Half-laughing, half crying, she held her chocolated new-born.. Cocoa and water soaked into her flower print dress.
“Horace, you grabbed the wrong tin from the pantry shelf. That wasn’t mustard powder.”
The only known cure for seizures in Manitou, in 1915: dip the baby in tepid water, with a sprinkle of mustard powder. This ‘cure’ Anna had used on Melvin every day since he was born. To little avail. Six days had passed and now she feared he wouldn’t live. Yesterday, old Doc. Hamilton had informed them, “Nothing more can be done for him.”
“Horace, help me change this water,” she said as she finished wiping off the baby and wrapping him in a blanket.
Anna would have lost all faith if she hadn’t had Horace. He was her dear, healthy little six-year-old. He didn’t really understand what was going on, but he was such a help to her.
She smiled as she watched Horace struggle with the dishpan. What a good child. She checked the hot water reservoir in the stove. Lots of water. Good.
“Now rinse it out into the slop pail…Horace! Hurry. Melvin’s having another convulsion. Put some water from the water pail into the dishpan.” Holding her shaking baby in one hand, Anna dipped some hot water out of the reservoir and poured it into the pan.
She stripped her infant again and put him in. The seizure passed. Anna sighed. Fourteen today. Oh, God, please help him. She looked at her other son. Maybe he knew more than she thought.
“Thank you, Horace. Bring me a towel and a dry blanket. You’re a good boy.” He handed her the towel and blanket.
“Is Reverend Davidson going to be here soon, Mama?”
“Yes. Your father should be back with him any minute now.”
Her wonderful husband, George. He was always there for her. She remembered the day they’d met just like it was yesterday. At church, he with his black Bible and English accent. She had come to love and depend on him more than anyone else in the world, except God, of course.
Anna had grown up, with eight siblings, in a poor Catholic family. Because her parents were not really able to support so many children, she was sent, when she was fourteen, to live with a nearby family that kept a boarding house. They were a Methodist family, and she lived there with them in exchange for helping around the house.
Now she and George attended the Methodist church too, but, in her heart, Anna was still a Catholic. She wanted little Melvin baptized before he died, to assure him a place in heaven. She had asked George and he had agreed to it. So he had gone to get the reverend.
Anna sat in her old comfortable rocking chair, holding Melvin in her arms, hoping that he wouldn’t die before the minister arrived. Soon, she heard a shuffling out in the hall. She rose to greet the reverend as he came in.
“I thank God that George came to get me. You know I’ll do whatever I can for this little fellow.”
“Well, I suppose you will need some water,” George began. “I’ll go…”
“Oh, no need for that. I’ll just use this water,” he said, referring to the water they had dipped the baby into. The reverend held out his arms and took little Melvin.
Anna stood between George and Horace. She held their hands tightly. Please, Lord, don’t let him die, she prayed silently. I know, Father, if you will it, Melvin will be all right. The reverend dipped his fingers into the water.
“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he said as he touched Melvin’s forehead three times with his wet fingertips.
Melvin didn’t have any more convulsions that night…or ever again. When they were all sure that he was going to be fine, Horace earnestly declared, “See, Mama, all it took was a little more water!”