The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Helen DePuydt
Saco Stories 

Midwifery and Chocolates


Walking into our tiny living room before Christmas had become a yearly event for this older couple. There was a gift in hand which they presented to Mama and then relaxed to chat awhile. This pleasant-looking couple were no strangers to me as I had seen them weekly at Sunday Mass. Bringing an annual gift to Mama for some reason seemed to have significance. Living in the Depression era translated to living with the necessities of life and did not include boxed chocolates that my child’s intellect understood.

Tea parties for some of the ladies in our block were a frequent social event. Most often they were in the ladies’ homes and yearly there was a big event – silver tea at the community church.

Years later and it was only then that I owed my knowledge of family history to my presence at the informal neighborhood tea parties. I was given an invaluable insight into Mama’s early homesteader’s experiences and it was then that my curiosity was satisfied. My curiosity about the box of chocolates and the silver-haired couple who brought them to Mama at Christmas.

Venturous ladies joined the ranks of those searching for land ownership and independence. Mama was one of those, who with the assistance of her maternal grandfather, filed on available land south of Malta, Montana. Soon every available acre was filed on, and homestead shacks were constructed.

One family in this new thriving community were expecting an addition to the family. Mama, known by her childhood nickname, Lena, was concerned about the expectant mother. With her growing family she would be requiring assistance. There was no talk of rendering help to this family so Mama knew it was her Christian duty to offer aid.

Cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, and even the milking of cows were pretty much commonplace tasks for Lena. But the expertise of a midwife was an unknown talent but Lena was undaunted. In her spare time, the old reliable so-called “Doctor Book” was laid on the oilcloth-covered table. Close by was the kerosene lamp supplying a circle of light. Every spare moment was devoted to learning the aspect of home delivery.

Fortunately, the husky French woman had previously given birth to three children. It never occurred to Mama that the impending birth could be anything but normal. Her partner in assistance was divine and comforting.

Mama decided that she had the instructions memorized and confided her confidence to Mrs. LaFeat who passed the message onto her husband. It was agreed that the expectant father would inform the novice midwife when labor started and not to procrastinate. Just to hear Mama tell this story riveted my attention and I was more in awe of my beloved Mama than ever before. There were times when Mama seemed impelled to spell words – I had no problems with that, realizing that this tactic was due to my presence. Webster’s Dictionary was a fine aid to filling in the blanks so I had no problem.

From my viewpoint, another chapter of Mama’s experience was as you hear it described – awesome, and I could have laughed out loud. You need to realize that Mama, as she nicknamed herself “an old maid” with tongue-in-cheek as she was in her mid-twenties at this time and fastidous dressing in white while indoors.

So here we find Lena caring for this family in a one-room shack. The three or four children were not all potty-trained and the shocking part of it tottled around naked from the waist down! Recycling was not in the vocabulary but the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues were vital staples.

We find Mrs. LaFeat churning with a handpowered churn and the moment the “butter came” the splash of buttermilk run down the sides onto the wood floor much to the delight of the children. Rivers of buttermilk with little hunks of pale butter ran across the floor seeking its lowest level. Lena was beside herself and the children were never happier. Mrs. LaFeat could easily see how upset her young neighbor was and soothed her by gently remarking, “Oh Lena, don’t let it bother you; you’ll stay young a lot longer.”

Fifty years later while raising my large family, I retold this episode to our family physician. He thoroughly agreed with this easy-going mother and the advice she gave my future mother.

Long after the family had moved and grown family had scattered, I learned that most of the children had college educations and were respectable citizens. I often wonder if an engineer of the family employed at a federally-built dam could have been inspired by buttermilk rivers on the wood floor of a Montana homestead shack. Without exception, each one was not only capable, but bilingual and very handsome. Incidentally, I did meet that baby my mother had delivered and her contribution to society was the education of youth in the state of Washington.


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