The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Babies and Shoes, as told by Ella Boyd

Submitted By Phyllis Hoy © 1990

Issue: July, 1990

Mrs. Ella Boyd leaving home in 1918 heading to nursing school in Nebraska.Mrs. Ella Boyd leaving home in 1918 heading to nursing school in Nebraska.Editor's Note... Ella Boyd was one of those people who could honestly be called a real character. We got to know her in the first year of The Mountain Laurel when we interviewed her. She was born in the Midwest and grew up in a sod house on the prairie, not unlike Laura Ingles Wilder. She was industrious and went to nursing school in the early part of this century at a time most women would have never dreamed of a career. After she married Henry Boyd they lived in South Dakota. When the depression hit, they went back to his home at Meadows of Dan, Virginia to try to earn more money to support their increasingly large family. She was a midwife from 1932 until 1955. She raised 10 children of her own and told us she would rather have a baby than have a cold. She thoroughly loved traveling and was a seasoned airline passenger, traveling to visit her children who were scattered all over the United States. Although she didn't drive a car, she could also be seen traveling around Meadows of Dan driving a farm tractor. This story was sent in by Phyllis Hoy, her sixth child, who lives in Juniata, Nebraska.

When I asked Ella Boyd what was the hardest thing about raising a large family of children she said, "Making them mind." When I asked what was the easiest, she smiled and replied, "Loving them."

This story was told to Sandra Archer by her grandmother when she was a little girl and was written from memory for a school term paper in the 10th grade.

It was 1935 and it had been a hard year all around. With the birth of my seventh child, John, had come the hard times that most folks took to calling the "Great Depression." As if that wasn't enough, winter was exhaling its cold breath on my apron strings again. The winter as beautiful as it may be, is the toughest time of year for the mountain folks. It seemed that every winter I had a new baby squalling and crying with the winter colic and Forrest, our oldest, outgrowing his shoes. The boy grew like a weed all summer and his big feet just got bigger.

I knew shoes were going to be a problem again this winter, so I sat down at the wood hewn kitchen table to figure out what was what on an old copy of the Ladies Bazzar. Now I thought to myself, "Robert can wear Forrest's outgrown shoes, Ralph can wear Robert's. David's still fit for a while and Gordon can wear a pair of mine with some old socks stuffed in the toes and the two youngest were too little to go out in the weather, so would be ok with socks. But what were we going to do about Forrest?"

That night I prayed like I had never prayed before, asking God for just one pair of shoes that would shield those monstrous feet for this one winter. Surely spring was in the making.

I didn't get very far in my prayers as each time I started, John would start crying. That baby cried more than any baby I gave birth to or delivered in my years of being a midwife, and I delivered a lot of babies all over the mountains.

Around midnight, when the snow was just beginning to lie soft on the ground, an impatient knock sounded at my door. "Well, who in Heaven's name could that be?" As I opened my door I stared in amazement at our new neighbor. They had just moved up here from Charlotte and I knew his wife was with child, as we called it in those days.

"Mrs. Boyd, could you please come? Nellie's going to have that baby all by herself if you don't come. I ain't got no money, but I sure would be obliged." He drifted off, looking up the two miles where she was alone in her pain. "Of course, Early, just let me get my coat." Just as I finished my sentence, my baby laid in with one of his squalls. "But I have to take my baby." I wrapped John in five blankets and wrapped a hot rock in towels and put it in with him. "Let's go," I said.

Halfway across the meadow it started to snow again, harder than I had ever seen it snow before. That's when he did it. That tiny slip of a man picked up my 160 pound body and threw me halfway over his shoulder, shouting against the whipping wind that he couldn't let his wife's midwife get lost in the storm. I just grabbed on tight to his woolen coat and held on for dear life. To this day, I think that was where he got his bad back.

Reaching the house, I let Nellie's screams lead me to her and one and one half hours later, she gave birth to the prettiest baby girl you ever did see. With my son John staring wide eyed, I think he was quieter during that time than he had been before or since. He just stared at that little girl gurgling with joy.

Toting the baby to her father, I laid her in his lap. His face was the most sincere face I had ever seen when he told me, "Mrs. Boyd, I ain't got no money but my uncle sent me these new shoes. Take them." And then he slowly took them off and put them in John's blankets.

I didn't say anything more to Mr. Marshall as I stared at the shoes, thinking about the prayer I had prayed earlier that night, and what a miracle God had sent us that snowy night.

Not only was it a baby, but it was shoes, and when I looked out that door, it wasn't snowing anymore.

The final miracle that stemmed from my midwife adventure took place 20 years later when my little John married his own true sweetheart. The wedding invitation read:

You are cordially invited to attend the wedding of Myron John Boyd, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Boyd to Annie May Marshall, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Early Marshall.