and boiled more water for coffee. They humored me despite their concern. We timed contractions and waited for the pies. The little boys ran around the house like hellions.

“Good, “I thought. “Maybe Chris will sleep through my labor. His dad will come back and have to deal with a rambunctious two year old. Justice would be served.”

The labor pains got closer. I phoned my doctor’s office.

“Dr. Kinder is on vacation. We’ll send the partner.”


I was half in love with my OB- GYN and his wavy ebony hair. Even his dandruff didn’t turn me on. I didn’t like the partner, Dr. Feldman, who had the bedside manner of Attila the Hun. How could I have my baby without Dr. Kinder? My stomach churned more acid. My face felt flushed.

“Calm down,” I told myself. “You can handle this.”

Lynne stirred powdered creamer and saccharin in her coffee. “It’s raining. We’ll hit traffic. You know, I’m not good with a stick shift. Linas can watch the pies. Let’s go.”

The sky darkened as sheets of icy rain pelted the gravel driveway.

I trotted around the kitchen. I was invincible.

“Not yet. The pies have to be cooled in a certain way on racks. I need to show you the full cycle.” After all, I was the coach here.

As familiar pains got closer, I agreed to head for the Framingham Union Hospital. With rain and traffic, about twenty five minutes away. My baby was coming! The plan was to take my car. Lynne would leave me at the hospital and meet Ralph later at my place. We couldn’t leave Linas alone with three toddlers and the pies. We’d bring Chris with us. He’d drop off to sleep in the back seat. A perfect plan.

The floor in the back seat of my 1965 stick shift Dodge Dart was rusted out. Ralph had covered it with a piece of plywood. Christopher wasn’t allowed to stand on it. He had a car seat but it wasn’t child proof and he had figured out how to break free. He liked the way the floor bounced like a trampoline when he jumped up and down. But he was asleep now.

Lynne inched the Dodge along in heavy traffic. The gears creaked.

“I can’t get it into second,” cried Lynne.

My labor pains grew intense and closer.

“I’ve got it.” I leaned my bulk over and jerked the shift into place while Lynne drew the clutch out. The gears ground. Chris stirred in the back seat.

I was distracted by the pains and we made a wrong turn. The only way out of the crowded dead end street was to put the car in reverse and back up.

“I can’t get it into reverse, Mad.”

I envisioned the possibility of Lynne delivering my baby in the front seat while Chris did jumping jacks on the rusted floor. I took a few deep breaths and heaved my swollen body out of the passenger seat, lumbering through the downpour. I squeezed into the driver seat as Lynne slide over. Chris was fully awake now in the back seat. He rubbed his eyes and wailed.

I bit my lower lip to keep from screaming out in pain. The manual shift had a will of its own. I used all of my strength and finally yanked it into reverse.

“I’ll just keep driving. We’re almost there,” I assured Lynne.

We skidded into the ER parking lot a few minutes later. I positioned the car so Lynne could drive it straight out. On my way out the door, I glanced at the back seat. Chris was busy working the clasp free on his seat belt.

“You’ll be fine, Lynne. Just drive in first gear all the way to Natick if you have to.”

I pictured Chris hitting the rusted floor boards as Lynne inched along in the rain.

But I had to hurry now. These were the excruciating last minute pains we forget until the next time. I lumbered into the ER, hands clutching my powder blue overnight bag.

“I’m having my baby—now!”

The receptionist glanced up from her paperwork. Then she did a double take.

“How did you get here?”

“I drove.”

She disappeared through the double doors. “Oh my god!”

The next thing I remember I was sitting in a wheelchair, the cold hard leather of my overnight bag perched precariously on my belly. The nurse wheeled me straight to delivery.

“What about the prep? Aren’t we going to the Labor Room?”

“Too late for that. You cut this a bit close. You’re fully dilated. This baby’s coming now.”

I look up at the white ceiling. It’s quiet. Change of shift quiet.

Great, no prep. No loss there. Is my doctor here?”

“Not yet. He got held up with the rain. He’s on his way.”

The white halls are quiet. Change of shift quiet. It’s 3:55 pm. The nurses are all in report.

“Hmmm,” I thought, “Who is going to deliver my baby?”

During the birth I refused a mirror in order to watch. I was terrified there was something wrong with my baby. When I heard that first beautiful cry only thirty five minutes had passed since I had been wheeled through the doors of the ER.

The nurse asked, “Would you like to hold him?”

“Please tell me how many fingers and toes he has and if his head is normal?”

The nurse managed a tight smile.

“He’s okay. Ten and ten; the head looks normal. You have a perfect baby boy.”

I looked down at a full head of fine dark hair.

“So that’s what all the heartburn was about.”

But I am grateful for a healthy son.

The nurses were still in change of shift report. The partner OB, Dr.Attila, volunteered to wheel me out of delivery.

I said,” You know, I hate to bother you but I think I am going to be sick.”

He blithely pushed the gurney right on through the double doors,

” You’re not pregnant anymore, you can’t be sick.”

“I know I shouldn’t be. But I think I’m going to be.”

“You just think you are.”

But Dr Attila was wrong. My gurney blocked the hallway as he ran for a basin and towels.

“Sorry. I tried to warn you.”

He scowled as he wiped his scrubs off with a towel.

The next morning, I was greeted by the scent of fresh orange juice. My first orange juice in nine months! No heartburn! I could see my ankles—no balloons! I basked in the afterglow of tired childbirth.

But not for long. The birth certificate lady made her rounds for the third time.

“You have to name your child. You are being discharged in a few hours. You can’t go home without a name.

“I’ m not sure what I want to name him.”

“We have to have something for the records. Your doctor has written discharge orders. And your husband is on his way.”

Of course we should have chosen a name. But by then we couldn’t agree on much of anything, especially a name for the baby. I had been too numb to realize it but my marriage was in shambles. Now all I wanted was to go home and there was this pressure about a name.

Ralph had made it back from Vermont. He strolled into my room looking like a man who had spent the night with a two year old and a dog in heat. I gloated.

“You’re drinking orange juice? Great! Your disposition certainly has improved. The kid looks okay except that his face is dented and looks like the rear end of a 1956 Studebaker.”

“What? What’s wrong with his face?”

I felt heat rise, my neck stiffened, and my head throbbed. Then I remembered that forceps deliveries sometimes leave a mark for a few days.

“That will go away. We have to give him a name. They won’t let me leave until we do.’

“Maybe you should stay ‘til your mom gets here. There’s a lot of work to do at home.”

That meant dirty dishes and diapers. We both knew I needed more rest.

“No way! I’m leaving. I want to go home with my baby and see Christopher.”

“Okay, if you insist. Anyway, I’ve got a good name for him. Travis.”

“That sounds like a name from a cowboy movie. I am not naming my child after a cowboy hero.” I pouted.

“It’s actually from a novel,” Ralph said.

“How would you know that?” Ralph, to my knowledge, had never read a novel, western or not.

“I’m reading one now. I like that name. We’ll use my dad’s middle name, Travis McKinley Dow. It’s catchy.”

“He doesn’t need a catchy name,” I snapped.

“We named Christopher to appease your family for the Las Vegas wedding. They wanted him named for a saint. I went along with that. Now I want to call my son Travis McKinley Dow.”

I didn’t know anyone who had named their son Travis or McKinley. Christopher had turned out to be the most common name of the decade. Almost all of my friends had a Chris, Christine, or some derivative. There’d be no chance of that with “Travis.”

I nodded in agreement, too tired to argue.

“Well at least he’ll be a one of a kind.”

We left the hospital in a freezing drizzle. When we got home, Ralph pushed through the knee deep leaves to open the side door. With the other hand, he hung onto Christopher to keep him from dive bombing off the porch. I hovered on the narrow landing as I hugged Travis close. I pulled Gramma Dow’s crocheted cap tight over his tiny head against the wet wind.

Back in my mind’s garden I see the tiny cottage kitchen. Christopher circles and snatches the baby’s bottle. He is Superman, a beige towel for a cape. I look down at my sweet baby boy and wonder what life has in store for him.

I nuzzle Travis through tears of joy as I breathe in his baby powder scent. His tiny fingers wrap around mine. I cradle his raven head. He opens his eyes and wails.

“Geez, What a pair of lungs. I wonder what he’ll do with those,” says Ralph.

I never dreamed that Travis would write the most beautiful music in the world.

He would become a singer songwriter. (He certainly had the right name for it.) He played five instruments, recorded many solo CDs, and fronted five bands. He wrote almost one thousand songs. Travis lost his life to cancer on his 41st birthday in 2012.


There must be a plan

Something to believe in

And pride, that what we build survives.

Don’t keep it to yourself

All this beauty

Doesn’t mean a thing

Until you share it with the world.


Travis Peacehat


Copyright © “Field of Poppies” by Madeline Dow.

Travis’ music may be heard on,,, MySpace, Spotify and CD Baby.

Travis’s music Lyrics, above, from WD and The Idea by Travis Dow. “WD” is Walt Disney.


Travis dancing at his wedding in 2007 with his mom, author Madeline Dow

Travis dancing at his wedding in 2007 with his mom, author Madeline Dow



 Travis’ song WD stands for Walt Disney,
the magic of Disney that inspired Travis,
and the idea of “sharing the beauty.”



2 Responses for “Field of Poppies”

  1. Wonderfully rendered. I hope his music continues forever!

  2. And they call women the “weaker sex”. It has to be a tough time, but it is a beautiful story.
    Bess Carnahan



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