What would you do if you were given a stack of daily diaries written by a vibrant woman, who saw the importance of recording simple yet rich details about the world around her? You’d read them, sure. Not many can resist diving into the pages of first-hand experiences about the past. And, if you’re Lisa Rivero, you’d see the value of their imprint on history and turn those diaries into a story.
Every Tuesday, on her blog Writing Life, Lisa posts flash narratives — very short excerpts of the story that lies within the pages of her Great Aunt Hattie’s diaries. Lisa’s narratives are beautiful pieces that will draw you in and leave you hungry to know more about the life of Hattie Whitcher. Today, I’m honored to host Lisa here, where she shares the third installment of a series based on Hattie’s experience on Memorial Day in 1933. Click these links to read part one (“A Nice, Bright Day”) and part two (“Cracklings”).
Memorial Day Weekend, 1933:
“Down She Went”
She knows what will happen only a moment too late to stop it. Her foot slips on the rain-soaked bank of dirt the men had thrown onto the path, and down she goes into a newly dug, half-finished toilet hole, her left leg buckling beneath her in six inches of water.
At first, she feels nothing but surprise and wonders only how she will heft herself out of the four-foot deep hole, but when she tries to stand up, the pain in her left leg lashes through her body like a whip, causing her to collapse against the earth wall. She tries again to stand, this time on her good leg, and braces both arms on the ground at her chin level.
“Bill! Help!” Her voice is shaky. She hopes he is not asleep in his chair, as usual.
Her arms keep slipping on the mud, and she clutches at wet clods of earth, trying to prop herself up so as to project her voice. “Bill!”
She sees him then, rushing from the house.
“Goodness, Hattie! What did you do? Give me your hand.”
He tries to pull her up first by taking her hands, then by grabbing her under her arms. She bites her bottom lip when her leg hits the side of the hole. After three more attempts, she manages to get out. She sits on the ground to catch her breath.
“I’m going to carry you into the house,” Bill says.
“No, I’m too heavy.” The image of her brother’s hauling her across the yard is more than she can bear. “I’ll crawl.”
Using her arms and her right leg, she crawls to the house, issuing small cries of pain with each labored movement. Her dress grows heavy with mud, slowing her down even more.
“Hattie, be reasonable,” Bill pleads, walking beside her, his hands helpless at his sides. She just shakes her head.
Once on the porch, she allows Bill to help her into a standing position. She leans on his right shoulder and, step by step, makes her way to the first floor bedroom. The thought of what her dress will do to the quilt makes her cringe, but she cannot imagine removing her clothes, so she tells Bill to lower her to the bed. The relief of finally being off her feet combined with the pain in her leg brings tears to her eyes. Bill gets her some aspirins and a glass of water, then disappears.
Hattie spills water on her chin and wipes it with the sleeve of her everyday dress, smearing mud on her face. “Bill?” she calls.
He brings a hot pan of water he poured from the kettle on the cook stove that she had been keeping warm for cleaning the kitchen and places it on the floor. After removing Hattie’s shoe and stocking and gently moving her leg off the side of the bed so that her foot soaks in the hot water, he says, “Stay here. I’m going for help.”
“No buts, Hattie!” She rarely hears this sharp tone from her gentle brother. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to Tom’s to get a car.” Over his shoulder, as he leaves the room, he adds, “Don’t move.”
Bill runs west to their brother Tom’s house. On the way back, at the bridge, they meet LeRoy Kropp and his wife, Jerome Jamison and his wife and their two children, all coming from Winner in their car, and they follow Bill and Tom back to the house.
Just as the cars pull into the yard, Will and Narvin return. They prepare Hattie for the trip to Rosebud Ashurst Hospital, their only stop being for Hattie to use the slop jar at a neighbor’s place. Because of the Memorial Day weekend, there are no workers and no power at the hospital to take an X-ray until the next evening, when it is found that the long bone above her ankle is broken.
From her hospital bed the next day, she is keen to learn from Will of the holiday’s events, which she writes in her diary:
May 30, 1933: Will and Thomas went to O’Kreek this morning to the Legion Program, then George O’Conners took Will in his car to Mission to help decorate graves and then back to O’Kreek to dinner. Will then went on to see me at hospital. It was my wish that he do all he could, also the boys. William and Narvin did fine with lunch. Will said that all the meat is put in the basement and the kitchen is cleaned and mopped. All the pork is cooked and in jars, covered with fryings and lard, so the men can batch awhile.
Hattie stays in the hospital for two weeks, and for several weeks afterward she remains on a sanitary cot at home, leaving it only “when they take me out to sit sideways at the table to eat.” She has a live-in helper, Maggie—“the best helper we could have”—for one and one-half years, at which time she can walk with one crutch and a cane.
Hattie will eventually be diagnosed with diabetes. Her left foot and leg will heal slowly. We can only imagine the damage done by her crawling to the house and the jostling car ride to Rosebud before the leg could be set. She will battle infection and poor circulation, and her leg will never again be pain free. This is her last entry, from June 2, 1957:
South wind was quite strong. I feel bad with pains in my left foot. Will put my bedding from the front-room chair back on my bed and elevated my left leg, but it pained more than ever, so Will brought the bedding back to the front room chair. I gave an insulin shot to myself and ate oatmeal toast and apricot sauce and had hot water to drink.
She never writes in her diary again, and, four days later, part of her foot will be amputated. The next Memorial Day in 1958, twenty-five years after having broken her leg, Will—her husband, friend, companion and helpmate—takes Hattie to the hospital, where she will stay until her death.
Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she is a writer, teacher, indexer, and speaker. Her professional and writing interests include gifted education, home education, creativity, literature and the humanities, and the challenges faced by all families in this fast-paced and often perplexing 21st-century life. Her published books include Creative Home Schooling (Great Potential Press, 2002), The Homeschooling Option (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Great Potential Press, 2010), and The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (Great Potential Press, 2010). She is currently writing a novel based on the Great Plains diaries of her great-aunt Harriet E. Whitcher.