My son Grady was born at home on a snowy January evening 42 years ago in Buffalo, NY. It's a time he can't remember, but one I'll never forget. He means more to me than even the most carefully chosen words can say. Here's the story of his arrival:
I was there when Grady was born, in the upstairs bedroom of a drafty old house buried deep in Buffalo's West Side. We'd been unable to find a midwife to make our home birth possible. What we found, finally, defied our every expectation and wish. We found a doctor. A very brave doctor.
We went looking for a midwife in the spring of 1972, when Patty discovered she was pregnant. Midwives were scarce back then. Doctors willing to perform home births were even scarcer. When Patty asked, she was told by one after another doctor she was wrong to even consider such a thing. One doctor called her a "Communist," and all but threatened her with arrest. Such, such were the days in politically polarized America.
A friend of ours was a nurse. She thought she knew a young doctor, a resident, who might be willing to deliver the baby at home. The doctor she had in mind was named Louie Hevizy.
Louie was Hungarian. A Hungarian prince, he told us. A Hungarian prince who had been strung up by the neck and left to die on a Budapest lamppost during the 1956 uprising. He'd been cut down, at the last minute, he told us, by anti-Communist partisans who then spirited him to the underground. He eventually emigrated to the States, "with the help of the Rockefeller family," as he always explained.
I liked Louie from the start. He was rail-thin, maybe 5'6. He spoke rapidly, with an accent that reminds me now of Roman Polanski's. He was also a ladies' man who loved to brag about the women he'd lured to the bachelor pad where his giant bed awaited, its vastness outfitted with black silk sheets and mirrors on the ceiling.
I never asked to see the rope marks on Louie's neck that would have confirmed his story about being hanged. But I never doubted it. Never wanted to. It was such a great story, it would have been a crime to even try to debunk it.
He was the least political political refugee I've ever met. He hardly even seemed a doctor -- he was too intent on having a good time, treating us to Hungarian stews, drinking Hungarian wine and living the American Dream in every way he could. His disregard for rules and regs made him the perfect man for our needs.
When he looked at Patty and me, Louie could not have seen a payday. We were indigent and proud of it. But where every other doctor saw only a pair of hippies or Communists or flakes, Louie saw people. When he looked at Patty, he must have seen a determined young woman in need. Perhaps he saw a challenge. He never explained why he agreed to risk his career -- because that's what it would have meant -- to respond to our request, to act like a real doctor.
When he was summoned to our second-floor bedroom that snowy Buffalo day, Louie arrived at our door with his doctor's bag, half a dozen bottles of Asti Spumante and a 35-mm camera. Not only did he deliver Grady Kane-Horrigan that evening, he circumcised the little guy, took the first photos of him, then hung around with two dozen friends and family members who'd gathered belowdecks for the great occasion.
As I look back on it, Grady's birth seems a great adventure and a perfect reflection of tough times, with its authoritarian despots, idealistic rebels, its naïveté. It even had a happy ending. Or beginning. For Grady was our happy beginning.
Three years later, Louie delivered our daughter Annie. Times had changed. We had to go to the hospital. The nurses tried their best, but failed to separate me from Patty. Annie was born in a surgery whose main features were cold steel gurneys and chains hanging from the ceiling. Though something had been lost, Annie made it easy for us to forget our disappointment.
We moved from Buffalo a few years after that. Among the many people I lost track of was Louie. What I know of his life after our departure I'm not comfortable relating. I wish I could rewrite his story to fit the happy ending he deserved, but didn't get.
But today, I'll raise a glass to Louie Hevizy, the doctor who broke the rules and brought my wonderful, hard-working and loving son into this world. He was a real doctor, a Lothario, a crazy Hungarian sybarite and maybe even a bullshit artist. But more than anything else, Louie Hevizy was a prince.