|Telford & Gertie Willis|
Under the watchful eye of Harkers Island’s resident midwife, my great-grandmother, Margaret Willis, whom everyone called “Aunt Marg,” new mothers were encouraged, even expected, to remain in bed with their babies beside them for at least a week, and sometimes longer. Aunt Marg held that a new mother needed at least that much time to recuperate from the stresses and pains of delivery. Further, she claimed that this made it easier and more natural for the newborn baby to adjust to its new world and environment.
Aunt Marg’s only son, my “Uncle Telford,” not only made certain that his wife, Gertie, complied with the regimen prescribed by his mother, he took it one step further. In his mind, if a new baby could bond with its mother by staying close beside her for a week or more, he reasoned that the same also must apply to building a relationship with its father as well.
|The home of Telford & Gertie Willis|
So, in his house and for each of their six children, as soon as the new baby was cleaned and readied for its first nursing, and Gertie was revived enough to be returned to her newly made bed and linen, Telford would assume his own place right beside his wife with their new baby snuggled closely between them. And he stayed there, not just on the day of delivery, but for the entire time that his wife and baby remained in place.
|Telford & Gertie, with five of their six children|
Visitors to their home, one of the nicest and largest on the Island, who came by to see the new baby and to check on Gertie would find not just the mother and child, but Telford as well, clad in pajamas to match the bedclothes worn by his wife, and sprawled out on the big bed that covered most of the front-facing bedroom that overlooked the road and the landing.
The only difference in his demeanor and that of his wife and child would be that while they remained prone on the bedding, he would jump up to greet every visitor with one of his full-body hugs before returning to his place on the bed.
It was accepted by all that Uncle Telford’s ritual at the birth of his children was entirely appropriate in view of the nurturing attitude he assumed toward each of them from the very moment of their conception. As much as their mother, or any mother for that matter, he was a constant source of attention and affection. Long after he succumbed to a heart attack at only fifty-one years old, he was mentioned as the standard of comparison for both mothers and fathers in caring for their children.