Birth Stories – Teresa Lynn 1959

Caption on the back of this photo: Flying on Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh – 4 weeks – March 16, 1959 / photo taken by my dad, Praxedis S. Zuniga using a Leica camera

Do you know the story about the day you were born?  I always thought I knew mine but the older I get the more I realize I don’t have the complete story…just bits and pieces of it that my mother has shared with me and that I’ve been able to piece together including photos my father took.  We probably always think we will have time to get the complete story too.  But I am realizing more and more that I need to capture these stories and many other stories soon and get them down on paper, as they say.

Recently, my mother and I went to lunch and she shared a little more with me about the weeks before and after I was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1959.  Over lunch, she began with the usual story about how the nurses at the hospital in Bangkok were extremely curious about the woman who gave birth to a baby that weighed almost 9 pounds!  Obviously, this wasn’t normal for a Thai woman so they were naturally curious about what my American mother looked like!  Mom figured they were expecting to see an elephant! That part of the story always gave me a laugh.  This has also been the main story that I’ve always heard until this particular day.

Mom began her story by mentioning a place called The American Club in Bangkok, Thailand.  Over the years I’ve heard about this place and I’ve even seen notations about The American Club on the backs of numerous photos that my father took during this time.  Mom was always great about noting the date and location, who was in the photo and sometimes even a cute caption on dad’s photos.  My recollection was that The American Club was an extended stay hotel in Bangkok where they stayed on occasion.  But I found out that it was so much more. 

Mom and dad were living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the time where dad worked.  Dad, a civil engineer, was working on a government project called The Friendship Highway during the late 1950s.  The story I remember is the Cambodian government built an American compound to house all the Americans that came overseas to work on this project.  (My parents met and married in Cambodia in 1958 but that’s a story I’ll save for another time!)  Once my mother was pregnant with me, she planned to deliver in Bangkok so she had to travel by plane from Phnom Penh with her mother during her 8th month of pregnancy and checked into The American Club to await my arrival.  Dad remained in Cambodia until closer to my birth date.

When mom told me this part of the story, it gave me the opportunity to ask her about The American Club.  I mean, what exactly was this place?  I wanted to know more.  The story goes that a man named Silas owned the Club.  He apparently saved the King of Thailand from being assassinated.  To repay Silas, the King gave him a house that had belonged to the Queen of Thailand.  At some point in time, the Queen had the house in addition to cottages on the grounds where her ladies in waiting resided.  I don’t know if the house was still in use by the Queen when all of this happened.  But Silas took the house and converted it into a hotel where he lived full time.  The house/hotel became an extended stay type of place for Americans in transit due to work in Thailand during this time.  I’ve done some online searches to see if I can find out more about this story and The American Club but to date nothing has popped up.  I’m determined to find something though and will update this story when I do!

So, my mother and grandmother set up residence at The American Club awaiting my birth.  Mom said she had everything she needed at the hotel.  The meals were family style so everyone got to know one another although if a resident preferred to go to their room they could.  I joked with mom that it sounded kind of like a commune!  She laughed and said it was a very comfortable place to be during this time.

Eventually, my dad joined mom as my due date grew closer.  I was born February 17, 1959 and after I was released from the hospital, my first home was The American Club!  There are so many photos of me with my parents during this time with the caption, “The American Club.”  I began piecing this part of my birth story together in Bangkok together through these photos.  Finally, at four weeks old, mom and dad were finally able to take me back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  I couldn’t fly sooner because planes were not pressurized during this time period so newborns were not allowed to fly.

Then there’s the icing on mom’s story that day.  It happened a few years later while I was looking through some old black and white photos that I have from this time period.  There was one photo that captivated me.  It was a photo my dad took of my mother feeding me a bottle on a Royal Air Cambodge plane as we returned to Bangkok.  The date was March 16, 1959 when I was 4 weeks old.  I could never quite figure out what this photo was about even though mom wrote on the back, “flying on Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh.”  Maybe it was the angle of the photo – dad took it from overhead so he was obviously standing over us at the time.  But I needed my mother to put the story in context for it to finally made sense.  It’s such a sweet photo…

I have a few observations from this story and these photos…

  • I love that my dad was with my mom and me for a month after I was born in Bangkok.  I’m sure that wasn’t normal for a father to be around for this length of time in 1959! 
  • I also love that The American Club was such a great refuge for my mom and dad during this time.  They developed friendships with many of these people according to mom. 
  • I want to find out more about this place and the story of Silas and the King.  The story has to be out there! 
  • The photos of me as an infant make more sense now…mom and dad weren’t at their own home during this time…I always thought they were!  Instead, they were at The American Club. 
  • Finally…I can’t get over the fact that my mother was all of 21 years old through all of this! 

I’m so happy to have more details about the time surrounding my birth and it makes me more aware that my own children might want more details about their birth stories at some point.  So, I’ve already begun writing those for future blog posts.  I can’t wait to share them.

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