I had more than my share of these times. I went to a neighbor’s house to visit friends. The girls in the family were a little younger than I. Their grandmother lived with them and she was very ill. Several of the other children had come to sit with their sibling who was keeping the mother. They all went into the kitchen to eat supper and asked me to stay by the bedside to watch the sick one while they ate.
The only way to tell if the patient was breathing was to put a small hand mirror near the mouth. If it steamed up, she was breathing. All at once, the hair rose on my arms, and my scalp tingled. I thought I heard the soft rustle of Angel’s wings. I stepped to the kitchen door and softly called the family to the bedside. In minutes, she died. I returned down the country road about 1 1/2 miles walking back home . A meteor chose that time to make its fiery trail across the sky. No one could ever make me believe that wasn’t the angels carrying the sweet old lady to her final rest.
I was sent to stay with my oldest sister who was expecting a baby. In the night, the birthing process began. Her husband got up and dressed to drive about three miles to get the doctor. There were no telephones so he stopped at the foot of the hill and told another sister and neighbor to come to help. He had just started down the hill when a strong pain hit my sister and she said, “Get the folded sheets from the box under the bed and spread under me.” I did as she asked. When she raised her hips to let me put the cloths under her, she gasped and said, “The baby’s coming!”
I screamed at her, “NO!” What do I do now? She just could not do this to me! She had to wait until someone got there who knew what to do! In a matter of minutes, a baby girl emerged face downward. I reached for her and turned her over and she was not breathing. I reached for some sterile white cloths that had been prepared and wrapped one around my fingers, reached down the throat and cleared the passageway. The baby gave a strong cry. I picked her up and lay her aside and rushed out the door and started screaming into the night, “HELP! HELP! HELP!
Down the hill I heard a faint, “I’m coming!” I repeated my plea for help every few seconds and the voice would answer me and all at once, my sister and her neighbor rushed up the steps. When they opened the door and stepped inside, I fainted dead away. I lay there until I awakened, and then I got up and entered the house. Before the doctor ever arrived, my mother had cut the umbical cord and all was in order.
I would remember my first experience a few years later when I happened to be at a neighbor’s house where her daughter-in-law went into labor and I assisted the doctor on that birth. It was my job to keep a mask over the girl’s face and administer liquid ether. When the baby arrived, she was a little soiled from the mother and the older ladies present did not respond to the doctor when he cut the cord and ask one to take a receiving blanket and pick the baby up to be bathed. They wrinkled up their nose and did not make an effort to get the newborn. Not meaning to say it out loud, and in my agitation at their squeamishness, I muttered, “A little s--- never hurt anyone!” I was told by the good doctor’s nurses that for years, he would start laughing in the middle of a procedure and use my same words.
“Laying out the dead” was another of life’s crisis times. In those early years, very few country people died in a hospital. It was common to go into the home and help with cooking, tending to the sick one, or in any way to assist a friend and neighbor during these times. One of my sisters and I stayed two weeks in a home taking turns so that one of us was there at all times. When the end came, we bathed the corpse, tied a soft belt under her chin and to the top of the head to hold the mouth shut, and gently closed the eyes with our hands. She was picked up by the funeral home.
These were not isolated instances. This was a way of life in the early 1900’s and there was nothing uncommon about doing what one had to do and think about it later. I have responded to many emergencies and as the old-timers say “held up” while the need was there and then go to pieces later when no one could see. Today, we have professionals to handle those crises facing the human family.