“‘The Apple Dumpling Gang’ is a classic American film that’s had a profound impact on my life,” says nobody, except maybe Don Knotts’ heirs and my family. The 1975 Disney film stars Knotts and Tim Conway, who portray the Senate majority leader and speaker of the House as a couple of bungling clowns who almost bring the world economy to its knees while trying to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. Oh, wait. Sorry, that’s a different comedy caper.
In “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” Knotts and Conway portray a couple of clumsy Wild West outlaws who try to steal a gold nugget, only to have hijinks — which were popular in the 1970s — ensue. It is the kind of movie that makes Snuggie and Ab-Blaster infomercials tempting when you are watching basic cable at 4 a.m.
And at 4 in the morning on a glorious autumn day in 1990, my wife was nine months and 10 days pregnant and had just gone into labor. We couldn’t sleep, but it wasn’t yet time to go to the hospital, so Mary and I sat up playing cards, timing contractions and watching “The Apple Dumpling Gang” on TV while our 4-year-old son Ben slept blissfully unaware of the major change that was about to come to his life. Ben had wanted us to have another baby ever since he was old enough to drag inanimate objects around by the hair, but we were still so PTSD from his own infanthood — the crying, pooping and night feedings, not to mention Ben’s needs — that it took us four years to work up the courage to make him a sister.
The baby wearing out her welcome inside Mary’s womb-spa was our daughter, Laura Rose, but we did not know that at the time. We later wondered if it was “The Apple Dumpling Gang” that finally convinced Laura to be born, speculating that maybe she just wanted to come out to change the channel. (Fun fact: She’s still boss of the remote.)
When the movie ended, Mary was in the “don’t tell me how to breathe and I won’t cut off any of your appendages” stage of labor, which comes just before the “let’s go to the hospital” stage of labor. By then, young Benjamin was waking up, the sun was rising and the newspaper hit the porch (Laura’s horoscope: “Lots of love comes your way; take time to enjoy the attention”), and Mary calculated I had enough time to take Ben to daycare and come back for her.
At that point, life turned into a game of “Mario Kart: The Highlands.” I raced Ben to daycare and left him in the arms of the sweet, loving caregivers, who immediately teased me for leaving Mary at home in labor. “Didn’t you forget something?” they asked, pretending to look for her in the back seat, slapping their knees and roaring with laughter.
I kissed Ben goodbye, raced back home, convinced Mary it was time to go and then we sped down Eastern Parkway to Audubon Hospital, dodging cars, trucks, motorcycles and — true story — three trash bags that came tumbling out of a garbage truck — a real-life version of near-Disney hilarity.
Mary was in no hurry, but, as everybody knows, it’s an incredible waste of an opportunity to disobey traffic rules if you don’t drive like a madman when you have a woman in your car who is in labor. So I took the turn on Poplar Level on two wheels and screeched to a halt at the emergency room door, regretting that I hadn’t taken a longer route. And a mere eight hours of excruciating pain (for Mary) and 700 pages of paperwork (for me) later, Laura was born.
It’s almost impossible to believe that in just a few weeks, that beautiful baby will turn 21, which I understand is the age when she stops bogarting Daddy’s beer in restaurants and orders her own. And it’s equally impossible to imagine our lives without her. She’s now a smart, funny, beautiful, talented psychology major who might still be in the womb if not for “The Apple Dumpling Gang.”
We just shared a glorious summer of kayaking, bicycling, gardening, cooking, traveling, swimming with dolphins and watching too many episodes of “Family Guy” and “The Daily Show,” but now she is back at school, making us proud. She’s no longer my cuddly baby girl, but no matter where life takes her, she will always be the apple dumpling of my eye.