Saturday, August 26, 2017

Singleton tells of Aunt Lellia, the midwife who delivered him, helped raise him

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Midwife became a trusted mentor for a boy born in a thunderstorm” was originally published in the April 12, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Almost everyone is born during unusual circumstances, such as being born early or being born late. There are those who were born while visiting Aunt Nancy, or while Mom and Pop were on vacation.

This was true when I was born. I was born two weeks early during the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 14. According to all calculations, I was supposed to come into this world somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s. But this was not the case. From all accounts, I was a total surprise to everyone; and this is the story of my life.

To make matters worse, the night that I made my entry into this old world, a severe thunderstorm was raging. My oldest brother was dragged from a deep sleep, to hear him tell it, and he departed on horseback to summon the country doctor who was to deliver me. I think my brother always held this against me because he said he nearly drowned that night riding the 10 miles or so in search of the doctor who wasn’t there.

Doctor was away

Because I was arriving early and no one was expecting me, the old doctor was gone to attend another patient in another neighborhood and wasn’t expected to return until the next day.

Since I wouldn’t wait for the doctor to deliver me, the trusted and faithful Aunt Lellia was brought into the action. Aunt Lellia was an old woman who lived nearby. Since she didn’t have a family to care for her, she was almost totally dependent on my family for survival. This wasn’t a problem because we always had enough food for two or three extra people at each meal, and Aunt Lellia was always near to help my mother if help was needed. Aunt Lellia was a very knowledgeable midwife; about half of the population around the community had been delivered by this wonderful woman.

So, as the thunderstorm raged outside in the darkness, dear Aunt Lellia, by the light of a kerosene lamp, brought me into this world. The story goes that I was claimed, right there on the spot, by Aunt Lellia. “This is my baby,” she stated.

From that day forward, this grand old lady did most of the looking after me. She was my constant companion during the days when I struggled along, learning to crawl and then take my first steps. Even into young manhood, Aunt Lellia saw to it that I received the proper counseling to guide me through the turmoils of life where many others had failed.

All-knowing but loving

She could have been an asset to the FBI. She knew everything; she did not hesitate to approve or disapprove my childhood sweethearts. But as the years passed, I came to realize that this wonderful and lovely old woman loved me dearly.

As a young boy, I got myself into many situations that I might have been spanked for. But always, dear Aunt Lellia stood between me and the peach tree switch that my mother was so handy with. Many times later, I thought about how this wonderful woman would have made an outstanding lawyer, had she been given the opportunity. She never had to think for an answer; the right one was always there.

I remember the time when I contracted the dreaded red measles. They wouldn’t break out on me; I became very sick. Aunt Lellia came to the rescue with some kind of evil tasting hot tea. Upon being threatened by both my mother and Aunt Lellia, I finally drank the terrible mixture.

I was told to go to sleep and that I would be broken out by morning. Sure enough, the next morning I was as red as I could be, and there wasn’t a place on my body that didn’t have a red measles pimple on it. When I asked Aunt Lellia what she had made the awful tea out of, I nearly got sick all over again; she had made it out of the bark from a red oak tree, among other things.

During the cold months of winter, should a cold threaten, the treatment was a “sally cloth.” This was a piece of flannel about the size of a large handkerchief. All kinds of strong smelling salves and mixtures were rubbed on the piece of flannel. To top it off, the flannel was saturated with plenty of red liniment.

You pulled your nightshirt up as high as you could get it. Aunt Lellia had been holding the piece of flannel close to the hot stove. When she thought it was hot enough, she would place the very hot cloth on your chest. When this happened, it seemed that hot steam came out of your nose and ears.

But this remedy was a sure cure for coughs and colds. The evil-smelling cloth was pinned to your nightshirt, and it remained there until you got out of bed the next day. I couldn’t blame the bad cold for leaving; it was hard enough to stay there myself.

Then, as spring appeared on the scene, the time was at hand for the usual dose of the spring tonic that Aunt Lellia would conjure up. This annual tonic taking was to cleanse your system for the coming spring and summer; it did just that. It was also intended to keep away fever and other things, such as boils and malaria. This tonic would have won any contest as being the worst-tasting liquid that could touch the lips of man. But we knew it was coming, just as sure as the seasons changed and spring appeared on the horizon.

Stand up and swallow

The tonic doses didn’t stop when one grew out of childhood. Can you imagine a 190-pound high school fullback being made to stand and swallow this terrible mixture, all the while being threatened with a spanking if it wasn’t swallowed? And I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Aunt Lellia would have done just that.

My last and final dosage was during the first days of April 1946. I was completing my senior year in high school. This was the last spring tonic that Aunt Lellia would ever conjure up.

So, you see, the life of a boy born in a terrible thunderstorm was one that will always be remembered. And the beautiful people who contributed to my upbringing and well-being will forever dwell within my heart.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born during a late-night thunderstorm on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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