Friday, June 18, 2010

Sad trips down memory lane and other relevant things.

I remember learning that my grandmother had 3 dead children. The thought was horrible. I asked so many questions of my father, who was telling the story at time. He never met any of these siblings before they passed. They were all from earlier in his own mother’s life. One little girl, named Eva (pronouced with a short e, “eh-vah”) died of pneumonia at the age of two. Another little girl, named Dorothy, died at the age of three of dysenteric diarrhea in an age when diarrhea alone would kill you. My father swore till his dying day that the diarrhea was from eating an orange after the first frost….we weren’t allowed to even go near an orange tree in the winter. I’ve just now thought to myself that maybe I have mixed the girls up and Eva was three and Dorothy was two, and maybe what they died of respectively too, but either way those were their names and they each died of one of those causes.

My grandmother had another child die, but that child was never talked about. My mother told me once that the child was born dead. She said it was a boy and he was a mongloid. A water-head baby, she said. I didn’t know what that meant. Did the head look like a water balloon? Then she told me that my grandfather had delivered the baby next to the furnace and upon seeing the dead baby’s appearance he covered it and wouldn’t let my grandmother see him. Mom said that after my grandmother was done birthing the placenta and was resting he took the baby into the back yard and buried it. To this day, no one knows where that baby lies.

As a small child the story was gross at best, scary at worst. Now that I am a mother I cannot comprehend it. The fact alone that she lost not one but three children is devastating, but to add to it that she never laid eyes on one of them is ….too much. Later in my life I would walk around my grandmother’s back yard and think of that baby. Everyone has heard about how rough life was during the Depression, about how little people had, how hard work was to come by, but now I think about it from a woman’s perspective. Being a mother under those circumstances…my grandmother’s circumstances. Pregnant, with one or two small children under foot, in the rural Central Florida swamps (Florida was nothing but swamps before Walt Disney came along), living in a makeshift two room house that my railroad-working husband built with one saved-up-for board at a time with no midwife to deliver my child. Laboring for an unknown amount of time in the heat of that furnace while my husband did the best he could until the baby finally came, and then…silence, I’m sure. No cry, no wiggle. I wonder what my grandmother said, if she tried to reach out for him. I wonder what my grandfather did, what made him immediately decide to hide it, or what facial expression he had.

After being married for a little while myself, I know that husband and wife have a language all their own. Expressions, body language, exchanged looks. I do wonder if he had to say anything at all. As a woman, maybe she knew. Maybe she knew before the labor even started. Women are incredibly in tune to the movements of their babies, maybe he stopped moving at some point and she expected the outcome. Neither of my grandparents had better than a 3rd or 4th grade education, so I’m not real sure what exactly was wrong with the baby except that obviously it was dead and disfigured. Now it is buried in the back yard. My grandmother had a large flower garden and I often wondered if it was close to the grave in some tributary way. My aunt lives there now. The flower garden is gone. Time passes, stories are sometimes all that it left.


K. Erickson said...

Mel, wonderful post even though the subject is somber. My mother is the family geneaologist and has spent decades trying to capture what she can of those lost stories from the paltry records we leave behind as we move through society and speaking with the living relatives. Every family has stories similar to the one you relate here. They are, at the same time, sad and endearing. They remind of who we are, where we came from, and, most of all, that we are human. Record everything you can for your children and those you don't even know. Every story is important to someone.

acekotasmomma said...

Mel I never heard this story before. Thanks for sharing! That would have been real difficult I'm sure. I feel sadness for your Grandmother. I feel for you to have to remember such stories.

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