Her husband, a Scandinavian-looking fellow, removes his hat too and, grinning, unwraps the youngster, a girl of about five, a small female replica of her mother, the same black braids and everything. “This is Mary. I thought she could play with Danny.”

I’m still wondering why this young couple would travel over the dangerous roads to make an apparent social call when Hannah brings out a flowered tin box. “Oh, and we brought refreshments. Couldn’t have a baby without cookies! I hope you don’t mind. I figured it would be better to come to you than to make you come out in the storm.”

(Now I know who the young people are. This is the couple Patience told me about that delivered so beautifully in their farmhouse down by the Hope River five years ago.)

“Well, isn’t this nice! How’re you doing, Hannah? Are the pains very bad?” Patience gives the mother a hug, looking right in her eyes.

“I’m fine, but the contractions are getting harder. Can we get some music going? I brought a recording of Cab Calloway with ‘Minnie the Moocher’ and another of ‘The Saint James Infirmary Blues.’ ” She whips off her Mackinaw to reveal a very pregnant abdomen. “Where’s your gramophone?”

“I’m sorry, we don’t have one. We have a radio though. Becky, can you find something out of Pittsburgh or Wheeling? Try WWVA.” I sit down next to the wooden console and fool with the dial but all I can get is the news, then it fades into static. “Sorry,” I say. “The ice storm must be interfering.”

“Oh, no! We have to have music. Maybe we should go home again. Sing, John! I was counting on music!” There’s urgency in her voice and she begins to whirl around like a top. The husband throws his coat on the floor and takes her in his arms.

“One, two, three,” he chants as he leads her in a waltz. “One, two, three.” Then he begins to hum “The Blue Danube.”

Whirling Dervish

As soon as the contraction is over, Patience leads the mother to my bedroom.

“Hannah likes to dance through her pains,” she enlightens me when I return with a pot of hot water and the sterilized rubber gloves.

The young woman is lying on her back, half naked, while Patience listens to the baby’s heartbeat. Her five-year-old, Mary, leans on the edge of the bed all eyes. No modesty in this family! Then without warning the woman gets frantic again. . . . “Hurry. Hurry. Hurry! I can’t stand to lie down when the pains come.”

“One more minute. I just want to verify the baby’s position,” Patience responds, pulling on the exam gloves, but Hannah won’t wait. She holds out her hands to John, who pulls a long white ruffled skirt over her head and they are off, swooping in graceful arcs.

“Oh, John, go faster! We have to outdance the pain! Can’t we jitterbug or polka?”

Just then the kitchen door opens and Blum and the vet blow in from the barn. “What’s going on? I saw the tractor.” That’s Daniel.

“Hannah and John Dyer. Hannah’s in labor but we need music. Can you give us a polka?” asks Patience.

Things are moving too fast for me. The mother is a whirling tornado, taking over the whole house, and without Patience’s calm I’d be blown away in the storm. I lay out the birth supplies in my bedroom, which I assume will be the birth room, and then, grateful not to be in charge, crawl up on the parlor davenport to be out of the way.

Singing along in German, Daniel sits down in his work clothes and begins to bang out a lively tune. “So ei-ne Liech-ten-stei-ner Pol-ka die hats. Die macht Rabatz, mein Schatz! Ja ja ja! Ja ja ja! Ja ja ja! Ja ja ja!” I have no idea what the lyrics mean but it’s a rousing tune and soon John and Hannah are doing the polka, joining in with the “Ja ja ja!” They swoop and turn, occasionally bumping into a chair.

Suddenly, Hannah stops and looks down between her bare feet at a pool of clear fluid on the floor. “Whoops!”

Quick as anything, Patience runs to the kitchen for a dishtowel and wipes the mess up. “Better work your way back to the bedroom,” she instructs, but nobody’s listening. The piano music goes on, punctuated by another rousing “Ja ja ja!” Even little Mary gets into the song, jumping up and down, and I can’t help myself, I’m singing too. “Ja, ja, ja!” Blum stands in the kitchen doorway eating a cookie.

Suddenly Hannah’s eyes pop open and she digs her fingernails into John’s shoulder.

“Oh, my God. Something’s coming!”

Surely not!

Patience runs to the bedroom for her gloves and kneels down. “It’s the head, Hannah. Don’t push. Can you walk to the bedroom?” Hannah can’t walk, but she can waddle, so she waddles down the short hall into my room, lies on her side, and in three pushes delivers a very pink baby boy. His eyes, like his mother’s, are wide with surprise.

That’s all there is to it. The mother delivers the placenta, the midwife drops it in the chamber pot, and I put a pad between the patient’s legs, though there’s very little bleeding.

“Do you want to nurse?” Patience asks.

“You betcha! Come up here, Mary,” Hannah calls to her daughter. “You have a little brother.” John is sitting there too, and the sunset, shining orange, comes through the window, where the storm clouds have cleared.

Meanwhile, Danny and Mira sleep upstairs through it all, and Daniel keeps playing, but he’s opened a hymnal and changed the song.

“Joyful, joyful . . . We adore thee, God of glory, Lord of Love. Hearts unfold like flowers before thee . . . opening to the sun above.”

March 5, 1935

Precipitous birth of 8-pound John Lincoln Dyer Jr. to Hannah and John Dyer of Hope River . . . born at the Hesters’ house after an ice storm. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. No crying, no screaming, just dancing and music. Not long after her water broke, Hannah just pulled up her long skirt and squirted her baby out.

Hester played the piano, first a German polka he learned from his grandmother and later the “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven. Except for the mother’s frantic insistence that we keep the music going, there was no way to know that Hannah was in hard labor, and I see now that the urgency in the mother’s voice, no matter what she asks for, comes with the urgency of the baby to be born.

Present were John and the little girl Mary, Patience and me, Dr. Blum, who stayed in the kitchen, and Daniel Hester, who played the piano. We were rewarded ten dollars, for which we were grateful, especially since we didn’t have to go out in the cold.


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