The Baby Sister Arrives
Recollections of the Family and Times Surrounding the 1930 Birth of Eileen Stevens Wheeler
By Juanita Graven
In the summer of 1929 the family of Martsie and Edith Spicer Stevens consisted of the father, Martsie, 37 years old, a farmer and a broom manufacturer; Edith, the mother, 39 years old; daughter Juanita, 16 years old; and daughter Doris, 14 years old.
The family lived on an 80 acre farm located 5 3/8 miles southeast of Findlay, Illinois, Okaw Township in Shelby County. The east boundary of the farm was the Kaskaskia River. The river was a source of great enjoyment in the summer as well as a source of food for the family. The fish and even the turtles (Did you know turtle meat was delicious?) that Dad caught in the river were welcome additions to the family food supply for the “depression years” were surely putting the “squeeze” on everyone’s purse and money was scarce.
During the summer of 1929 Juanita and Doris, carefree teenagers, although they had always wanted a baby brother. Needless to say they were quite surprised when Mom and Dad told them that they were going to get a new baby in the family in the early months of 1930. Their reaction and answer to this announcement was, “Well! We sure thought Dad was being awful polite to Mom for some reason!” The sisters’ joys knew no bounds-–one of their long cherished dreams was coming true!
In those days there was much hard work to do just to make ends meet and to keep food on the table. There was a big garden and truck patch to tend to have food for the summer as well as for canning vegetables and fruits to add to the winter’s food supply. There was a herd of cows to milk for both food and grocery money. The farm was mostly pasture and woodland. Dad cut wood for the winter’s fuel. There were a few acres of farming ground, but to add to the small income from the farm Dad made brooms in his own shop and sold them from house to house through the countryside and to the local stores. He had taught himself to make brooms by taking one apart and examining how it had been constructed.
There was a short supply of money but an abundance of love and much planning for the new baby. Doris and Juanita spent many hours talking of the “great event” and just couldn’t wait for that new brother or sister to arrive. Mom was busy sewing all of the clothes for the little new one coming soon.
Summer was soon gone and the two girls went back to Findlay to high school and with the interests of a new school year and renewal of old friendships and also making new friends the time seemed to fly by in a hurry in a way and yet seemed to pass to slowly in another way–waiting for the new baby.
Around the first part of February, 1930 there was a spell of warm weather and the roads–dirt roads–thawed out and became so deeply rutted that it was almost impossible to get over them. Just before February 8th there came a spell of below zero weather and the roads were still almost impassable, because they were so rough–those deep ruts were frozen as hard as rocks and ruts had been made all over the roads.
Before midnight on February the 8th, Mom awoke and knew the time had come! Dad went to Findlay to get Dr. George Mauzey for the delivery. A good neighbor, Bertie Bryson went for Grandma Stevens. Mrs. Bryson had come with her two very small children to help do whatever she could do.
The two teenage sisters got a fire going in the old fashioned wood burning cook stove to have plenty of hot water. The fire seemed to be particularly obstinate and didn’t want to burn, but the younger sister kept trying–fanning the front of the stove with a pan lid trying to create a draft to make the fire burn and crying her heart out all of the time. Finally the older sister told the younger one that if all she could do was sit and cry just go back upstairs and go to bed. The younger sister was glad to be relieved of her seemingly impossible task and wasn’t long in getting back up the stairway and in to bed.
“Time waits for no man” is an old saying, but time isn’t all that didn’t wait that night. Dad had not come back with the Doctor and Mr. Bryson wasn’t there yet with Grandma Stevens, but that didn’t make any difference to that baby for she was born a little after midnight on the 9th of February. The elder sister and Mrs. Bryson kept warming blankets and covering up that baby girl to keep her warm, thinking any minute either Grandma or the Doctor would surely get there. To complicate things for the two “inexperienced nurses” Mom took a hard chill and no amount of covers would stop her shaking–shaking so hard that the old bed just rattled.
At last a car was coming–it was Mr. Bryson with Grandma. What a relief it was for Grandma to be there and take charge and she said everything was in fine condition. In her younger days she had been a mid-wife to many women, but she said she was so much older now that she would rather wait a while for the Doctor to come and cut the umbilical cord and to take care of Mom, but that if Dad and the Doctor didn’t get there soon she would go ahead and do it. About that time Dad and the Doctor arrived. The Doctor did his work and was taken back to Findlay but I can still hear him grumbling about the rough roads, even now it seems. Do I need tell you that I was glad when that night was over?
The rough roads had broken a spring on Mr. Bryson’s car. Dad and the Doctor had been slowed down because on the way out from Findlay the lights on Dad’s Model T Ford had failed and they had to drive the rest of the way without lights. The Doctor rode on the edge of his seat and said, “Hell, slow down Martsie, you’re going to kill us both!”
That darling baby girl was named Edith Eileen–Edith for our mother–a little bit of heaven given to us! Grandma Stevens stayed the ten days that Mom had to stay in bed. We girls helped with the work as much as we could, but didn’t have much time to help for we drove a horse and buggy back and forth each day to high school in Findlay.
Oh! How much little Eileen was loved and still is–you know it didn’t make a bit of difference that the baby was a girl instead of a boy!
Time seemed to fly by and she was soon old enough to begin to walk and to talk. She never seemed to have time to go to sleep. Once when it was time for her nap she was behind the stove cutting paper “like mad.” Mom asked her what she was doing and she said, “Cut old sleepy man up!” That didn’t quite solve her problem for she still had to take that much disliked nap in the afternoon.
The now 15-year old sister had been the “baby of the family” a little too long I guess for she had disagreements with Eileen about many, many things and I must confess that Eileen usually won. One argument that came up quite often was this–Eileen declared that she was as big as Doris and Doris tried to convince here that she wasn’t. Eileen’s usual reply was, “I am too as big as you are for my legs come down to the ground as same as yours do!” If sister Doris became too insistent and determined Eileen would run to Dad and say, “Dad, take me! Here comes Doris!”
Eileen had a little pair of overalls that Mom had made her and when she had them on she pushed both little hands down deep in her pockets and reared back and would say, “I Biggie Man!”
In the winter time Eileen would insist that Dad crack hickory nuts for her–before breakfast–and she would say, “Dad, cack, cack “fore dinno!” and of course Dad would do it.
Time goes on wings when there is so much happiness and to add to the happiness in March of 1936 we had a baby brother, Earl.
Eileen started to school in the fall of 1936 at Mahoney School–a one-room country school. By the time Eileen started to school Juanita had been married for about four years and had a little girl, Loril, almost one-year old. Doris had been married two years. Once again Mom and Dad had only two children at home only now instead of two daughters they had a daughter and a son.