“It’s Becky Myers and Dr. Blum!”
“Well, hello! What brings you back to Union County?” He leans over to shake the doctor’s hand, and when there’s no response, frowns and looks at me with concern.
“Dr. Blum is . . . I don’t know how to put this . . . disabled.”
The vet looks him over as if assessing a lame horse.
“What can he do?”
“No one knows what’s wrong with him,” Patience puts in. “It might be the shock of his wife’s death, a stroke, or possibly catatonia. Remember? We heard about her accident.”
I take up the narrative a second time, giving the history and what the doctors proposed. “The neuro men at Johns Hopkins said there was nothing they could do, except electroshock treatment and there was no guarantee with that.”
“So why’d you come back?” That’s Daniel, looking deep into Dr. Blum’s pale eyes. “A damn shame! So why’d you come back?” he asks me again.
“Well, he told me to.”
“That doesn’t sound catatonic.”
“It wasn’t a conversation, just one word . . . no, three words in all. . . . After his brother disowned him. We were out of money and owed three months’ back rent. Since he couldn’t take care of himself, I’d moved him in with me, and I was tearing my hair out about a probable eviction when he opened his mouth and offered an alternative. ‘Home. West Virginia.’ ”
“That’s all he’s said in a year?” Patience moves to the sink to pump water.
“Yes. That’s about it . . . until yesterday when he spoke again. After the lawyer told us that his house had been sold . . . we were sitting on Main Street in his Pontiac, broke with nowhere to go. I’ll be honest, I was crying when Dr. Blum spoke for the second time. ‘Patience’ he said. At first I thought he meant to be patient and have faith, then I realized he meant Patience, the midwife.
“We drove up to your old house on Wild Rose Road, hoping to find shelter and found you were gone, but camped there anyway, feeling lost. Mr. Maddock was the one who told us you’d moved to the other side of the mountain.” Here I clear my throat and take a moment to get up my courage.
“I was hoping we could stay there for a while, take care of the empty house for you. . . .” I trail off, suddenly embarrassed. Asking for help isn’t something I’m used to.
“Of course . . . of course,” Patience reassures. “You’d be doing us a favor. We thought of selling the place, but no one can afford to buy it now . . . except the very rich, who are already hovering like vultures, taking advantage of the foreclosures and bottomed-out land prices.”
Here her face gets pink and her voice crackles. Hester reaches over to pat her arm. The midwife, I recall, has always been something of a leftist, sympathetic to the poor and suspicious of the rich.
“There’ve been hundreds of drifters and homeless passing through, but we’ve been reluctant to just let a stranger move in,” Daniel adds, standing to let his dogs in, two beagles and a three-legged mutt. “We might even have some furniture in the barn and some of Patience’s kitchen things and linens. You could stay here with us for the night, and in the morning we’ll look around.” He stands and gives his wife a kiss on her neck.
“Come on, Blum. Time to milk.” He takes a bucket and then pulls Blum through the door.
I shake my head. He still doesn’t get it, or else he’s trying to prove some point, and I watch through the kitchen window as the men cross the farmyard.
Hester has his arm linked through Blum’s as if they were old chums and they probably were associates, both college-educated doctors. Tears come to my eyes for what’s been lost, tears for the vet’s kindness, tears for the long, lonely way ahead. I wipe them with the back of my hand, before Patience can see, then I tell her about my emergency delivery on the roadside yesterday.
“I must say I was proud of myself,” I end the story. “Bernice didn’t even have a perineal tear.”
“Sounds like maybe you have a knack for this. Maybe you should be a midwife,” Patience kids me. She knows that being near a woman in labor terrifies me. “Anyway, you should keep track of your births. Start a journal with the dates, names, and details of what you think is important. You never know when you might need it.”
“It’s not like I’m going to attend many more deliveries, but you’re probably right. If something bad happened, the board of medicine might someday investigate. I’m a registered nurse.”
Patience shakes her head, laughing. “Becky. Becky. Becky.”
“Well, they might!”
April 2, 1934
Emergency delivery near the intersection of the National Turnpike and Route 26. I assisted a male infant to be born in an auto to a Mrs. Bernice Norton and her husband, Alvin. (I was more nervous than usual because I hadn’t seen a baby born in five years. The Blum brothers stopped doing home deliveries when all the women started going to the hospital in Charlottesville.)
It’s interesting that, though I was terrified, some of what I’d seen Patience do in the tent with the hobo girl came back to me and I was proud that Bernice didn’t tear. It was her first baby, a healthy male infant, weight unknown. Only a small amount of bleeding. They went on to Torrington to her mother’s home with the cord still attached and the placenta nestled in Mr. Norton’s hat.
Today I cannot be sure, but I think the doctor reacted when our new dog, Three Legs, licked his hand. It may have been reflex, but he appeared to reach up and ruffle his fur.
I shouldn’t really call the golden mutt our dog. He’s really mine. I feed him and I take him in and out of the cottage to do his job, but it’s Isaac he’s taken a shine to. The vet says it’s sometimes that way.
At first I was horrified to be given a pet. We scarcely have enough food to feed ourselves, but what could I do? The veterinarian and midwife are our benefactors and I wasn’t in a position to argue. Daniel led Three Legs right up to Blum, who sat in the gray, weathered rocking chair staring into space. Then the vet took Isaac’s flaccid hand and made him stroke the dog’s big yellow head.
“See,” he addressed the canine. “This is Dr. Blum, your master. Do whatever he says.” Here he winked at me, acknowledging the irony . . . since Blum never says anything.
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