Yesterday morning was slow at the stand. It’s not at all surprising, being that it was the Monday after the holiday weekend, so those who don’t work a 9-5 kind of job weren’t getting up early to go shopping at our farm. During the down time, I got to chat with my grandmother, who we call Golligol, and she told me what I thought was an amazing story, and it’s been in my mind ever since.
Before I begin, it’s confusing talking about who’s who. My grandmother, who we call Golligol, is named Gladys. Her mother, my Great-grandmother, is known to us as Grandma Gedney. Since I wrote the story from my point of view, I used the names I use: Golligol is my grandmother, Grandma Gedney (or just Grandma) is my Great-grandmother.
When Golligol was born, there was an outbreak of Polio going on in our area. Although I don’t know very much about Polio, I do know that it is an extremely serious disease. I would assume that Polio would be especially deadly for a newborn. In order to protect their baby, my great-grandmother (known to my generation as Grandma Gedney) and great-grandfather (Grandpa Gedney) decided that she should take their baby up to the “mountain” by their farm and live in a tent. Grandpa continued to work and live at home, and Grandma cared for her baby (Golligol) for six weeks living in a tent, completely isolated from anyone who could be carrying Polio. It wasn’t easy. My grandmother didn’t take to nursing, for whatever reason, and it wasn’t as simple as going to the local store and picking up some formula. Her grandfather took milk from the Jersey cow that produced the richest milk to give to her. Here, in this tent, my great-grandmother raised my grandmother for the first six weeks or so of her life. Eventually, the outbreak began to subside and it got colder, so Grandma decided to return home with her newborn.
I have to say that I was stunned to hear this story. That less than eighty years ago, a woman would take her newborn and raise her in isolation in a tent, in order to keep her safe from an outbreak. Today, people tend to think they can’t live without the latest technology, from a diaper genie to a swing and the other gifts I’ve seen women rave about at baby showers. Yes, those items can make life easier, but clearly they are not necessary, and in reality, these items were not available for the vast majority of human history.
I’m also left wondering. What did Grandma eat? Golligol was born in August, so I’m sure she was able to get some wild berries, but she must have packed up other non-perishables and taken them with her. More curiously than that, what did she do? I understand that taking care of an infant would occupy the majority of her time. But what did she do during the little bit of free time? I know that I fill my free time surfing the internet, watching TV, talking on the phone. But clearly those were not options. I imagine Grandma singing, knitting or sewing, taking little strolls with Golligol in tow, reading, writing, picking wildflowers. And what about diapers? Of course she used cloth diapers, but I was wondering where she washed them. There must have been a river nearby. Did she drink water from the river? Did she build fires to cook and boil water? If so, where did she get the wood? And finally: Wasn’t she scared? Grandma was younger than I am now when she had Golligol, her only child. Imagine the two choices she had: take her newborn up to the mountain, or keep her at home and risk contracting Polio. What about coyotes? Or the occasional black bear? And the nights alone… I would be terrified.
After hearing this story from Golligol, I have a newfound respect for my great-grandmother. Grandma Gedney died three years ago, and for many of the last few years of her life she was not in great health. I wish now that I was able to hear her version of this story. Clearly, my great-grandmother was a very strong, brave, independent woman. And clearly, she lived in a different time.