The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Etta McPeak - She'd Do It All Again

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1984

Issue: December, 1984

shed do it all again 1Etta McPeak holding her Certification of Retirement as a midwife from the Commonwealth of Virginia.Chances are that at the exact moment some of you are reading this story, Mrs. Etta McPeak of Laurel Fork, Virginia will be doing the same thing. Not so remarkable when one considers that more than 35,000 people read the Laurel each month. The remarkable thing is that Mrs. McPeak who will be 90 next June will be doing it without reading glasses. Does it all the time; her Bible, The Mountain Laurel and the Roanoke Times. And this is after more that 40 years of using reading glasses. But there are other remarkable things about "Miss Etta". She has delivered possibly up to 1,000 or more babies. "I just didn't keep count," she says. "Wish I had."

From Vesta to Galax and Bell Spur to Dugspur you can find approximately 350 square miles of some of the prettiest and most rugged [Blue Ridge] mountain land you'd ever hope to see. But once it was even wilder with few bridges and miles of rocky and muddy roads. The only major highway traversing the area was newly constructed U.S. 58 following the general route of the Danville-Wytheville Turnpike. "There were more horses than automobiles using the back roads when I began riding with Dr. Frank West on maternity calls in the early '30s", she says. "Dr. West watched my deliveries and infant nursing and encouraged me to apply for a license," she recalls. Then in 1933, after more assisting and studying and examination she was granted the license. Then in 1961, and several hundred babies later, she reluctantly surrendered it when a critically ill husband and cattle raising required her presence at home all the time. She proudly displays a certificate from the Virginia Health Department that attests to her skills and years of service.

shed do it all again 2A clock Mrs. McPeak was once given as payment for delivering a baby. Mrs. McPeak was the midwife called upon in the story we printed in our April, 1983 issue, "Gone Fishing."Health departments and several family physicians in Carroll, Floyd and Patrick Counties [Virginia] recommended her services. "I was allowed to charge $35.00 for a delivery," she recalls. "But I was lucky to collect half that amount," she reckons. And one time a worthless father took all cash she had in her pocket book. Three dollars. "But I suppose he thought he needed it more than I," she says philosophically. Her attractive and comfortable home in Laurel Fork contains two or more clocks which were given her in lieu of baby payments. It also contains a large picture of her son Ledford which she mentions with a catch in her voice as she explains that he died for his country during World War II. Her two daughters live nearby.

Except for the residual effects of two broken legs, she has suffered from recent falls, Mrs. McPeak moves around remarkably well. She uses an aluminum walker when she is tending garden or clearing brush (this is true) around her small farm. Her still pretty face warmed into a smile as I was leaving and she said, "It was mostly a labor of love. And I'd do it all over again if I had the chance. After all I only lost two babies. Both of them died before the fathers could get me to the mothers." she concluded.