I didn't know Gramma Lu. Her son Orville (my grandfather) didn't talk as much about his family as his wife did, but luckily, she was a writer. I don't know that she ever got published, though the rejection slips in the box of manuscripts give testimony that she did try. But she wrote and wrote and wrote. Most of it top-to-bottom, border-to-border handwritten in pen.
There would be no way to use OCR on this, so I am transcribing it by hand... and as I type, I have come to realize I have to publish at least some of it. I'll be putting some chapters here so I can give links to relatives to read. (This is a better place than Facebook for long long texts....)
To save paper, Gramma Lu used almost no paragraph breaks. She also put in abbreviations and such, and when writing by hand, she often left out punctuation altogether. I have added in paragraphs and commas and some semicolons, and spelled things out when the abbreviation was unclear. All the exclamation marks, though, are hers...
|Ralphie, Grace, Gramma Lu, Stanley, Orvie, 1904|
The Babies God Gave Me
Handwritten manuscript by Lula J. Wanamaker LaGuire
I have never written, nor seldom talked about my babies' births so will now try to put my thoughts and reactions on paper.
When a girl, I used to say, hatefully "I'll never had any kids." Well, there was a reason back of this, as I knew of so many people who had many children and were so very poor -- poverty stricken. My own parents were of that kind. Baby after baby came but we did not get any richer altho I've heard my father say after the birth of a new child, "We are a thousand dollars richer now."
He may have felt richer but that kind of riches didn't help buy food and clothing and schooling for the bunch of us.
Tho father was a very hard worker he was a poor manager and was always moving from town to town in hopes of getting relief from his consumption which tortured him most of his life. Most of us went to work out while very young, before we were really able, in order to have proper food and clothing. Certainly I did not want to repeat my parents lives which is what I eventually did.
When I was 19 1/2 yrs old, under pressure from all sides, I married. I hoped I wouldn't start too soon having babies as we, my husband and I, were poor also. He had a job but only got $1.05 per day at first. This was raised to $1.10 after a while. He was very tickled -- that meant $1.30 per month more.
Our home was very cold in winter as it was far from finished: thickness of boards and one of building paper. I caught cold the first week, so that meant a doctor bill. Tho I will say doctors didn't get half enough either in those days. I lived thru that illness and became pregnant, altho that is a word we seldom used then. We used to say "in the family way" -- or she's expecting and raise our eye brows so older ones would understand and little ones would not.
My first son was born 1 yr, 1 mo, 1 wk. after we were married. I had hoped I would have children of course as that is the primary reason for marriage as I saw it. I looked forward to his birth with pleasure and sewed very much as I made all his little garments by hand, excepting diapers which I hemmed on Nora's machine. Dresses and skirts were long then, just took 2 yds. to make a dress. We always made pinning blankets and belly bands too, tho now they are considered useless, and probably are. I used outing flannel or tennis flannel as we then called it. Imade 9 little dresses, 6 outing skirts, 3 long white skirts, about 4 pinning blankets, a few outing nities shirts and bands. Many didies.
In those days poor mothers at least, did not see a doctor before hand to know if everything was alright. We went there the gestation period and the birth. If we lived OK, if not we just died. Of course I thot all women had to suffer a lot, some more some less, and I knew that some died but that didn't worry me. Looking forward to the event seemed to make life worth living.
The time came and I felt pains at intervals early in the morning about 4 o'clock. I informed my man and we got up and had breakfast and as the pains were not close together he went to work about 6:30.
I had taken with him a long walk the evening before or I would not have had my baby at this time. We didn't believe in talking long walks or going out where people could see us; at least they certainly did not in my mother's time, but at this time a few of the wiser ones were talking walks each day. If I only had been that smart!
Somehow I got my mother to come and my sister-in-law Nora. I don't remember how as we had no phones and Mother lived a mile away. My brother brot her with the team. My sister Grace was staying with us a few days I believe and she called help.
Mother asked if I wanted Fred called and I told her "no." I knew what a bother he could be when I was ill, learned when I had the bad cold, always asking if I felt better and wanting me me to eat more than I wanted or needed. I thot if he did that and I was very ill, I could not "take it" as we say nowdays. I knew I'd be better off with him absent. Mom wanted to know if Iwanted a doctor.
I said, "If you think I need one don't hesitate to call him."
There was only a retired doctor in town then. As I was becoming worse by noon Mom called him in. They wanted me to walk but the pains were so very severe I couldn't, so I just lay there and endured for 4 more hours. Pains getting worse and worse all the time till I couldn't even yell, which would have been a relief as I was extremely constipated and had piles and they kept tearing me by degrees; my agonies were terrible severe. I couldn't eat of course and could only have a tablespoon of water now and then.
I recall as I lay there with my life blood ebbing away, I thought, "If there is a God, why does he let a woman suffer so to bring a new life into the world?!" I don't recall if I prayed or not tho I was a Christian. All I could do was groan and bear it. I knew I couldn't last much longer, and finally Old Doctor Eaton said;
"Well, she can't stand much more of this strain. I'll have to use my instruments."
And I said, with an effort, "Do something quick!"
I was in such agony I couldn't even speak correctly. He could see I was almost spent and hunted around and soon brot my first-born into existance. The relief from suffering was so great I felt that I was in heaven altho I was too weak to speak aloud. It must have been a great relief to Mother too, as she'd told me later she couldn't stand it to see me suffer so. I didn't realize then what a terrible ordeal this can be to a mother, to see her daughter go thru such prolonged agony.
Aunt Nora took care of the baby, which seemed to be a healthy youngster and really beautiful to me. I lived and finally became able to get up and go at my work. We couldn't keep sister there long; it cost too much. Mother did what she could to care for me till I was able to be about.
We were made to stay in bed ten days after child birth at that date. Dr. told me to give baby oat meal water which was good for him, since how my breasts eaked and I used camphor on them and dried up my milk, and baby nursed and nursed but didn't get enough, so finally his father said we'd by some milk for him. He thrived on the bottle, but had bronchitis quite a lot as his dad did.
He was a fat cute boy, and when he was about three months old I discovered I was pregnant again!
When I discovered this I was terrified! I thought I could never live thru such an ordeal again. After the first one came, I said to my man,
"Oh! Fred it was awful." I always shuddered when I remembered it.
And my husband replied, "That's what they all say. Oh! I had the worst time anyone ever had!" mockingly.
If I'd gottten a little sympathy from him it would have helped a lot. He thought I could go through it or quilwheel -- his word for dying -- as many others had. I feared I would die and leave two babies in this unsympathetic world. This worried me exceedingly!
I loved my little Orville Fred with all a mother's love and to think of leaving him motherless at so tender and age filled me with alarm and sorrow and grief! The agony and terror I had gone thru filled me with dread and I felt as if a sword was hanging by a thread over my head, as the saying goes. I never seemed to be free of that haunting horror and I have often cried when some young girl got married and would think, "Oh! she don't know what she is getting into!"
I was far from well, as I'd not had the care I should have had with my first baby, and I worked very hard, as Fred took a job and hired men to board and stay at our place. He had fixed up a home near his work, part log and part frame. Comfortable enough; the men slept up stairs on straw ticks on the floor over the living room, where Fred and I and the baby slept with a heating stove in the same room.
With four men to cook for and a heavy baby to care for and all my work to do, I was not idle a minute the whole day and evening, as I did what sewing I needed by hand.
Enough to state that the men very soon got tired of this arrangement, and left one by one. I don't blame them one bit, and in a month about we were back in our own house in town, and what a relief to get back, tho the house was cold and not fit for a baby to be creeping about in.
He grew tho and was very cute and could do several "tricks" when only 7 or 8 months old. He would make a noise like snoring when we would say "Orrie snore," and bite his big toe if asked to and several other cute antics. He learned to creep but not as most babies do. He would lie flat on the floor and drag himself along with his arms and push with his toes. One can imagine the condition of his dress after a few revolutions of this.
He loved to pull all the tin dishes out of the large cupboard without doors and hear them slam onto the floor. It was the first place he always made for if we had been away from home awhile. Some would say I was a careless mother but we couldn't afford toys and this was a very satisfactory substitute.
Well, I was busy now making baby clothes and cried a great deal every time I thought of dying and leaving my two babies motherless. I had inherited TB, as most of my brothers and sisters did but didn't know it then. It was perhaps one reason why I was so depressed most of the time.
I said to Fred once, "Fred if I die, I wish you would give one of the babies to my mother and to your sister Isabell."
He heaved and hawed and said, "I guess I'm not giving away my kids."
Well, as expenses were coming up and money was not more plentiful, we took in a few boarders. Three men at $3.75 each per week. Think of getting board for that! I managed to do my work and cook for them for a time. Then Nora, Bless her, told them she would board them for 50 cents less a week, so they went to board at her house. A good thing! as my second son was born a day or two later.
It was on Sunday and my Mother came also Fred's sister-in-law Emeline, and Fred lit out to walk to Freesoil, a town six miles away to get a doctor. They rode back together. My pains were plenty severe enough and rather close together and I became very nervous, and would have thought I was awfully sick if I had not been thru that awful other ordeal before. I at least could have strength enough to holler a little and the baby arrived before the doctor and his daddy did. I thot he was a 7 month child but the doctor said not. He was fully developed.
I got thru, at least, but I don't know if safely or not; this doctor took several stitches where I had been lacerated when the fisrt was born and thot it queer I had been left in such a condition. One thing was that I had had plenty exercise before little Ralphie was born. Even tho it had been too strenuous. He was not a healthy child from the first and one eye was defective, so he looked cross-eyed. He was pale and frail looking and most people thot he was a girl.
Orvie could not yet walk when his brother arrived, but learned to in 2 weeks. I think little as he was he felt he had a responsibility. He was always a very thoughtful little fellow. Orvie was a blue-eyed blond now having lost his dark baby hair, and Ralphie had a nice head of black hair and blue eyes of course as all my babies did. Two very cunning little fellows.
Fred had a laugh on me. He told people, "She thought she was going to die! But see she got through fine!"
Orvie had bronchitis several times while going thru childhood and Raphie, tho frail, seemed to be rather strong.
There was a year and two weeks between the two babies and I said to people, to make believe I liked the setup;
"I am going to have one every year for the next 20 years." Tho I most sincerely hoped this would ot occur.
I had been told that one of Fred's sisters had had 13 babies then died, and it fairly made me sick. Think what a reward for going thru all that agony and then having to die and leave them all! I couldn't think of anything more terrible.
A good thing mothers are advised to go to a good doctor for prematernity advice!
(The above is approximately 6 handwritten pages out of 98 that I have. Gramma Lu had 7-8 children, though only 6 lived to adulthood. The 98 pages she wrote about them ends with a comma, but I have hundreds of other pages of writing from her, so perhaps there is more than those 98 pages to be typed up.)
Continue reading CHAPTER 2