Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Story a Day in May 5/4

Today we focused more on character by using an obituary as an inspiration.  I combined the obituary I read about Motherwit, an Alabama midwife, mixed with a bit of what I saw when I was baby catching.  The speaker, though, is very much my Mammy Noon.  Mammy Noon was my great-grandmother and most of what is good in me came from her.  She was born and raised on a farm deep in Arkansas.  She used to tell me stories of her youth: napping on her parent's cotton picking bags, paying the local midwife a bottle of molasses to deliver my grandma. There are subtle signs that this is not our America, though, so this may be another "Brink" story. We will have to see. 

The Last Delivery
I don't rightly recall the first baby I helped bring into the world.  My Mama was a midwife just like her Mama was her Mam before that, back and back as long as anyone could remember.  There used to be a joke in these parts, that when Mother Lou gave birth to that precious Baby without knowing the touch of a man, it was a Cannon woman who'd been there to catch Him.  Daddy worked on the railroads and was gone most of the time, so if a woman's time came and it was just me 'n Mama I went right along with her, nightgown and all.  At first I just watched or played with my corn baby or napped on a pallet I'd make up in the corner.  When I got older I'd help a little bit, warming blankets, boiling water, making sure that Mama's needles were threaded with the special thread that was given to her by the kindly doctor who lived in town.  By the time I'd started my  monthlies I was standing in if Mama was sick or helping someone else when a frantic man showed up at our door.  My Mama was a good woman.  She was my best friend.  Lordy I miss her sometimes. 
So's like I said, I don't recall the first, but I sure do remember the last.  I was thirty years old when the sickness came, married to my Georgie and living in a pretty little house near town.  I loved that man more'n anything.  He was gentle and kind.  And handsome!  I like to never see another man as good locking as he was.  When the sickness came, he was one of the first to get it.  It started out with a rash, kindly like poison ivy and so at first I thought he'd gotten into somethin' out in the fields.  I made him up a poultice of cornstarch and wild plaintain mixed with a bit of water.  I smeared it on him and sent him to bed.  I figured by the next morning he'd be fine.  Around midnight, I reckon, I had to leave the house to tend to the of the Byrd girls.  The Byrd's were all easy births.  Broad-beamed, goo-natured and hardworking.  We'd all been pretty worried about 'em when their Mama ran off with a fast-talking tinker man, but their Granny did real well by them and they turned out to be fine, fine women.  Callie called out to me jest as soon as I walked through the door.  Covered in sweat with her big old belly low and hard, she was trotting around the living room just as fast as she could go.  "See Miss Lee," she called out, "I'ma walkng this baby out, just like you said."  See, most women went straight to bed as soon as the pains hit.  They didn't know that just made them get worse and last longer.  But Callie was a good girl, she'd tended what I said.  I was proud of her and I told her so.  After a couple of hours it was time; you can always tell 'cause a woman's voice gets real low, just like a growl.  When she starts growling it's time to push.  So I sat Callie down on an old milking stool that had been brought up and scrubbed 'til the wood was nearly white.  Three big pushes and that baby slid out, neat as you please.  It was a boy and I can tell you that pleased Callie's husband quite a bit.  He pulled off his hat and let out a screech I'm pretty sure they could hear all the way across the holler.  He and Callie were laughing and crying and hugging and kissing an staring at their son all at the same time.  By the time I'd tended to the afterbirth and cleaned up all my supplies both Callie and the baby were having a bite to eat.  It was a good birth.  One of the best. 
By the time I headed home the sun had come on up and the birds were singing.  I sang a little bit, too, some of my favorite hymns, and thought that when I got home I might make a bit of cornbread.  I first got the idear that something might be wrong when I heard Maybelle, our old milk cow, just bellerin and hollerin up a storm.  But, it wasn't 'til I saw the sky above our house; the clear, smokeless sky, that I started to run.  Georgie never let our cookfire go out.  Ever.  Sure enough, there he was in bed, so hot with the fever he'd like to catch the sheets on fire.  The rash and spread, and the parts that had been red the night before were grey and white, like ashes.  Well, I yelled out the door to old Kimmy Sample that she needed to get the doctor right away.  Kimmy was as dumb as a post, but she was an obedient child and she ran off quick as could be.  A week later, she was dead too.  The doctor came and he didn't know what to make of Georgie any more than I, though he told me hed'a been hearing about this kind of thing.  Well we tried everything we could think to do, and a couple of things we knew wouldn't work but did just o be doing something.  It weren't no use, though.  Those patches just kept spreading and after a couple of days they'd break open and blood and pus would just come pouring out.  Georgie screamed near all the time and sometimes he thought I was his mama and sometimes he thought I was an angel but all he knew was that he hurt.  He came to for a little bit right near the end, told me that he'd always loved me.  then he died.  When I set foot that afternoon out of my house, for the first time in a week, that's the first I knew about what was happenin' right outside my door.  The sickness had taken control.  Six weeks later almost everyone was dead.  What was left were a whole bunch of beat up-washed out torn down souls.  And barren.  Each and every one of us. 
So for the last forty years it's been just us, whilin' away the time, plugging along, watching each other grow old and die.  There ain't been no kids in twenty-five years or more, and no babies since Callie Byrd's.  None that was until today.  I was sitting there, watching the flames, trying to warm my old bones a bit when I heard a knock on my door.  Even though I ain't heard a knock like that in a coon's age, I knew just what it was.  Sure enough, there was Johnny Mac, his face bright read and his hat in his hands.  "Why Johnny Mac," I said, not able to keep the twinkle outta my voice.  I ain't seen hide nor hair of you or yours in about seven months."  "Yes ma'am," he said.  "It's Laura.  She's - we - well we just couldn't chance it.  Will you come?"  I took a minute to grab my bag, packed away for all these years.  Laura had to be forty-three or more, a rough age to be having a baby.  When I got to her house, though, I saw her just a walkin.  "Look Miss Lou," she cried, just as her auntie had all those years before.  "I'ma gonna walk this baby out." 

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