Sometimes the long trip would be made on horseback or in a wagon
in later years by automobile, but, often as not, the journey
made on foot.
would go if it was pouring rain or snow. It never got too bad
for her. The weather wasn't important," says my Mother
(Myrtle Starnes) as she recalled Granny Hill's role as a
"People could come after her
saying, "Scissors, get your grip and she would be ready in
a few minutes," Mother laughed.
A tiny, frail woman, Granny Hill, is
said to have devoted her life to bringing babies into the world
and caring for the sick. She died on November 1, 1951 at the age
Despite the fact he was afflicted
with arthritis and sustained a broken hip in her later years,
Granny delivered babies up until the last six years of her life.
Mother and Aunt Helen recall she
delivered her last baby, born to the Ovel DeRossitt family,
while sitting in a chair.
Granny Hill's devotion and
persistent nature to disregard her own well being to help others
was a source of concern to her children and family.
"She would walk for miles
during the coldest time there ever was," recalls my
Mamaw Starnes, as she talked about her mother. "Ike (Mamaw's
brother) and I
would fuss at her because she would go but you couldn't keep her
But underneath all that concern
Mamaw could understand why Granny Hill could not refuse anybody.
"If you've got a job and can
help someone when they are suffering you would have to go,"
Among the many who have fond
memories of Granny Hill is Mrs. Charlie "Aunt Gay"
"She was so kind, patient and
sweet; I wouldn't have anybody else," says Aunt Gay as she
recalls how Granny Hill showered her with love and attention
when delivering three of her children. "She would come and
stay two or three days or even a week if needed. I don't know
what people would have done without her," Aunt Gay
"Aunt Annie was very dear to
me. She was like part of the family. She was
so glad to help everybody. "Aunt Gay reflected upon the
birth of one of her sons, Jerry, which took place in March
following a terrible blizzard. The severe storm leveled barns
and blew the roof off the Bowen's house in the Rye Cove area.
"The snow was so deep Charlie
had to go get her on a horse. He couldn't get
there in a car," Aunt Gay says, adding that Granny Hill
rode astride the
horse on the return trip.
According to Aunt Gay, after the
birth of a child, Granny would return a week or two later to see
how it was getting along.
"She was a character,"
continued Aunt Gay who recalled attending church with Granny at
Cox's Chapel. "Aunt Annie would always want to see
"her babies", the one's that she delivered,"
laughed Aunt Gay.
She remembers Granny Hill as being
full of life and fun, always laughing and happy.
"She always seemed old because
of her dress," Aunt Gay says. "She wore real dark
colors and wore her hair twisted in a bun." Her attire was
typical to that of all women in those days, she quickly adds.
Everyone had absolute confidence in
Granny's ability, even the physician of
the area, recalls Aunt Gay.
"There was not a doctor who
wouldn't come if she ever needed help. She was that kind of
person, "Aunt Gay said.
A licensed midwife, Granny Hill
received her training from her father-in-law, "Doc"
Hill, an old timey herb doctor and Dr. C. R. Fugate, a well
known Clinchport physician.
Mamaw Starnes recalls accompanying
Granny Hill into the mountains to gather herbs and ginseng as
does Mrs. Echol "Bonnie Hill" Smith of Yuma.
"Aunt Annie really knew where to find ginseng," says
Mrs. Smith. "She would always come out with her apron
Mrs. Smith, remembers that Granny
also gathered yellow root or golden seal which she would boil in
water. This mixture was used to treat the pink eye. "It
would cure it right now," Mrs. Smith declared.
Mamaw Starnes says that her mother
would boil the herbs and mix them with apple brandy, which she
made, in order to purify them.
Omer Fields says that Granny would
gather wild cherry, white oak, elder
bark, wahoo, burdock root which were boiled until real thick.
She would roll the thick mixture
into pill form, dip the pill into flour and place
in a container. There was a certain way in which the bark had to
be gathered Omer says. "If it was skinned down it would
'clean you out' if up, it would make you sick and you would
vomit," he said. "Granny Hill could always tell by
looking at bark which way it had been skinned."
During her long career, which
included the delivery of a couple sets of twins, Granny Hill
never lost a baby or had a mother to die during childbirth. Only
once did she request that a doctor be called. On this particular
occasion the baby was turned wrong and Granny Hill was concerned
that she might not turn it right, Mamaw Starnes recalls.
The physician called to the scene
was Dr. Bob Lynch of Natural Tunnel who proceeded with the
delivery. "After the baby was born he told Mommy she could
have done it herself," adds Mamaw.
Granny Hill kept a close account on
all the pregnant women within a wide radius of her home. Each
time she would hear that someone was expecting a
child she would remember the date. She would count the months,
set the date of the delivery which was usually correct.
"She could tell you how many
babies would be born in the summer or whatever season,"
laughed my Mother.
On some occasions, Granny Hill would
go to the house a few days before
the baby was due. She did this because she knew, from past
a particular lady, that she might have a difficult delivery.
"I've heard people say she
would go and stay from three to four days with some women,"
said Geneva Jennings as she reflected on her grandmother.
"She was really concerned and knew those that needed to be
watched closely. She always knew what to do the next time,"
Granny Hill delivered Geneva's first
child, Junior, and by coincidence she delivered his wife,
Barbara Bowen, whose parents resided in the Bowen Mountain area.
Whenever Granny was called to a
house to deliver a baby, the youngsters were quickly ushered
away. As was pointed out earlier, child bearing was never
discussed with children. One person relating such an occasion
was Joan Jessee, "I remember Daddy going to get her.
(Granny Hill) when Tom was born. Mommy told us to go to
Grandmaws. I kept asking where the baby was and she told me it
was beside the creek," Joan said. She quickly ran outside
and ran up and down the creek bank but no baby could she find!
She ran back into the house to report there was no baby
anywhere! "Grandma said it was in Granny Hill's little
satchel. I told her to 'look inside to see if it was a girl and
if it was an old boy she could take it back up to
Mabe!" laughed Joan as she pointed out that she wanted a
Joan, who along with three other
children born to Charlie and Ann Shepard delivered by Granny
Hill, was fourteen years old when she learned where babies came
From several other accounts Granny
appeared to have been looked upon by children as a carrier of
bad tidings instead of bundles of joy.
It seems Aunt Helen's brother,
Crawford didn't want a brother or sister either. Their mother,
Mrs. Jess (Maxie) Stanley, laughingly recalls she had to give
him a spanking when he hid in the bushes, preparing to throws
rocks at Granny Hill as she approached their house. "He
didn't want her to leave a baby," chuckled Maxie.
Maxie remembers an incident in which
Granny Hill's services were needed almost simultaneously.
"One of Mrs. Omer Hilton's babies was born one March when
there was a foot of snow on the ground. It had poured all day
long. Aunt Annie worked 2-˝ hours to deliver that baby. While
she was there,
word was sent by Jess Stone that she was needed at the John
Stallard's. She left as soon as she could and delivered the
Stallard baby all in one day.
Maxie smiles as she remembers her
husband gave John Stacey a half gallon of apple butter to
deliver word to Granny Hill that she was needed at their house.
A birth was a big affair in a
community; one in which all the neighboring women
came to the home to lend a hand. The ladies would hold the
expectant mother's hand as well as just providing moral support;
and boiling gallons of water.
"The stove had to be fired up
no matter how hot the day was, Geneva said. Cleanliness was
important to Granny Hill who always washed her hands with a
disinfectant soap she carried with her.
After the baby came Granny would cut
the umbilical cord with her tiny scissors then tie it. The other
women would bathe the mother and provide fresh bed clothes while
Granny would devote her attention to the newborn child. She
would bathe it, put drops in its eyes then focus a great deal of
attention to the care of the baby's naval. The following ritual
was performed to
keep the naval from "rupturing". A piece of pre-washed
white cloth was scorched over the fire to be placed on the
baby's navel. A hole was cut in the cloth to allow the naval
cord to be pulled through. The naval cord was covered with
castor oil to keep it soft. Since talcum powder was an unheard
of commodity in those early years. flour was parched over a
flame and used on the baby's naval until it dried.
"You had to wait until the baby
was three months old to quit putting bands on," said
Store bought diapers were rare and
Pampers were unheard of! If anyone was fortunate to have
"Bird's Eye" diapers they were saved to be worn by the
baby to church or to special places away from home. Old shirts,
skirts as well as sheets were fashioned into three corner
diapers. If the weather was cold, long socks would be put on the
baby's legs and pinned to its diaper.
Another person who has a vivid
recollection of Granny's ability is Mrs. Ormer (Ethel) Fields
whose three children were delivered by the beloved midwife.
Ethel recalls the birth of her youngest son, C. J. who weighed
only 3-˝ pounds, "We didn't think he would live but Granny
Hill told us not to worry. She put him in a box lined with
cotton. She didn't wash him with water, she bathed him in
oil," Ethel said. Granny Hill would return to the Fields'
home every day to attend the tiny baby. "She didn't want me
to get him out of the box," Ethel adds.
She recalls that Granny Hill would
boil sugar and water, let it cook, pour a little bit into a
spoon, put the mixture into a tiny dropper from which the infant
received the liquid.
Ethel says Granny Hill would always
test to see if a baby was "liver grown." "She
would lay the baby flat on its back. If its right foot would
touch its left hand they would not be liver grown. If it
wouldn't touch it would be." To remedy the situation Granny
Hill would lay the baby down, pick it up by the heels and turn
it over and over at least ten times. This was supposed to cure
"She always checked under the
baby's tongue to see if it was tongue tied.
She had little scissors she used to clip if it wasn't
right." Ethel said.
If an infant suffered from diaper rash, Granny Hill would
brown flour in a big iron skillet then dust it on the baby,
Both Ethel and Omer spoke very
highly of Granny Hill pointing out that she always went whenever
called upon. "People would go after her on horseback. They
would lead the horse back and let her ride," recalled Omer.
Another neighbor, Theodore Shupe
described her as being "the most remarkable person he had
ever known." "She was really an angel of mercy for the
whole community. She could help in any kind of situation,"
Theodore praised. Granny delivered four of his and Myrtle's
Theodore, who always called her
"Granny Scissors", said that anyone in need of her
services during the day time would have the message relayed by
Charlie Shepard as he delivered the mail on horseback.
"During any kind of sickness
they would always send for her. It didn't matter what she was
doing. She would drop it right there and go," Theodore
recalls. "I never did hear her mention any pay for it in my
life," he adds.
Based upon all information, Granny
most often was given either $2 or $5 for her services. In later
years, as times 'got better', she received $10. However, on
numerous occasions, she received no pay whatsoever.
Theodore recalls a further example
of her generosity as he remembers that Granny Scissors had a big
apple orchard and she would invite neighbors in to get all they
wanted. "She was one of the most honest people I ever
knew," Theodore vowed. "I never did hear of anyone
speaking ill toward her."
Among the collection of memories of
Granny Hill the most amusing ones were related by my Dad (Otis
It seems Daddy and his younger
brother, Frank would always run and jump into Granny's bed.
Despite all her pleas for them to quit, they would not. Well,
Granny went out and cut a big branch from a rose bush which was
literally covered with razor sharp thorns. She gingerly placed
the branch under the sheet on her bed. "We ran and sailed
right in on it," laughed Dad. Needless to say, it was their
With a big grin he told how she
would get he and Frank to take a dose of Black Draught. She
would place the powered medicine on the oil cloth on the kitchen
table. She would then tell the boys they could play like they
were horses and that the medicine was their food. Everyone knows
horses like salt! Anyway, Dad and Uncle Frank would gallop
through the house, run up to the table and lick the medicine
off. "It would tickle Granny Hill to death," Dad
roared with laughter.
Everyone I talked to whose children
were delivered by Granny Hill said
they wouldn't have had anyone but her. Mrs. Lucy Shepard's
typical: "She was the best there was." Lucy recalls
Granny treaded a knee deep snow when one of her sons, J. D. was
born in February and how Granny would returned every day to take
care of another son, Junior. "We lived close to her then
and she would come to stay and help me at night," Lucy
She recalls that Granny always gave
the new born babies a dose of castor oil, the size of a dime, to
keep them from having the colic and to clean them out" as
soon as they were born.
Lucy also remembers that Granny
delivered eight children to Lilly and George
Kern, nine to Lilly and Ben Dillon, three to the Ernest
Most couples in those days had large
families averaging anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen and
Granny Hill delivered most, if not all of these children.
Considering the fact Granny Hill was
called upon to deliver so many youngsters
it would appear she had no time for anything else. This,
however, is a very wrong assumption.
It seems Granny Hill operated a
grist mill which many of the people interviewed remembered very
"We took corn there in a big
sack to have it ground," said Aunt Gay.
"Everybody from all around went
over there. "
Her son, Jimmy, better known as
"Cotton", recalls riding to Mabe on a mule many times
to get corn ground. His memories include that of fishing in the
mill dam. " Aunt Annie would quit grinding and get some
flour and make dough and help me catch fish. They wouldn't be
that long," laughed Cotton, measuring the length of his
index finger to indicate minnow size fish.
Both Omer and Theodore recalled the
measures Granny took in order to have enough water to power the
mill during the dry summer months. "She would put a grate
over the race to catch the water," Theodore explained.
Omer, who rode three miles on
horseback to the mill, said it would take two or three hours to
"get a turn of meal ground" when the water was low.
"We gave her a little cup of
meal for every turn of corn for her pay," Omer said,
explaining that was the common practice in those days.
"Water ground meal is the best.
It gets too hot now," Mrs. Smith recalled.
Theodore further remembers that
Granny always kept three to five cows as well as tending a flock
of sheep. "I don't remember anybody but her shearing
them," he said. "She would send the wool to Walter
Rollins' in Rye Cove. Salesmen
would come there and pick it up."
Granny Hill's husband, Elisha
operated a sawmill, which Theodore said was considered men's
work. "The menfolk worked at it and did the farming. The
womenfolk ran the gristmill and tended the garden," he