“Can you lie down for a bit, Lucy?” Patience finally asks exactly at ten minutes. “I’d like to check your progress and listen to the baby again.”

The second Lucy is on her back I observe something odd.

“Look, it’s the water bag,” Patience explains. “It reminds me of a floppy snow globe. See the bits of white in the amniotic fluid? That’s vernix, a creamy substance that protects the newborn’s skin while it’s floating around in there. By the time the baby is full term it’s mostly worn off.”

I’ve never seen an intact amniotic sack before. Dr. Blum and the other physicians I’ve worked with always broke the membrane early in labor. With the very next contraction the sac pops and water squirts all over the bed.

“Whoops!” says Patience, not a bit fazed. A tiny pink girl follows with the next push.

“You okay, Becky? You’re as white as a sheet.”

“Yes,” I lie. I’ve watched amputations, assisted in surgery, scraped dead tissue out of infected wounds, but this baby came so fast I didn’t have time to prepare myself.

“You sure?”

“Yes,” I lie again and sit down before I faint.

“That was wonderful!” The mother laughs.

Patience gives Lucy some of Mrs. Potts’s herbal medicine, just in case, and she tells me not to bathe the second baby; the white vernix is healthy for her skin. Then Mr. Mitchell and the children creep back into the room and we all sit on the bed again and watch as Lucy feeds both babies from both breasts.

I have never given birth. Never wanted to. It horrified me to watch women scream and cry through labor until someone could put them under anesthesia, but this is different, and now that it’s over, I see that all that we did in the hospital and the clinic and even at Dr. Blum’s homebirths was more to comfort ourselves than to really help the mother.

“Isn’t she wonderful?” Mr. Mitchell exclaims, taking his wife’s hand and pressing it to his cheek. Six-year-old Clara crawls into my lap.

June 17, 1934

Birth of twins, a male, Cecil Mitchell, (5 pounds, 8 ounces) and a female, Callie Mitchell (5 pounds) to Lucy and Clarence Mitchell of Bucks Run.

The first twin was already out when we got there. Lucy and Clarence birthed him alone, but he was covered with meconium and the midwife had to suck out the baby’s mouth and nose. Luckily the baby hadn’t aspirated.

The second baby had a separate sack. That was a good thing, because there was no meconium in her water and everything went as smooth as silk. Just as a precaution, Patience gave Lucy a spoonful of Mrs. Potts’s hemorrhage medicine and she only bled about 400 ccs. There were no perineal tears, but the babies were small.

Clarence said he was sorry he couldn’t afford more and gave us five dollars. Patience laughed and said that was a good deal because we only delivered one baby.


An Idea

All week, Dr. Blum and I have worked planting our kitchen garden. We now have a nice little plot thirty by fifty feet. Nothing like the Hesters’ or Maddocks’ but for beginners it will do. Mrs. Maddock sent over some tiny tomato plants she had started in cans from seeds she’d saved last fall. Some will be red, some will be yellow, some with be almost purple.

Carefully, I transplanted them, digging the holes, patting the soil around their roots and watering each one. Dr. Blum helped, after I showed him how to carry the bucket back and forth from the spring.

The Reverend Miller, with his wife, Mildred, a bundle of energy and concern, stopped by with a sack of seed potatoes that they’d saved last fall, and Patience shared some of her bean and squash seeds.

Finished with the watering, we sit on the porch and stare out at our plot, or I stare at the plot, and my companion stares at the air in front of him.

“Dr. Blum. It’s Sunday and we need a day of rest!” I break the silence. “I’ve been thinking we could go to church, but with your strange ways, people would stare, so let’s go on a picnic to the Hope River instead. What do you think?” Blum acts like he can’t hear, but I know he can. He got the water from the spring when I asked him to, didn’t he?

It doesn’t take long to get ready. I pack two pieces of corn bread in a small willow basket, along with a canning jar of water, and a pint of applesauce I made with the Bittmans’ half-rotten apples, then I take Isaac’s hand like a child and lead him down Wild Rose Road.

At the Maddocks’ place, there’s no truck in front. They’ve probably gone into town to attend services or maybe they belong to the closer church at Hazel Patch. It’s a colored church, but Reverend Miller is so kind, whites would probably be welcome.

As we walk, I reflect on the changes in Dr. Blum’s health. Some of his actions have purpose now, though in the case of his stroll down Main Street, when he ended up at the soup line, it’s hard to tell. Most important, when I show him how to do something he can copy me.

One thing is for sure: He has altered physically. When he was a physician he was tall, thin, and bookish. Now he actually has muscles and so do I. Carrying water, hoeing and digging, walking the land, sawing wood. We are both stronger.

Near the corner of Wild Rose and Salt Lick Road, I notice for the first time the square rock foundation of the small cottage that Maddock said vagrants burned down. The remains of the barn are nowhere to be seen.

This is our turning-off point and we cut across the road onto a well-worn grassy path toward the sound of the water. Here and there in the brush are the remnants of cold campfires, rusted tin cans, cleared areas where makeshift tents have been erected and then pulled down.

Patience tells me that the homeless like this spot because they can get water and they can fish. Also, no one seems to own this stretch along the river, so no farmer will come with a shotgun to run them off.

Closer to the water, in the wetlands, it’s another wilder world, where purple iris and yellow buttercups bloom. Red maples, wild cherry trees, and tall oaks press into the sky. I let out my breath, breathe in and blow out again, remembering my youth, when hiking and climbing and canoeing with David used to bring me joy.

At the edge of the rushing water, we sit on the rocks and eat our corn bread with applesauce and drink our water. Dr. Blum stretches out on a flat slab of stone, his muscled arms under his head, looking up at the clouds.

I turn away and to distract myself from his handsome body, watch the schools of tiny trout darting through the water. For an hour I watch them, and then an idea comes to me. Here’s a source of protein I hadn’t thought about! If the hoboes can fish, why can’t we? And why didn’t I think of it before?


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