“You were so sick,” Mom said to me during a recent visit.
I poured two cups of coffee and sat by her at the kitchen table.
“God left you on this earth for a reason. I remember it like it was yesterday. You were such a tiny baby. You only weighed five pounds when you were born.”
I had heard this story all my life, but I sat quietly and waited for her to continue.
“It was 1955. Your dad worked long hours doing farm work. I was twenty-nine; there was so much work to do.” She exhaled a long, slow breath. “Every day I had three meals to cook, eggs to gather, piles of laundry, ironing, cleaning, plus milk to strain.”
She paused. “And then Whooping Cough invaded the county that year. Your five brothers had it. So did your sister, Audry,” Mom said. “You were only three months old when you caught it.”
She continued. “I can still picture what happened that one night, I think it was May. The rest of the family was asleep upstairs.” She looked up at me. “Do you remember that old faded rocker?”
“The maroon one?” I asked.
She nodded. “I was rocking you in it downstairs next to the oil burner in the living room. You were pretty fussy, but I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open and nodded off.”
I was quiet. I wanted to hear more.
“You coughed and I jerked awake. I lifted you to my shoulder and patted your back, but you didn’t stop. You sounded like a barking seal and then gasped for air. I was so scared.” Her thumb caught a tear and brushed it away.
“I finally flipped you on your stomach over my left arm. I held you like a football, and patted your back. Finally you stopped coughing.” She paused for a moment and continued. “I was too worried to lay you in the crib, so I sat in the chair and held you the rest of the night.”
I don’t know what to say. I stirred my coffee and took a sip.
“The next morning I asked your father to bring down the bassinet so I could keep you by me. I was afraid to have you too far away from me. He brought it down and set it on the kitchen table.”
I pictured the small bed on the oilcloth covered square table, mom in her faded house dress with an apron and dad standing to the side.
“By noon, you had endured countless coughing spells. Each time I grabbed you, and tried to quiet your cough.” She sighed. “You went with me everywhere that day.”
She stopped and took a sip of her coffee. “When I fed you a bottle of milk,” she said softly, “it was almost impossible. Each time you drank you started to cough until you couldn’t catch your breath.” For a moment our eyes met. “I think I prayed all day long.”
I nodded; I felt a lump in my throat, thick and pushing to the surface.
“Word spread throughout the church, to the neighbors, everywhere. Everyone knew you were very sick. Many of them called to say they were praying.” She folded her hands together and put them in her lap.
“Do you remember Eva Rose?”
“I remember her visiting us when she came from Florida. Didn’t she live in St. Petersburg?
“Yes,” she said, “but she was our neighbor back then. She and Aunt Mary Winkle alternated staying through the night next to your bed so I could get a few hours of sleep.”
Mom took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at the corner of her eye. The lump in my throat grew larger.
“One night I woke to ‘Come quick! I think she’s dying.’ Eva’s scream alarmed me. Dad and I jumped out of bed and rushed to your crib. She had you in her arms.”
Mom stopped and swallowed hard.
“Your eyes had rolled back in your head and your lips were blue. I grabbed your limp body from Eva. Your dad, Eva and I patted your back, but it didn’t help.”
A single tear escaped and slid down her cheek. “I started to panic. Your dad grabbed your ankles and flipped you upside down while I thumped your back.”
She sniffed. “Finally you took a breath. You whimpered, I cried.”
I swallowed hard, and then again. I reached out and took her hand.
“You lived through that night, but it was three weeks before you shook Whooping Cough. You almost died so many times…” her voice trailed off. I blinked back tears. “We had to revive you more than once. Twenty-four hours, seven days a week, one of us stood guard over you, keeping you alive.”
I looked at my hands, afraid if I looked up I would lose it.
“Every breath was a prayer for you,” she concluded.
Neither of us spoke for several minutes letting her words speak to our hearts. I stood up, walked around the table; hugged her and kissed her velvety cheek. “I love you, Mom.”
|Three women who worked to keep me alive. My grandma, Eva Rose and Mom.|
Dad, Eva and Aunt Mary have passed away and only Mom remains of the warriors who battled Whooping Cough for me and won. I think about that story and Mom’s determination to keep me alive, and it humbles me.
Now she is eighty-eight, still lives in her own home, but needs assistance for things many take for granted. I’m grateful to live near her so I can help her. I accompany Mom to her numerous doctor appointments, but the most meaningful thing for me is when I help her with her showers. I steady her when she climbs in and out of the shower stall; shampoo her hair and help her dress when she is finished. As we share her very private time I often think about her as an exhausted young mother bathing my tiny body. When my hands pat her delicate skin with a thick thirsty towel I visualize me, as a sickly baby, wrapped lovingly in a soft flannel blanket. After each shower I massage her legs and feet with silky lotion. I remember the many times I climbed into her bed during the night, unable to sleep, because of what she called “growing pains.” She rubbed my legs until I fell asleep again.
To say thank you for all she has done for me over my life seems inadequate. I can only say I feel honored to care for the woman who gave me life, not once, but twice.
|Mom still love the babies. This was January 3, 2015. She is holding the newest member of our family.|