|Everett and Paul Combs on trip back to family farm.|
Church where siblings were buried
Very few sad stories were ever told to me. Sometimes it felt like if you didn't talk about it, it never happened. I have more vague ideas and hints of peoples lives than full blown stories. A few times my Grandma Arvin would talk about the childhood deaths of her siblings or growing up on a farm. Grandma Combs would talk about growing up in town and how they made ends meet some months. Few of the stories had a lesson, and they tried to focus on the positive. Except for one that still surfaces in my mind on occasion about my great-grandmother Sylvia Freeman Combs.
In the mid-1960s my grandfather took his father back to the old family farm in Orange County, Indiana. Grandpa would tell stories to his kids about how he walked behind the wagon from Orange County to Daviess County when they moved there in the early 1930s. My dad told me grandpa was shocked to find the graves of 4 siblings he never new he had on this trip.
The family was very poor. From what I understand from my father, they barely had enough food to feed everyone at times. How they came to this situation, I do not know. I do know that once they moved off the farm and into town where there was steady work their life improved greatly. My grandfather was the third youngest child. He new that he had a sister named Ruth who died in 1920. Zelma and Everett Jr were born after that and lived full lives. He did not know about those who died within a few months of their birth: Mary in 1924, Kenneth in 1928, Pauline in 1930, and Robert in 1933.
Grandpa asked about the graves was told a heart wrenching story about his mother. She thought that as long as she could produce milk, she did not need to eat a lot. All the food they had went to the children while she and her husband existed on whatever crumbs were left over. Unfortunately, that is not the way breastfeeding works. You have to feed your body so that you can feed your child. With her best intentions, she starved her children to death.
When I first heard this story as a child I didn't really get what it meant. Yes it was sad, yes it was tragic, but how could this happen? Why didn't she just eat more. Can you tell that I never had to go hungry before? I didn't understand what the lesson of the story was.
As I aged, and then had children of my own, the implications of the tale hit home. I struggled with breastfeeding my oldest who was a micro-preemie. My next child was a breeze compared to the first and I prepared myself by reading everything I could. Proper nutrition was a must. You had to feed yourself to feed your baby. Sometimes I would let my mind wonder during the middle of the night feedings, more than once I thought of Sylvia, and I cried for her.
*Image from the Library of Congress: Nurse the baby Your protection against trouble : Inform yourself through the Health Bureau publications and consult your doctor /