The Midwife

by Mike Peters

My Great Grandmother, Mary Myrtle Huffman, was born 20 August 1883 in Jackson County, WV.  The Huffmans were an old American family.  Their progenitor had immigrated from Europe in 1713, and Mary Myrtle was the seventh generation of this line to occupy the North American continent.

A couple things were for certain when you visited Grandma.  No matter how long your visit, you would never leave without eating something, even if it was just a piece of hard candy.  You would also never leave without a hug and kiss.  And when she kissed you, her hands gently stroked your face.  You knew that Grandma was very proud of you and that in her court, you would always get a fair shake.

Three generations are pictured.
The baby is Sharon Wandalea Coleman, 
who is being held by her mother, 
Mernia (Pritt) Coleman.
Standing next to them is the 
child's paternal grandmother, 
Mary Myrtle Huffman Coleman=="The Midwife".

Grandma was a practicing midwife.  Many women got to feel that special touch, and it must have been soothing during their time of labor.  And for many children, it was their first touch.  I couldn't think of a better welcome mat into the strange, cold new world.  Her hands may have been wrinkled, calloused and arthritic, but they were soft as they delivered comfort, warmth and understanding with each stroke.

Oral legend focuses on one particular birth, a difficult birth that happened in the winter of 1936. It was to be the second child for this mother.  The first one had died young after only four months. Mom was understandably anxious.  The anxiety was compounded when the second child was born premature.  The dark-eyed female weighed in at a mere "pound and a half." Grandma wrapped her and placed the tiny birdlike body in a shoe box.  She placed the box on a mantel above the fireplace.  Things definitely looked bleak!  But Grandma would have none of that. While the tired mother rested and worried, Grandma took control.   "Everything's gonna be all right girl!"  Her encouragement was directed at both mother and daughter.  Grandma stayed up, fed the newborn with an eye dropper and stoked the fire until morning.

Mary Myrtle Huffman died in 1968.  Motherhood had been her forte.  She had given birth to nine children of her own.  When her sister died during the Spanish flu epidemic, she took in two of her nieces.  When a young African American man from the South came looking for work during the depression, he became another son.  And don't forget the countless children she welcomed into this world as a midwife.  It was her calling.

The girl that was born on that cold winter night is today 65.  Her son now sits at a keyboard, grateful for the memories and grateful to have been, if just for a short time, one of Grandma Huffman's children.  He was lucky enough to have felt her soft touch on his face and to have experienced her wrath on his backside.

Thanks for listening and as Great Grandma Huffman's daughter-in-law, the mother who experienced the traumatic birth in 1936, used to say, "Ya'll come!"


Mike Peters

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