Birth of a Sharecropper

As a child, I loved listening to my Granny tell stories about her life growing up in the early 1900’s. Her parents were sharecroppers and lived in Grady County, Georgia. Her stories intrigued me. One story she told was of when she would help other women deliver and care for their children. The story below is what I imagine it must have been like when my Granny was born.

On a cold breezy February day in 1896, Ethel was born.  George, her dad and brothers, Will and Tommie had just come in from mending a fence line on the north side of the farm. Her momma, Mary, and sister, Annie were home cleaning and preparing supper. 

Mary could feel it was time for her baby to come. She began to feel the contractions squeezing and tightening around the bottom of her stomach. She knew she needed to try to relax. As she walked across the room, swoosh, water-like fluids poured down her legs.  She looked at George and stated, “Yep, it’s time, we’re fixin’ to have this youngun”.

George ran out the front door and yelled, “Run down and fetch Miss Lydia. Tell her the baby’s coming!

Will, the oldest son heard his father and knew he needed to get Miss Lydia quick. Miss Lydia was the mid-wife for the community. Will leaped off the porch onto the dirt path and ran.  Will stood about five feet nine inches and had long slender legs.  He loved to run and it took only a few minutes to reach Lydia’s house.

When he arrived, Lydia was sitting in her rocking chair on her porch. She asked, “Your momma must be fixin’ to have that baby brother or sister of youns?”

“Yes mam”, Will said while trying to catch his breath. “Pa said we need to hurry, momma’s water done broke.”

“Well now, we better get going.” Lydia said as she grabbed up her nursing bag. She ran with Will down the dirt lane back to George and Mary’s.     

When they arrived, Lydia rushed into the house to Mary’s room. Mary was already in position and pushing. Annie was helping get things ready. Lydia joked with Mary, “Look at you!  You don’t need me here to deliver this baby. You’re doing just fine by yourself. Just breathe now, just breathe”, Lydia told her. “This baby is more than ready.”

Mary was wearing a light blue flowered dress. Her long brown hair was pulled up and twisted in a bun. She had big blue eyes and looked exhausted. Lydia quickly positioned herself between Mary’s legs. She knew it was just a matter of time before the baby would be here.  

Annie watched as Lydia prepped the area. Her eyes opened wide when she saw the strange looking metal tools she pulled from her bag. She asked, “What are you going to do with that?” 

Lydia responded, “Patience child, you will see. It’ll be OK”. Lydia turned her attention to Mary. “Come on Mary, Push!  I can see the baby’s head now.  Push, come on push!”

Mary pushed with all her strength.

“Hold on, just breathe.” Lydia calmly said. “You’re doing great, just a little more. Ok momma, here comes the shoulders.” Lydia continued and baby was out. Lydia clamped the cord with one of her metal clamps. She then used a round shaped bulb and suctioned the nose and mouth.  Lydia held the little one with one arm and patted its bottom. The baby began crying and Lydia announced, “Well now Mrs. Mary, you have yourself a healthy baby girl. I bet she only weighs about 6 pounds.” Lydia then proceeded to tie a piece of string around the cord close to the baby and cut it off. 

Mary knew that George wanted another boy. But she was so happy that she had another little girl. She watched as Lydia dried and wiped the baby off.  The baby was so dainty and not at all happy about being out of her momma’s womb. Lydia then laid the little one upon Mary’s breast and Mary gently patted her back and said, “it’s alright lil’ one, it’s alright.”   

George who had been pacing, hollered through the door, “alright now, I heard cryin’ ain’t ya at least gonna tell me if it’s a boy or girl?” 

Mary just smiled as she said, “There, there my sweet baby girl, you ready to meet your daddy?”  Mary swaddled her in a cotton blanket as she began to calm down and relax.  She gently patted her baby girls back and gave her a kiss.

Annie helped Lydia tidy up the bed. She then opened up the bedroom door and announced, “Now, we are ready for ya’ll to come in.”

When the door opened, George was standing with his hat in his hands and smiling.  He was a handsome man and stood 6 feet 1 inch tall with a medium build.  His hair was brown and his mustache covered his upper lip. His brown eyes filled with tears as he looked at Mary holding their new baby.  It was the same look he had with the birth of every one of their children. He was a proud loving Daddy.

Mary smiled and said, “We have a beautiful baby girl. Look at her pretty little face and her dainty fingers.”

George came closer and kneeled beside Mary. He gently rubbed her head and asked, “What are we gonna name her?” 

Mary looked at George and said askingly, “she looks like your grandma, how about Ethel”. 

George added, “How about Ethel Mae”. 

“Yes, that sounds perfect”, Mary answered. 

By now, all the kids had come in to see.  John, the youngest boy who was only 3, said excitedly, “Effie, I love Effie!”

 George and Mary looked at each other and smiled in agreement. Mary nodded and said “That’s it, we’ll call her Effie”.

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