The year was 1948 and that August 5th morning dawned bright and sunny, with a sticky humidity that made Delia want to remain in her cotton gown instead of putting on a summer top and shorts. The gown was so much more comfortable on her ever- expanding belly. She would soon deliver her first child.
It had been a long, hot summer on her father’s Kentucky tobacco farm. Her pregnancy had made it even more difficult for her to cope with all the daily chores of farm life. The garden had been producing enormous amounts of vegetables – tomatoes, green beans, corn, beets, peas, cucumbers, squash – requiring the rigorous tasks of picking and then canning. Her mother, Elizabeth, needed the help of her two daughters, Delia and Orene, to manage all the preservation of the garden so when winter arrived, there would be plenty of food to see them through the months ahead.
Delia (pronounced Deal-Yah) and her husband, Carl Hogan, had been living with her father and mother for several months. Carl had not found steady work for some time and even though he was an experienced mechanic and handyman, jobs were scarce in Green County. It was a farming community where manufacturing positions were not readily available. Dee, as she liked to be called, and Carl had come to the farm to help her father, Charlie Russell, plant his tobacco and care for it until the fall harvest. The money received from the sale of the tobacco was the farm’s main source of income and making sure the crop was not destroyed by tobacco worms was a big task.
Orene, the sister, came often to the farm to visit and brought her daughter, Patricia, with her. Orene was married to a policeman and lived in a small city an hour from the farm. She always came to help with the garden harvests and would stay several days. The farm was a wonderful place to be, soothing and peaceful, a retreat from the bustle of life in the city. When she and her daughter were not staying at the farm, many trips were made there on Sundays for her mother’s fried chicken dinners, along with sweet potato casserole and numerous fresh vegetables. Her mother always made her special vanilla cake with brown sugar frosting for dessert. Other family members would also be at these dinners for “Miss ‘Lizbeth” was well-known for her Southern cooking.
Despite the heat of the early morning, Dee put on clothes that allowed her to move as freely as possible. She was not a large woman, slightly over five feet tall and weighing about one hundred pounds. The extra weight of the baby she was carrying made it difficult for her but she was excited that soon she would be holding her child. She was twenty-eight years old, older than most women who give birth to a first child. Dee had not been in any hurry to get married but when she met the tall, blonde Irishman, her fate had been decided, and now a year later, they would be welcoming the beginning of their family.
Today Dee and her sister had planned to go to the strawberry beds on the back side of the farm. Her father had reported that the bed was full of sweet, ripe, red berries, waiting to be picked and made into strawberry preserves. Of course, there would also be lots of berries for shortcake as well. Some of the berries would be canned for that purpose. Just thinking about them, Dee could almost taste the delicious sweetness of the preserves on a freshly made biscuit.
The trip to the strawberry bed required walking across the main barnyard and then north along the lane running through the woods to the open field on the far edge of the farm. They would pass by the spring-fed pond with water so cold, it would make lips turn blue. The water was crystal clear, and on a hot day like this one, would have offered a refreshing swim, but not in Dee’s present condition. She and Orene both thought about dipping their toes in the water for a spell but the berries were waiting.
The two of them continued walking, past what was called “The Slave Graveyard”. Her father had told them about the place when they were young. According to him, in previous times, many slaves had been buried in this spot. It was assumed they had lived on this land until they each died, and then were buried here. It was still possible to see the indentations of the unmarked graves. Finally, Dee and her sister reached the large pasture where the strawberry beds had been placed.
Each parcel of land on the farm had a purpose. Fields west of the main barn grew the money crop of tobacco. It was necessary to keep close watch on the plants to prevent any kind of damage. There was another barn, a short distance to the south of the fields, where the tobacco was stripped and hung to dry until ready to be taken to a warehouse where it would be graded and auctioned. Surrounding fields on the south side included a pasture for horses and mules, and an apple orchard with a large pond for fishing. West of the farmhouse, behind the woodshed and smokehouse, lay the huge garden plot on which the family depended, and nearby was the well house. A large pasture for the Black Angus cattle raised by the uncle of Dee’s father lay on the north side of the house. On the east side was the front yard where games of croquet were played, bordered on the north by pine trees that roosted the guinea hens who cackled loudly.
Every field was designated for something, including the one that held the strawberries. The plants needed room to send out runners, which form new plants. Dee’s father was able to increase the beds by planting the new plants in another row. The same pasture held the tobacco base where young seedlings were raised until ready to be planted in the main field. Dee and her sister had walked these fields for a long time and knew every inch by heart, the same as their father.
The two sisters began the task of picking the berries. It was not easy for Dee to bend over to reach the fruit so she sat on the ground and scooted along. Bending over again and again would have caused her back to scream in pain. At last all the berries were cradled in large baskets, and they needed to start the walk back to the house. Dee was feeling uncomfortable and thought perhaps the heat was affecting her. She told Orene that maybe they could take a short cut around the east edge of the spring pond and cut across the pasture where the cows were grazing. It meant walking down a large hill into a low area and then up a hill to the fence bordering the northern edge of the yard. The path might not be as easy as walking the lane they had taken but it would take less time.
With the delicious smell of berries in the baskets, they started on the shorter way to the house. They reached the pasture where the cows were munching contentedly on summer grass. They went down the hill and into the flat area, across its short distance, and started up the remaining hill by the house.
They were still several feet from the wooden sty built to cross over the fence when Dee realized that the black Angus bull was heading in their direction, and he was not walking! Both sisters began running with their baskets, toward the sty, trying not to lose the berries. Dee knew they would not make it before the big bull reached them. They had angered him by coming in his territory, and he was mad. Just when they both thought they were going to be trampled by him, their father appeared with a shovel and whacked the bull over the head with it.
The two sisters scrambled over the sty, leaving their baskets on the ground next to it. Dee had a difficult time hoisting herself over the top and once over, collapsed in a heap. Her father handed her sister the baskets of berries and then climbed over the sty. The bull had gone back down the hill to his herd of ladies as though getting whacked by a shovel was a common occurrence.
It was not long after that harrowing adventure that Dee realized she was in labor. Her mother rang for the doctor to come and made her comfortable in the large bedroom by the front porch. Carl and her father paced the porch, looking in the window to see if she was okay. The doctor arrived and assured everyone that Dee was doing fine. Late afternoon on that hot August day, in a Black Gnat Kentucky farmhouse, she gave birth to a beautiful little girl with brown hair and green eyes, and a surprising birthmark on her inner right thigh – a cluster of red berries!
Bev Hogan Newbold