Alta's Difficult Pregnancy

During the Depression, people did whatever they could to make ends meet. If a house was large enough the owner would rent part of it to another family or take in boarders in order to have the extra income.  Sometimes that was their only income. It was not uncommon for two families to rent a house together to cut their rent in half

Back then, most houses had an entrance from a big front porch into a hallway, which went all of the way from the front door through the house to a back porch. A common floor plan in those days was a living room, dining room and kitchen on one side of the hallway with two, three or sometimes four bedrooms on other side. So it was, with the house across the street from the Morris house.  The Siglers, Pearl, Tiller and their teenage children, Johnson and Wilda lived in one side of the house and the Watsons, Alta and Earl and their, eight month old child, Junior lived in the other side.

Alta was a pretty young woman she had chestnut colored hair, brown eyes and a beautiful complexion. Alta did all of the talking for the family, if you asked Earl a question Alta answered it before Earl could get his mouth open to say a word. She did love telling anyone who would listen about her difficult pregnancy.

Earl was a small man; with black hair and a round face, with beady black eyes. He had a perpetual little smile on his face.  He was so shy that if you even spoke to him his face would turn fiery red and he would either look the other way or look down toward the ground. Earl worked for the Crittenden Motor Company and was known to be the best mechanic in Marion. He didn't work full time, because cars were made better in those days, and sometimes could be fixed with a pair of wire pliers and a piece of baling wire, but if something major broke, people just didn't have the money to have their car repaired.  As Earl was home a lot he was constantly working on his own car a Model "A" Ford Roadster, which he kept in mint condition.  He also worked on his brother's car. Mama got really upset when he was grinding the valves on Eugene's car. It interfered with the radio it caused so much static that she couldn't listen to 'Ma Perkins" or 'Pepper Young's Family." She wouldn't complain to him about it, because Earl was so sweet and was henpecked.

Although Junior was only eight months old, Alta referred to him as an only child and she was always ready to tell anyone who would listen why he would always be one. ft was because of her difficult pregnancy, which she had discussed with the neighbors over and over again.  Some how they let her know that they were tired of hearing about it, so she had to find a new audience. First, she told Wilda Sigler and Jennie, my sister, after they were told numerous times, they stayed away from her so she began to tell me. I was 12 years old and I just loved hearing about that stuff. I was her very best listener, but I knew Mama was not ready for me to learn about the things that Alta was telling me. I knew Mama would say that I just wasn't old enough to hear about such things.

I think Alta's pregnancy was more difficult for Earl than it was for her. Dulcie, an old midwife, who had delivered all of Alta' 5 mother's children, told her if she slept with her arms above her head the umbilical cord would wrap around the baby's neck and choke it.  Poor Earl had to stay awake, to keep her arms down, while she slept.  A doctor delivered Junior, but Alta did everything Dulcie told her to do during her pregnancy. Dulcie was superstitious and believed in news bees. There were yellow news bees and black news bees. If a yellow news bee got in the house it meant good news and the baby would be born healthy. Black news bees were bad news, because when the black bee flew out of the house and flew straight toward a cemetery, it meant that the baby wouldn't live. Alta was lucky the only news bees she saw while she was pregnant were yellow. Alta also insisted on placing a knife under her pillow and an axe under the bed. Dulcie told her that it would cut the pain or at least make it more tolerable. If by chance there was hemorrhaging the blade side of the axe would be turned up and it would stop the bleeding.

Alta's pain must have been intolerable because she let it be known to all, that Junior would be an only child. I knew only what Alta had told me about such matters, she hadn't yet told me where babies came from. Out of curiosity, I asked her how she knew she wouldn't have any more babies. She said that Dulcie told her if she would sleep with a slippery ellum (slippery elm) stick in the bed with her, she wouldn't have any more babies. Now, I didn't understand that then, I don't understand it now and will probably never know how or whether that stick kept Alta from going through another difficult pregnancy.

Papa bought the house on East Belleville Street and we moved across town, then Alta and Earl moved to Chicago for Earl to find a full time job. I don't know whether Junior remained an only child. Like Mama said, "Alta was a good sweet woman, but she was just a little bit backward."


4-23-1999

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