More wood for the fire. More wood. The room was so very warm. But the older boys kept bringing in wood to stoke the fire, and go back outside to split more. They couldn’t afford to let the temperature drop. The twin girls, born about a month premature, had to be kept warm to survive.

My dad, Sam Hembree, has told me this story more than once. The twin girls were his little sisters, Ann and Sue. They were very tiny, born at home in the big White House in Hog  Jaw Valley on September 25. Dad was only seven, so he mostly remembers the bustling about and the visitors; lots of people coming and going. It was his older brothers, Bill and John who had the hard work of bringing down the trees and splitting the wood to keep the fires going.

It happened during the night. Ann was born first, and Kathleen sent Gordon for Mrs. Metcalf, the closest neighbor, and the midwife, Mrs.Hulvey. As he left, Kathleen began to care for her tiny newborn. Then, she felt another set of contractions. The second baby came out, cold and lifeless.

By that time, Mrs.Metcalf had arrived and called for the boys to build up the fire in the room’s fireplace. The house was heated only by wood stoves and fireplaces. While September days weren’t yet cold, nights were chilly, especially up against the shadow of the mountain where the house sat. The fire soon warmed the cold room.

Mrs. Metcalf held the tiny second baby, at barely a few pounds, and sat as close as she dared to the fire. She had to keep the child warm, for her to live. She felt the heat singing her arm hairs, as she massaged the body of the little girl, urging her to keep fighting, to breathe and live. The boys kept bringing in wood, keeping the room as hot as possible.

They named the little girl Sue.

This is a photo taken of Ann and Sue with two of their brothers, Ike on the left and Sam on the right.
This is a photo taken of Ann and Sue with two of their brothers, Ike on the left and Sam on the right.
Having children has always been a risky business. When I think of all the ‘modern’ accoutrements of birth – moms-to-be know ahead of time about twins, triplets, physical problems, through ultra-sound, monthly and weekly Doctor visits – I am solidly impressed with the acceptance and strength of the mothers who bore our ancestors: our aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins – both the babies who made it, and the babies, and some of the moms, who didn’t.

These two girls survived and thrived. I am proud to have them as my aunts. They have each shown me, throughout their lives and the challenges they’ve faced, how to live with grace and courage. Perhaps in those very challenges of their beginnings, they found the strength for their futures.

God has a plan. #liveloved

For more details of this event, read the book, Kathleen by William Lasater Hembree, published by McKnaughton and Gunn.

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