The Midwife's Story

 

October 25, 2004, was the 97th birthday of a lady who has lived in the Monroe community most of her adult life. And even though she has reached that milestone in her life, itís very hard to believe sheís that age. Perhaps the remarkable life sheís lived contributes to the fact that she could easily pass for someone 20 years younger. She told me her eyesight has been bad for the past couple of years, and her hearing isnít as good as it used to be either, but I found her to be not only much younger looking than her 97 years, and very active physically as well.

Edna Reeser who celebrated her 97th birthday on October 25th of this year.

 

Edna Baker Reeser was born in Richland County, Illinois in 1907. She was the oldest of three children whose parents were Grant Baker and Eva Montgomery Baker. Her brothers were named Ernest and Corwin. Just two days before Ednaís 10th birthday, their mother died from blood poisoning. Unable to cope with raising three small children, Ednaís father divided them, leaving her and her younger brother, Corwin, with her motherís family in Missouri. Edna and Corwin rarely saw their father after their mother died. When he came to visit, it would only be for two or three days out of a year. Prior to the arrival of their father for one of these visits, Edna told Corwin that their father was coming to stay for a few days. When Corwin didnít make any comment after learning that his father would be arriving, Edna asked him if he heard her. His reply was, yes, he had heard what she said, but he needed to ask her something. "What does Dad look like?" was his question. He had no memory of their father at all. At the time their mother died, he was only 26 months old. Edna told me that she and her brothers actually lost both parents when their mother passed away.

 

Grant Baker, father of Edna Reeser, is shown with the car he drove from California to Illinois in the late 1920's.

 

By the time Edna was 16, she was living in Illinois once again. She wanted to find a job, and decided to look for something other than a job in the local shoe factory. An ad for a waitress in a hotel dining room caught her attention, and even though she had never been inside a hotel, nor did she have any experience waiting tables, she didnít let that discourage her from applying for the job. A gray-haired man was sitting behind the desk when she went into the hotel to ask about the job. He made inquiry of her about any past experience she might have had waiting tables to which she told him she had none. After talking with her further, he decided to hire her. He told her there was only one thing she needed to know about becoming a waitress. She said she was glad to know that she would only have one thing to learn about the job, that surely she could handle the job if she only had to learn one thing. His advice was "Youíve got to learn to make your head save your feet." That advice, Edna says, still applies today to just about any walk of life.

It was also at the age of 16 that Edna saw her first Christmas tree. Holidays were never anything special during the time she and Corwin lived with their grandmother. Christmas and Thanksgiving were both considered just another day. But one year around the Christmas holidays, a brush harbor meeting was being conducted not too far from their home. When word reached Edna that the folks in charge of holding the revival meeting would have a Christmas tree, she asked her grandmother if she could attend just so she could see what a Christmas tree looked like. Corwin wanted to see the tree too, and asked if he could go with Edna. Their grandmother agreed that they could go, but also told them not to expect to get a gift when they got to the meeting. It was around a three mile walk to the place where the meeting was being held. When I asked Edna if she could remember what the tree looked like, she said it was decorated with popcorn and a paper chain. The next time she saw a Christmas tree was after she had children and decided she would have one in their home for the holidays.

 

Walter and Edna Reeser with their young daughter, Phyllis.

  After getting a letter from her father asking her to come out there to live, Edna eventually moved to California. And it was there that her father introduced her to the person who became her husband, Walter Reeser. Walter was born and raised in Overton County, and had gone to California to find work in the oil fields. He was talking to her father outside a pool room on the day they met. They were later married, and began a family that included two girls, Phyllis and Betty, and a son, Sonny. Even though it was Walterís intention to remain in California, he ended up moving his family back to Tennessee when his fatherís health began to fail. He took a six months leave of absence from his job to come home. The family was loaded into their 1931 Chevrolet and they headed out for Tennessee. The journey was a very long one that took them through Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
Edna recalled part of trip as being in a very desolate area where they didnít see one living thing. They didnít see any other vehicle along the way, not a person, not a bird, or even a jack rabbit. No sign of life could be seen anywhere. Finally, around 10:00 that night, they found a place to spend the night. Their youngest child, Sonny, was just a year old at that time.

The Reeser family settled in the Monroe community not too far from Walterís parentsí home. Walter had bought the property before he went to California. Farming, along with having a dairy farm, was how they made their living. This was during the time when all the milking was done completely by hand. And it was not long after moving to Tennessee that Ednaís skills as a midwife became well known. I asked her how she got started as a midwife, and her reply was that "it was kinda forced on me to begin with." She had a neighbor she went to stay with while the husband had gone to get a doctor to help with the delivery of a baby. But the doctor was too late. By the time he arrived, Edna had successfully brought the child into the world. That was the first of many she has helped deliver. She has participated in over 300 births since the day she went to stay with her neighbor. That number includes two sets of triplets, one to a Beaty family, and the other to a Brannum family. Not even a doctor in Livingston had delivered triplets at the time the first set of triplets arrived. When the word got out that the Beaty triplets had been born, Dr. Capps and Dr. Qualls both came to see the babies, and asked Edna all kinds of questions about their birth. Edna described being a midwife as nice work in a way, but hard sometimes too. She spent many nights away from home and her family, she walked many, many miles in the rain and snow when it wasnít possible to drive the family truck. On one occasion, she was completely soaked by rain when she arrived at the home of the family she had gone to help, and had to change into the wifeís clothes while her wet things were hung up to dry by the stove. One of the stories she shared with me about her midwife travels was walking to a home she described as being across the river. When she arrived, she found the husband of the wife she had gone to help sitting in a straight back chair holding his son on his lap. After the new baby had been delivered, Edna asked the little boy how much he would give her for the new baby. He told her he would give her a quarter, but his granddaddy had the quarter. She told him that would be okay, just to save the quarter and in a couple of years she would be back, and he could give it to her then. Sure enough, in a couple of years she did go back for the birth of another baby, and sitting in the same straight back chair was the husband and the little boy. In the hand of the little boy was a quarter which he held out to Edna as she came through the door. She asked him what the quarter was for, and the father reminded her of what she had told the little boy. Even though Edna didnít remember telling the little boy about the quarter, he hadnít forgotten, and had kept his word.

Something else Edna was called upon to do from time to time around the neighborhood was to prepare a dead body for burial. She told me how on one of these occasions she had to get a stillborn baby ready to be buried. The best that could be determined, the mother, who was eight months along in her pregnancy, suffered a heart attack. A doctor was brought to the home, and after giving the mother a shot, it seemed that everything would be okay. Edna had been called to the house also, and left sometime after the doctor did. Before she got back home, the husband caught up with her and asked her to come back, that something was wrong. When she got back to their home, she found the baby had been delivered, but it was dead. After making the necessary preparations to bury the child, the mother asked Edna if she could see the baby. Not wanting to risk other complications with the motherís heart problems, Edna made her promise to not get upset and to try and remain calm, and she would let she see the baby. The mother agreed, and Edna brought the baby for her to see. The mother kept her word and didnít become upset, even commenting that the baby was a very pretty one. She reached out and held the babyís hand, but just one week later, Edna had to go back and prepare that motherís body for burial. She evidently suffered another heart attack that this time took her life.

Another job that sometimes Edna sat up most of the night doing when there had been a death in the neighborhood was preparing the fabric that lined the handmade coffins for burial. The process involved sewing pleats into the fabric that was all done by hand.

It wasnít until Edna had grandchildren that she worked outside the home. She was employed at Youngís Variety Store on the square in Livingston, and later, with Smithís Flower Shop. She has been active in church as well as the neighborhood Home Demonstration Club, and a member of the Eastern Star for over 50 years. Walter Reeser, who died in September of 1975, was involved with the Overton County Soil Conservation, the Farm Bureau, and served on the board of directors with Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative for many years.

The Reeser family to date consists of eight grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, and eleven great-great grandchildren with another one on the way.

One way I would describe Edna Reeser is that sheís certainly a lady with a lot of spunk. And Iíll just bet Iím not the only person who thinks that. She told me a story about herself that I believes confirms that description, and it goes like this. One day a man came walking up to the Reeser house looking for Walter. Since he wasnít at home, Edna asked the man what he needed with her husband. He told her he was stuck and needed Walter to pull him out. Her reply was, "Well, if thatís all you need, I can do that." She said it seemed pretty obvious that the man didnít believe her, and stood with his hands in his pockets and watched while she hitched up the mule and proceeded to do the necessary things with a log chain to get the car out. When she got everything ready, and the chain was hooked to the vehicle, she told the man, "Get in the car and start your motor because when I speak to this mule, heís gonna take you out of there." The man did as he was told, and just as Edna said, the mule pulled the car from the mud. The man did get out long enough to unhook the chain, but drove away without even a thank you. Some ten years later, a fellow stops to talk to Edna, telling her she must not remember him. Heís right, she doesnít, so he goes on to explain that she once helped get him out of a mud hole. And even then, after all that time, he still didnít say thank you. She doesnít know even to this day who the man was.

Ednaís long time neighbor and good friend, Martha B. Parsons, requested that I do this story. I feel I have only just skimmed the surface with this writing, and that it would take at least one book, maybe two, to tell every story this truly remarkable lady has. The 97 interesting years sheís lived are very hard to capture on just a page or two, but I certainly appreciate her willingness to share the bits and pieces Iíve included here.

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