Immediate Family

House Where I Was Born

I was born in this humble house on January 19, 1938, a Wednesday, two months before Mama’s 17th birthday. Mama recalls that the day that I was born was a mild day, even on the warm side.  She says that she wore only a light jacket (I believe I recall her saying it was yellow – why that’s important, I can’t say — it’s just trivia that has stuck with me) when she went to meet the peddler about one-half mile away.  She recalls carrying a big load of groceries back home after meeting the peddler. 

Daddy describes the event of my birth as follows: “I had to get Pauline Huddleston to stay with Helen while I went to get Aunt Betty Carlen[1] who was the local midwife; then I ran to the nearest phone to call Dr. Ed Gross.  All this some was two miles walking, or rather running, as I had no car.  When Dr. Gross finally arrived, you had already been born.  Aunt Betty said you were born before she got there; Pauline was hovering in a corner of the room of no help to anyone.  I paid Aunt Betty $5.  Dr. Gross charged $5.  He said he had not been of any help.  I guess he did not have the desire to charge anything after he saw the poor surroundings.

[1] Betty Carlen was indeed Daddy’s great-aunt for she was married to his great-uncle, Jim Carlen.

My first name, “Hugh” comes directly from my paternal grandfather, Hugh Toi Denny.  The Scots-Irish tradition was to name the first-born male after the paternal grandfather.  “Hugh” is a common Irish given (i.e., “Christian”) name for boys and appears often in my family tree. “Wayne,” my middle name, was suggested by my grandmother, and was said to be based on someone who befriended (Rebecca is of the opinion that their relationship might have been more than platonic) her during a difficult time.   

Apparently, I was a healthy baby for Daddy says “At three months, you could almost pull yourself to a sitting position by holding my finger.  I remember what a definite grasp you had.” But evidently I had an ill-developed digestive system or Mama’s milk did not agree with me (I was breast fed) for Daddy goes on to say: “At six months old, you were nearly dead – malnutrition.  Dr. Denton (the local country doctor) treated you with calomel[2] for an “infection of the bowels”.  You gradually grew worse and so in desperation, we carried you to see a doctor in Cookeville.  Dr. Fred Terry examined you and then blistered (not literally, but verbally) us for allowing the baby to get in such a deplorable condition. The food he prescribed for you did not suit your tastes and for a long time it was touch and go as to whether you would make it.” Note that in 1938, there was not the wide array of baby formulas available on the market today.  Even if it had been, it was not accessible to country folk, nor was it affordable by few folks in the late-depression economy.  The only available baby supplement was a cereal called Pablum, which Mama said I would spit back out as soon as it was in my mouth.  Mama says she remembers many times rocking me and crying for she thought I was going to die.   (Clearly, I survived, for I am here writing this!)

[2] Chloride of mercury! Now, in the 21st Century, people go berserk over a hint of mercury in anything! Calomel, along with castor oil, was used to treat all sorts of maladies in children. 


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