Are you in for a treat today! I’m delighted that we have another guest blogger on A Vintage Farmwife. Sue Songer has been my friend for years, and she was even Brad’s first girlfriend! No longer jealous of her (wink), one of my biggest blessings of this year has been God bringing her back into my life. She is a treasure, loves Jesus and is a VERY talented writer.
I enjoyed reading this essay about a scary episode from her childhood and I know you will, too.
As a guest blogger (Thank you, Susan), my entry is dedicated to my mother, Mildred McCoy Dougherty. Like many women of her time and place, she was a strong farm wife with a pioneering spirit. Her faith and family were her priority. What her children appreciate so much is that she was a loving mother of ten children, and she pointed us to God and taught kindness and integrity through her actions not only her words. For me, Thanksgiving Day always includes a whispered prayer of gratitude for Mildred Dougherty’s love and strength coupled with the knowledge that she saved both my life and our home one cold winter morning.
Love Without Weakness
Each year when the cold comes to the Illinois prairie, I am thankful for the blessing of a warm home as I remember my childhood in our aging farmhouse on an open field where winters meant being cold. We children adopted strategies to cope with the cold, one being to jump from our beds and sprint across the cold linoleum to warm ourselves by the wood stove in the kitchen on frigid mornings. On this particular day at eight years old, I was doing just that. As usual, I was eager to spend the first moments of the day watching Mom fixing steamy oatmeal and scurrying around the kitchen all the while singing hymns. Such a happy place. The warmth of the kitchen was so comforting as were the few minutes alone with Mom.
A Perfect Storm
That morning created a perfect storm for the incident looming before us. Before leaving for work, Dad always stoked the stove so the raging fire would quickly heat the kitchen and would continue unattended for a while. The cast iron stoves provided the only heat sources in our house. The logs used were cut from nearby timber by Dad and my brothers. That roaring fire quickly warmed and relaxed my body, possibly causing inattentiveness on my part. I was wearing a flannel nightgown made by Mom. All the Dougherty girls wore homemade clothes. This nightgown was special because Mom had monogrammed our sister-matching nightgowns—a “D” for Debbie and an “S” for me. I beamed over my beautiful nightgown, and the extra touch of that letter felt extravagant.
I was standing up tucked between the roaring stove and the wall behind me, relishing the sweet conversation with Mom, the smell of breakfast, and the warmth from head to toe. Suddenly and to my horror, my nightgown caught fire. It had brushed against the cast iron stove and ignited immediately. In an instant, I was engulfed in flames. Flame-retardant fabric was unknown to us at that time. I began running through the house trying to escape the flames. But of course, this only fueled the fire. Even in those frantic moments, my mind was remembering a filmstrip our class saw at Rose Hill School on fire prevention that taught us to “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” I knew I should do it, but the terror was too great. At first, I ran in circles in the kitchen, then bolted through the dining room, then on to the living room. Mom was pursuing me and caught me in the living room throwing me to the floor. The force of her shove surprised and confused me. In rapid succession, she ripped my nightgown off, picked the flaming fabric up with her bare left hand, and carried it to the bathroom to place my blazing monogrammed nightgown safely in the bath tub to continue to burn.
She returned to me lying on the cold floor in my underpants, checked me over for injury, wrapped me in a quilt, and put me on the davenport. At first, I didn’t cry. The smell of singed human hair was strange and unpleasant. It reminded me somewhat of my Dad scalding pheasants–only different. I had a few minor burns on my torso, but really, the only significant burn was a spot on my shoulder about the size of a silver dollar. It was deep and red. When I finally did begin to cry, I couldn’t stop. As a rule, in our family, crying was allowed, but only for a short amount of time. Soon enough, crying time would expire, and Dad or Mom would announce “That’s enough crying!” But that morning, Mom never told me to straighten up. In fact, she told me that I would be staying home from school that day. As she comforted me, she said, “We had a close call” and she patted my back for quite a while. She couldn’t hide her leftover fear, and that frightened me.
Eventually, I did stop crying, and my normal breathing returned. I walked to the kitchen to ask Mom if I would be in trouble for missing school. There I discovered how seriously my mother had been burned. Blisters covered her left hand, and her skin was missing from many areas. She was slathering butter on her wounds and wrapping them in gauze. Butter on burns was a common home remedy that I had witnessed before. In fact, Mom had earlier put butter on my shoulder. I’m sure her burns were certainly serious enough to warrant a doctor visit, but that was a different time when medical attention was rarely sought. For many days Mom continued to do all the chores and hard work of her daily life with a severely burnt hand. It was hard to witness knowing I caused it. Before the days of Ziploc bags, farm wives would save plastic bread wrappers to be reused for many purposes. Seeing Mom wash dishes with the Wonder Bread wrapper around her left hand held in place with a rubber band especially made my heart ache. I knew how the heat of the water would hurt the burn. She never complained. When she recounted the incident to others, her focus was that she was so happy that Sue was not seriously burned or that our house did not burn down. It took weeks for her hand to completely heal. It was my first object lesson of sacrificial love taught by my mother with many more to follow throughout my life.
So Thankful for Her
Today I am thankful for a quick-thinking mother who bolted into action and saved me from serious injury or death. Also, I am so grateful for her steadfast example of daily, loving care for the needs of her children—needs she met with extraordinary patience and kindness in the absence of complaint. Truly a rare commodity in our world today. Memories of her life well-lived often arise in conversations at our extended family gatherings. We siblings fully understand the blessing of having such a strong mother.
The martyred Christian missionary Jim Elliot, whom I admire and whose writings and life story have significantly impacted my life, penned the following prayer: “Lord, give me firmness without hardness, steadfastness without dogmatism, love without weakness.” Jim Elliot’s beautiful articulation of these life goals to which he aspired also appropriately describes our dear mother, and life with her was truly God-blessed. Thank you, Susan, for the honor of paying tribute to Mildred Dougherty in your blog so fittingly entitled “A Vintage Farm Wife.”
Sue Dougherty Songer lives in Charleston, Illinois with her husband and high school sweetheart, Roger. She grew up on a farm near Falmouth, Illinois. She and Roger have three daughters, two sons-in-law, and three grandchildren.
Thank you so much, Sue, for sharing a bit of your childhood and giving us a glimpse into your sweet mother’s heart.
Readers, I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving weekend and are filled with gratitude 365 days of the year.
Another Thanksgiving post……Are you Pumpkined Out?.