The Death of Miranda

The Death of Miranda

By Elton Camp


(Caution:  This describes the actual death of my grandmother in 1915 in the rural South.  It may be too intense for children.)

            Standards of responsible childrearing, including sex education, were far different from today in the Old South. Calves and piglets appeared with regularity. The parent’s casual comment went, “Th’ cow fount a calf.”  The remark was usually sufficient to fend off possibly embarrassing questions. Unless they happened to witness a birth, the idea went unquestioned by the children. Somehow, each ultimately learned the truth without parental help.

            When the expectant mother of a family began to experience labor pangs, the children were sent away to stay with relatives until after the birth. No reason was given beyond a family visit. They weren’t told to expect a baby brother or sister upon their return. The older ones eventually figured it out.

            “Maw’s gonna have a baby,” Leamon asserted knowingly to the other children.

            They were in a wagon on the way to an uncle’s house. He knew that it’d been about two years since the birth of Leon. Howard was six years old. Leamon had noted his mother’s expanding waistline. After covert consultation with an older pal, he affirmed his maturing concept of human reproduction. No longer could he be deceived.

            The older girls knew he was correct, but maintained an embarrassed silence. The younger children either ignored his conclusion or looked at him with pity for his ignorance. As with animals, the explanation had always been, “Yore maw fount a baby.”  They’d seen no reason to doubt it.

            Miranda, in the manner of rural women, hadn’t consulted a doctor. She received no prenatal care, special diet or precautions. Her life went on just as when she wasn’t pregnant. A granny midwife would assist with the home delivery.

            “Milas, send fer Miz Parsons,” she urged. “Hit won’t b’ long.” 

            The experienced older woman came promptly. Milas retreated to the front porch to wait for the appearance of his latest child. Five previous births had been uneventful. The disturbing sounds he heard this time, however, were unlike anything in his experience. Something surely must be seriously wrong. Yet, he made no move to comfort his wife. Birthing babies was women’s work. Milas took out his pocketknife and began to whittle on a length of wood. A pile of chips accumulated on the porch in front of the swing. A neighbor drove by in his wagon. The two exchanged raised hands in silent greeting.

            Miranda moaned in agony. The midwife tried in vain to reassure her. After a piercing scream, there was an ominous silence.

            Mrs. Parsons stepped from the house onto the porch. “I’m sorry, Mr. Mile, but Miranda didn’t make hit. Nor did th’ baby.” 

            Milas showed no emotion. “I thank y’u fer yore help, Grace.”

            The newly widowed man drove his mule and wagon to a neighbor who did carpenter work. “Jake, Mirandey died whil’ ’go,” he said. “I need y’u t’ make up a coffin.”

            The deal made, Milas drove the wagon to his brother’s house to pick up his motherless children. He gave no thought as to the best way to break the shocking news. Women sometimes died having babies. It was a part of life.

            When he called them to the wagon, he said bluntly, “Young uns, yore maw died.”  He offered no assurances or comfort beyond, “Hit wuz jest her time t’ go.” 

            The family climbed aboard for the trip home. For a bit there was only silence. The two younger children hadn’t comprehended the fearsome news. They began to laugh as they played with a shuck doll in the floor of the wagon.

            “Stop thet, boys,” Bertha ordered. “ Ere y’u deef?  Didn’t y’u heer whut paw sed?”

            The two older girls sobbed as the wagon jolted along the dirt road toward their home. Nothing would ever be the same again and they knew it. The two older boys said nothing. Boys weren’t allowed to cry.

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Life in the rural South during the eary 20th Century.