Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Angel Baby

Forty-five years ago today, October 6, 1964, my baby sister was born....and died. Truth be told, she was still born. I never saw her, nor even a picture of her, but those who did say she looked like me when I was a baby.

Joyce Ann McDonald was her name. She has a little grave in the cemetery where my paternal grandparents are buried. There is a little white headstone that bears her name and the date of her birth/death and the names of Momma and Daddy.

I was not quite 7 when she was born, but I remember it like it happened yesterday. Daddy worked the second shift and we had no telephone, but lived within sight of my paternal grandparent's home. One of my maternal aunts, Aunt Shirley, was staying with us so she could go for my grandparents if the baby decided to come during the night.

Monday, October 5, 1964 was like every other Monday in my young life at that time. I went to school that day. My younger sisters, Charlotte and Debra, who were 5 and 4 respectively, had been at home with Momma, Daddy and Aunt Shirley all day. When I came home from school, Momma was resting, which was highly unusual. Momma NEVER rested. Daddy had gone to work and Aunt Shirley was working on supper.

As the evening progressed, Momma kept grimacing every now and again and holding her back. Aunt Shirley kept looking anxious and nervous. Finally, at some point after dark, Momma said something to Aunt Shirley about her going ahead and getting Maw and Paw McDonald. Aunt Shirley grabbed me by the hand and said something to the effect of "Come with me", and we were off! She literally dragged me down the road from our house to my grandparents!

When we got there, she ran up onto the front porch and started banging on the front door, yelling "Mr. Herbert! Ms. Ilene! Thelma's having the baby!" My Maw came to the door buttoning her dress and Paw followed closely behind. Paw grabbed the telephone and called Daddy at work and told him to come home. Then, we all loaded into Paw's car and they drove me and Aunt Shirley back home.

By this time, Momma was looking pretty sick and had gotten a small suitcase out and had gotten Deb and Charlotte into their pajamas. She told me to go get into my pajamas while we waited on Daddy to get home. Maw and Paw stayed with us until Daddy got home. When he did, he came running into the house looking worried.

I don't know how it was for everyone else in 1964, but in our house small children did not know where babies came from and were not given the truth when we asked! I honestly don't know what I was thinking, just very confused! Daddy helped Momma to the car and Aunt Shirley got all of us girls loaded.

Daddy drove us to Grandma and Grandpa Howell's house, where Aunt Shirley and us girls got out. Grandma Howell got into the car with Momma and Daddy and they were off. We were put to bed with no explanations whatsoever. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the telephone rang, waking us all up. Aunt Glenda came into our bedroom crying. She told us the baby had been born, but that she had died and that Momma and Daddy would be home soon.

This was my first memory of having anyone in my family die. I didn't know what to think or feel. Everyone was walking around in the middle of the night crying and so sad. I didn't comprehend it. Not too long afterwards, Daddy and Momma and Grandma Howell got back. Daddy came in to get us. Daddy and my aunts got us all together and took us back to the car. Momma and Grandma Howell were in the back seat and Momma was sort of lying over against one door with a blanket over her.

We got in and rode home in total silence. We got home and Daddy told us to go get in bed. So, we did. When we woke up, Grandma Howell was still there and Momma was in bed. I don't ever remember Momma being in bed during the day in my entire life up until that point. Soon after we got up, Grandpa Howell got there and Maw and Paw McDonald pulled up just behind him.

Then, people started arriving with food. Women were coming in cleaning around the house and working in the kitchen. Daddy was sitting in the living room with all the men and they seemed to be deep into a conversation about something. The women moved in and out bringing in coffee or iced tea and snacks and dabbing tears from their eyes.

Eventually, Grandpa and Grandma Howell left and the others started to drift away as well. Maw and Paw McDonald stayed with us. Momma finally got out of bed. She looked so tired and her face was all swollen and red. She came to lie on the sofa. Daddy sat in the floor in front of the sofa and never left her side as long as she lay there. She would cry softly and Daddy would have tears run down his face.

Finally, Maw called us inside for an early supper. Momma was now sitting up on the sofa and Daddy was there with her. He called us to come sit with them and Momma told us that she had had the baby the night before but that our baby sister was in heaven; that God needed her more than we did. She cried softly as she talked and held us close to her. As long as I live, I will never forget the look on Momma's face and the tenderness in her voice as she talked.

We were still sitting on the sofa when Grandpa Howell's car pulled into our driveway. He and Grandma Howell came into the house and we were shuttled to the kitchen. They talked quietly and Momma kept crying and saying "But I wanted to go".

Years later I was to learn that Grandma and Grandpa Howell had taken Joyce to be buried that afternoon and Momma never even got a chance to see her. Grandma Howell was very superstitious and had some very strange viewpoints about such things and refused to bring the baby by the house so Momma could see her. I'm not really sure Momma ever got over that.

Grandma and Grandpa left, we ate supper, Maw cleaned the kitchen and then she and Paw went home. Daddy and Momma sat with us watching TV almost like nothing had happened. It was never spoken of and we did not go to the cemetery until a few weeks had passed. Then, Momma and Daddy went to pick out a headstone. When it was delivered and set up, we all went to the cemetery together to see it.

Momma cried, Maw cried, Grandma cried; the men all just walked around basically avoiding looking at each other or the women. Finally, Daddy walked over to Momma and put his arm around her. She basically just dropped into his arms sobbing. Daddy almost carried her to the car; Maw and Paw got us into their car and we all left. Maw and Paw took us home with them and Momma and Daddy went to our house.

That night, Maw sat us down and talked to us. She told us that Momma was going to be very sad for a while. She said Momma and Daddy loved our baby sister very much and they were happy God wanted her in heaven, but they were very sad that we didn't get to keep her here with us. Nothing else was ever said until I was a teenager and Momma started to talk about it on occasion.

I never really heard her say very much about it until I lost our first baby. Momma cried with me, I think as much for herself as for me. She was finally able to grieve for her baby.


Constance said...

It just goes to show you the lasting impact events can have on you when you're a young child! In today's day and age it's hard to imagine the way death was handled years ago and yet, it was the way it was. I remember when my OPI died while my Mom and I were in Germany. I still remember my Mom and my OMI bathing his body, preparing it at home. He wasn't embalmed and buried right away. That was 1965. I can't imagine the loss of a child, I hope I never do but I would think it was better to openly grieve and acknowledge the loss rather than pretend it never happened b/c it is awkward to talk about! Haven't you shared that Joyce was instrumental in your daddy becoming a Christian? Her life, brief as it was has eternal implications!

Lorrene said...

Grief is felt by children as much as adults, but they were shuffled off into a corner to handle it all alone. Now if a classmate dies, the shool has counseling for the other students. It's no wonder you remember it so vividly.

The Raggedy Girl said...


I am so sorry and I feel bad for you for this type of memory. I am holding you in prayers for better days in your future.

The Raggedy Girl

Angela said...

Hey Diane!

Wow, that brings up memories of my brother who was born stillborn. I was 3 at the time. My grandmother didn't think I should go to the funeral so they kept me at home. I just never could figure out what happened to my brother. You won't believe this but I was in the area of where he is buried and I actually visited his grave today. It's been a few years since I've been there. I still to this day will cry over the loss of him. His name was David Emmett and he was born September 27th.


Terry said...

dear diane...what a sad story.
your poor momma, even with all of her agony was not bitter or blaming god.
what an effect that it had on your whole family.
i think diane, that you are just like your brave momma...your heart is breaking, you are leaning on jesus and still you took the time to wish jaden isaac a happy birthday.
i think you are like my sister, betty. she is the heart of our family..you are the heart of your family and somebody has to be!
it is you.....love terry

Denise said...

(((Hugs))) Diane, your story brought tears to my eyes. Your poor mother.

I had a younger brother who died of Sids when he was 4 months old & I was 18 months old...that was 1968. I don't have any memories of him & have only ever seen one picture, but I often think about how my life might have been different had my brother lived.