From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2


My mother, Beulah Hill Wetchen, was born in rural Alabama in 1908, a time when most women could not even think about having a career. As a small child, she would rise during the early hours of dawn and work long days in the cotton fields, enduring the unrelenting Alabama heat. She told me that it was at these times that she vowed to herself to become educated and pursue a career in nursing. In that era, it would take tremendous determination and ambition to fulfill her dream and goal of becoming a registered nurse.

The eldest of eleven children, Beulah was the one that her parents relied upon to help with the rest of the family. Many days she would stay home from school to help watch after the younger children while her mother and father worked in the fields. This made the decision to leave home and attend nurses’ training in Tuscaloosa even more difficult because she knew her mother and father would desperately miss her assistance. In the end, however, it was this very decision which came to be more valuable to the family than any of them could have foreseen.

After my mother finished her nursing education, she stayed in Tuscaloosa, doing private-duty nursing and living in her own apartment. She was especially skilled in bedside nursing care, which at that time was at the heart of nursing.

One evening, she received a frantic call from her father. Howel, her seventeen-year-old brother, was gravely ill. He had been having abdominal pains for two days and was becoming progressively worse with fever and chills. The doctor, who had just left the house after administering an injection to Howel for pain, had told my grandparents, “If the boy lives until morning, he will probably be all right.” Beulah’s mother was not about to accept this extremely chilling statement and do nothing until morning. She told her husband, “We have to reach Beulah. She will know what to do.”

Having no car and no phone, Beulah’s father walked to the telephone office in the nearby town of Moundville to make the call. When he reached Beulah, she told him that she would take the midnight train bound for New Orleans. She immediately left for the Tuscaloosa train depot. She knew that the train was not scheduled to stop in Moundville, but she decided she would face that obstacle when she arrived at the depot.

Sure enough, when she arrived there and told the ticket agent where she needed to go, she was told the train would not be stopping in Moundville. Undeterred, my mother boarded the train and told the conductor, “You will stop this train in Moundville. My brother is very ill and may be dying. I must get to him right away, and I will be getting off this train where I need to!”

Apparently, the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice had the necessary impact on the conductor because the train stopped briefly—ever so briefly—in Moundville. My mother told me that she hadn’t even completely taken her foot from the bottom step of that train when it started to move.

When my mother arrived at the house, her brother Howel was lying on a low cot in the living room. She knelt down by his side, and smelling a very distinct odor on his breath—and noting his pale, clammy skin—was certain he had suffered a ruptured appendix. She told her parents that they needed to get him to the hospital right away.

The same neighbor who had driven my grandfather to the train depot took them to the hospital in Tuscaloosa. Upon arrival at the hospital, my mother told the night nursing supervisor what she thought Howel’s problem was and a surgeon was called. Within two hours after the phone call to my mother, Howel was in surgery. Beulah was allowed to stay in the operating room during the surgery. Opening the abdomen, the surgeon turned to her and said, “Miss Hill, your diagnosis is right. Your brother’s appendix has ruptured. It’s like muddy water in here, but we will do what we can to save him.”

One week after the surgery, my uncle was recovering and on his way to good health again.

Last year my mother celebrated her ninetieth birthday and, in her true style, the party was everything she wanted it to be with music and dancing and friends and family around her. As I watched her mingle with the guests, I pictured how she must have looked on that night long ago when she rose to her full five-foot two-inch height, looked that train conductor in the eye and said, “You will stop this train because I am going to get off!”

My Uncle Howel lived to serve his country during two world wars, marry, raise a fine family and become a loved and respected member of his community. All thanks to my mother, a woman with sufficient spirit to set out on a difficult path, ample courage to follow her dreams and enough determination to even stop a train.

Dixie Jane Sokolik

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