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The Day Before Yesterday: 6 - A Surprise During Haymaking

Gladys Schofield recalls the birth of a baby brother.

To read earlier chapters of Gladys's engaging life story please click on The Day Before Yesterday in the menu on this page.

It's funny when you think back how the summers always seemed long and hot. It was haymaking time and the heavy scent of new mown hay hung in the afternoon air as we arrived home from school. This hay field was just across the road from where we lived and we lost no time joining in the fun with all the other children.

Getting the hay in was a team effort, and everyone available gave a hand. The children could play their games around the stubble and haystacks. A docile old horse pulled the hay wagon which was loaded with hay time and time again. We sometimes got a ride back to the hayfield on the empty cart.

This was long before tractors or petrol driven wagons, a far more relaxed time in our existence. We got pleasure out of simple things like this as we frolicked around the haystacks.

I saw my sister coming through the gate. 'Could it be teatime already?' I wondered.

But no. "Come and see our new baby brother", she called.

I didn't even know we were getting a new baby brother. And why a boy anyway? Hadn't we got enough boys? Thinking this, I walked towards her with my two brothers.

Ted, or Edward as his real name was, was a lovely baby with big blue eyes and blond curly hair. He seemed more contented than John was at first, so peace reigned for a while. I was still only five at this time, and although the smell of new baked bread still hung in the air, I couldn't see why our tea wasn't ready.

I was told later Mum didn't even have time to take the last two loaves out of the oven. She was so near her time the midwife ordered her upstairs to bed, and she didn't come down again for two weeks. It was as well some mothers got this resting period after each baby. It was the only time they got a good rest. A midwife always delivered the baby in straight forward cases. Only if needed did a doctor arrive.

Some ladies made it their job to take care of a household while the mothers were lying in, as it was called. When she was confined to bed you got no money from the government for this purpose, or family benefit. The money for this lady's wages was found by the family.

Dad needed to work at this time so Mrs Haigh came to care for us. She was middle aged and had no family of her own, so Dad thought that must be why she wanted to be with other people's families.

It soon became clear she wasn't much of a cook by adding far too much salt to everything she made. We dreaded mealtime as we didn't want to hurt her feelings, but she proved to be a poor substitute in more ways than one for our mother.

Things came to a head on the Saturday. With Dad being at home, she asked if she could take me shopping with her. Dad thought this was a good idea; it would be a nice change for me. But the shop she intended visiting was the local public house. She told me to wait outside for her as she would be a minute and in she went.

I had never seen a place like this before as my dad didn't drink. I stood there and now and again a man would enter or leave the premises, but no Mrs Haigh. I began to think I had missed her somehow, but finally she came out of the door and took me home.

Dad could smell beer on her breath as she breezed into the house, and he said to me, "You've been a long time, did you enjoy yourself?"

"I had to wait outside, Dad," I said, "I wasn't allowed in." Not knowing I had put my foot in it.

Our dad turned to Mrs Haigh and said, "How dare you leave a child of mine standing outside a place like that!"

"If I want a drink I shall have one," she replied.

"Not in my time," Dad said. "You can leave."

And that was the last time we saw Mrs Haigh. We didn't know at that time it wasn't very nice for ladies to frequent public houses. Dorothy stayed home for the last few days until Mum was able to take over again.

Babies did not wear short clothes until they were three months old. They wore a long gown and two undergarments called barracoats just as long as the gown. A binder like a broad bandage was wrapped around its tummy and fastened with safety-pins until the navel healed, and two nappies were worn at night, one fluffy terry towelling, the other cotton. I wonder how the baby thrived at all, smothered in all that clothing. A woolly vest, bonnet and shawl completed this outfit.

Ten years later saw a big change in this. A maternity hospital was opened and babies wore short clothes in daytime at about two weeks but long after that, some took time to change. When babies had stopped having breast milk, they drank cows' milk. Dried milk was not available at this time.


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