Charley’s Tale Part 11

Charley was miserable with her measles, but worse than measles was the separation from Cora.  The child asked after her constantly.  Because she was unsure if she’d ever had measles, Dr Evans asked her not to visit Charley.  Ellen demanded Cora’s attention constantly, anyway.  Charles was afraid for Ellen to be alone with the baby, so Cora kept it at her side as she worked.  Ellen was still abed, but called for the baby, despite Cora’s assurances she’d bring the baby to the minute she stirred.  Ellen insisted on calling her Charlotte, though Charles had said that wouldn’t do.  She flew into a rage when he opposed her, so he avoided the subject.  Ellen had a wild look in her eyes, and Charles began sedating her when he had to be out, fearing Cora might not be able to handle her.

Back at Geneva’s house, Charley was settling in with Josie to read to her and play games.  The child had never held anyone’s complete attention before, so she revelled in it.  Her father and brothers came to visit daily.  Birdie made her special treats.  Her grandmother loved having her in residence.  Once the initial misery of her illness was past, she was quite content, never thinking to ask after her mother which was fortunate, since her mother continued to ignore her existence.

Charles had mentioned Charley and her measles to Ellen a time or two, but Ellen acted as though she didn’t hear. When the baby was three days old, Charles decided to take on the problem of agreeing on a name before Reverend Parker came by to discuss the christening.  Ellen had begun calling her Charlotte, over Charles’s objection.

“Ellen, please listen to me.  You’re still confused since this new baby surprised us.  That happens after a baby once in a while, but you’ll be clearing up soon.  Our other little girl is Charlotte.  She’s been with your mother because she has the measles, but she will be home with us soon. I’d like to name this baby after my mother and yours.  What do you think of Geneva Catherine?  We can call her Genny.”

Ellen flew into a rage at his words.  “Why are you tormenting me?  You’re trying to convince me I am crazy carrying on about that other Charlotte.  You’re not getting rid of me that easy! I know all about that trashy little nurse of yours!  Get out of here!  Cora! Cora!  Get my mama over here!  Cora!”  She hurled the knife off her breakfast tray at him.collapsing into a paroxysm of frantic weeping as Cora came in to help him settle her down.  Cora finally got her to take something to relax her, since she wouldn’t have anything from his hand.

As things settled down, Charles realized Ellen needed more help than he could give her.  He made a phone call to a colleague.



Charley’s Tale Part 10

The new baby thrived despite its presumed prematurity.  Charles decided perhaps it was just a tiny, full-term infant, after all.  Ellen couldn’t have been happier.  Her mother reminded her that she had weighed a bit less than five pounds at birth and had done fine.  A dainty little girl was what Ellen had always wanted, anyway.  “My boys are fourteen and twelve now.  I’ve been lonesome at home all by myself.  Cora, you have to get my Christening Gown from Mother.  Ask Reverend Parker to stop by so we can schedule the Christening.  I’d love to have it in six weeks, but we may not get everything done by then.  This is the prettiest baby of all, don’t you agree, Charles?”  Ellen’s eyes glittered.  It seemed she couldn’t talk fast enough.  She slapped at Cora, who was brushing her hair.  “Damn it, Cora!  You are pulling!” Cora put the brush on the dressing table, out of Ellen’s reach.  Ellen had never treated her warmly, but this behavior was bizarre.  Geneva looked shocked at her daughter’s behavior.

“She’s a beauty, but I think she looks a lot like  Charley.  She’s just not as big.”  Ellen turned on him in a fury.  “Who is this Charley you keep talking about?  I told you I don’t want to hear any more about him.”  With this, she broke down into ragged weeping.  “Why can’t you leave me alone?  I told you I wanted to name this one Charlotte, after you, but you just keep at me.”  She screamed at Charles in her fury.

“Now, Ellen!  Don’t go working yourself up!  You are jostling the baby.”  Charles efforts to calm her had the opposite effect.  Ellen hurled her hand mirror at his head, barely missing him.  “Get out of here, you filthy, lying bastard.”  Charles moved to the bedside and restrained his wife, gesturing for Cora to take the baby to safety. 

“Ellen, let me get you something.  You are getting too worked up!” Charles got her tonic as Ellen sobbed hysterically, though she did rally for her medication.  Ellen had always been demanding and imperious,  but this was something entirely different.  He’d never heard her curse.

“Why can’t you just let me enjoy my baby?” she demanded.  “Mother, make Cora bring my baby back.”  Geneva stepped out when Charles gestured he’d stay with her alone.

“Ellen, I don’t mean to upset you.  Let’s don’t talk anymore.  I’ll just sit with you till you drift off.  Cora can take care of the baby

Charley’s Tale Part 9

Charley’s fourth birthday marked a major turning point in her life.  Her mother unexpectedly went into labor.  At the age of forty-three, Ellen hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in eighteen months and of late had gained a few pounds.  She’d been extremely moody and fractious about her weight gain and loss of sexuality so her husband had steered clear of the sensitive subject

Coincidentally, Charley awoke with a fever and cough.  When Ellen’s screaming started, Charles did an exam and found her in labor.  Cora took Charley to Geneva’s house. Ellen  gave birth to a seven-month baby girl after twenty-four hours of bloody labor.  The baby was tiny, but perfect.   Ellen was ecstatic.  “I finally have a daughter.”

“Ellen, this is our second daughter.  Don’t forget Charley.”  Charles reminded her.

“I never had a girl named Charley.  That’s crazy.  I finally have my little girl.  My life is perfect.”  Ellen was euphoric.  Her eyes glittered strangely.

“No, Ellen, Cora took our girl Charlotte to your mother’s house while you were in labor.  This is our second daughter.”  Charles persisted.  I need to send Cora for Charley now you’ve delivered.”

“Cora’s not going anywhere.  I need her.  I don’t have a girl.  Let me rest.  Have Cora wake me when the baby needs nursing.  I think I want to name this one Charlotte after you since she’ll be the last.”

“Ellen, are you trying to tell me you don’t remember our little girl?”  He feared her mind was unhinged.

“This is my daughter.  Now, let me rest, Charles.”  Ellen closed her eyes. “Don’t be talking to me about another baby.  I won’t have you mocking me.”

Charles left the room puzzling over his wife.  He’d seen baby-blues before, and heard of madness after giving birth, though he’d never actually seen it.  He hoped Ellen would rally after rest.  She’d always been high-strung and subject to mood swings, but this was delusional.  Surely she’d rally when Charley came home.

Geneva called for him to come see to Charley.  As soon as he saw her, he knew she’d contracted measles.  “Miss Geneva, I am so sorry to put this on you, but I can’t bring her in the house with a new baby.  Can you keep her if I get someone in to help?  I’d send Cora but Ellen and the new baby are keeping her tied up.  Ellen seems a little confused and I don’t want her alone with the baby.”

“Of course, Charley will be fine here.  My help Birdie’s daughter Josie has already said she’ll help us out.  What’s wrong with Ellen? She’s always been notion.  Her daddy spoiled her so. Is the baby okay?”  Now Geneva was really worried.

“The baby is tiny, but I think she’ll be alright.  We’ve got her in a basket on the radiator, so she’s warm.  Cora’s waking her every two hours to feed and she’s always hungry.  That’s good.  Frankly, Ellen worries me.  She doesn’t remember Charley.  She says this is her first girl and wants to name her Charlotte.  I believe she will come to her senses in a day or two, but I am worried.”  Charles poured his worries out.,

“”One of my aunts was real queer after a baby.  She kept saying it wasn’t hers and she didn’t want anything to do with it.  She swore her husband had brought one of his women’s babies in.  Poor Wilbur sure was hurt hearing her say that.  He hadn’t ever been anything but good to her.  She finally came around but it was nearly six weeks.  Most of the time she did good after that, but she did have a few bad spells over the the years.  Ellen will do after her female problems settle down.   I sure hope so.”  Geneva’s words worried him.  He didn’t know if hearing the family history made him feel better or worse.




Charley’s Tale Part 7

Things settled into a new normal once Ellen reluctantly returned to her home.  Little Charley made every step Cora made, unless she was lucky enough to catch the boys playing indoors, when they captured her total attention.  Like all babies, the toys of the older children were the most delightful, especially when they grabbed them and ran.  Ellen punished the brothers for calling her Charley but soon tired of the effort and gave it up as a lost cause.

Ellen left more and more of the care of the children to Cora, immersing herself in her volunteer activities.  She was president of the Altar Guild, Secretary of the Missionary Society, headed up the Donation Committee, and Representave to the War Widows and Orphan Benefit Society.  Not only that, she was very active in her Sorority.  As a doctor’s wife, she was expected to take a leading role in the community.  She was formidable.  As the children grew, she began to host her social functions at her mother, Geneva’s house, ostensibly to lessen her mother’s.  Though her husband provided a gracious home, her mother’s home and things were far finer and didn’t come along with boisterous children.

Cora was relieved to have Miss Ellen occupied outside the house.  It was a relief not to deal with headaches, tears, and outbursts at the children, especially Charley.  The baby was completely as ease in Cora’s care, happily toddling behind her banging on pots and pans.  The boys were old enough to be outdoors most of the time.  The family was settling in comfortably.  Dr. Evans was gratified to have peace in his home thanks to Cora’s skillful management.

With the children out of sight, out of mind, Elle’s life suited her far better.  She only saw the children at bedtime, if at all.Being the wife of a handsome, prominent doctor suited her.  With her time  her own, she looked forward to a generous inheritance.  Unfortunately, she suffered a nervous setback should she receive an invitation to a baby shower or christening, but by and large, her life was good.



Charley’s Tale Part 6

With Cora to champion her and her brothers for company, Charley thrived..  Her father is pleased to see his daughter is smart and active.  When Ellen has been gone a month, he called her.  “Ellen, you need to come home.  Your children need you.  I need you.”

“Oh Charles, I don’t feel well enough yet.  I have been taking the hot baths daily and am just starting to put a little of the weight back on I lost when my nerves were so bad.  The doctor here thinks I would benefit from a longer rest.  He told me today I should plan on another six weeks.  I was going to call tomorrow and let you know.”  Ellen had a tremor in her voice as she bargained for more time.  She hadn’t even asked after the children.

“I am sure that doctor’s pocket would benefit if you stayed.  Ellen, I am your husband and I am telling you.  Come home tomorrow.  A month is time enough to rest up. You have responsibilities.  The baby is sleeping nights and trying to take steps.  The boys need their mother.  You can’t expect Cora and me to manage any longer.  Edna Jones has brought casseroles over twice.  The neighbors have been asking when you are coming home.”  Charles wasn’t leaving her room to argue.

Ellen was miffed at the mention of Edna Jones and the casseroles.  “What business does that hussy, Edna have sniffing around my kitchen?  She claims to be so Christian and she’s after you with her husband not dead a year!  I’ll catch the train tomorrow.”  It was one thing to be a delicate doctor’s wife needing rest and another entirely to have a woman after her husband.

Ellen caught the early train and was home by afternoon.  She dumped the leftover casserole in the trash, dish and all.   Charles and the boys were ecstatic at her return, but Charley clung to Cora, not remembering her mother.  Ellen was not pleased to hear the boys referring to their sister as Charley, but decided to leave that matter for tomorrow.



Charley’s Tale Part 5

Ellen’s disappointment in her child grew apace with Charlotte.  Charlotte was a big baby, bigger even than her brothers had been.  Ellen had expected a dainty, quiet child, not this bawling, thrashing baby Charlotte became.    She screamed with colic from six in the evening till after three every morning, spitting up till she ruined all her mother’s gowns and wraps.  Neither Ellen nor Charles could console her.  During the worst of her colicky spells, her belly became rigid and thrashed her arms and legs wildly.  By morning, Ellen was exhausted and gladly handed her off to Cora and headed black to bed.  She insisted Cora put the baby on the bottle, saying the crying had spoiled her milk.  Typically, as colicky babies often do, she slept deeply and well, off and on all day.  Finally, in desperation, Charles started giving her a drop or two of paregoric, an opium derivative, to ease her agony.  She developed a tolerance for it and Ellen increased the doses with the unavoidable side-effect of constipation.  Despite intractable colic, she grew like a weed and looked like a short, fat bald man at three months, a fact that did not endear her to her mother. Over time, it reached the point that Charlotte required a daily enema.  Charles told Ellen to  limit paregoric use, but Ellen said she couldn’t bear to see the child in agony, so the dosing continued for months until Cora appealed to Dr Evans on the child’s behalf.  “Dr. Evans, if we don’t get this youngun off that stuff her bowels ain’t ever gonna work.  I don’t believe no nine month old baby still has colic.”

Dr. Evans obviously had left matters regarding the children to his wife.  “I didn’t realize she was still getting it.  I’ll talk to her mother.”  He also told the pharmacist to discontinue its sale to his wife.

Without the paregoric Charlotte, spent a miserable week or two, hardly sleeping and crying continuously.  Ellen pleaded with him, insisting the child needed medicating.  When he refused, she accused her husband of being heartless and fled to spend a few days with a friend in Hot Springs, swearing she couldn’t bear the child’s misery .

Cora moved in to care for the children and run the household for the duration.  Charlotte recovered and woke to the world around her.  She discovered her brothers, doing her best to toddle behind them.  They were delighted with her in turn, dubbing her, “Charley.”


Charley’s Tale Part 4

Geneva’s reference to Cousin Jean was the last thing Ellen wanted to hear.  Her cousin had been a frequent presence in Ellen’s young life. Once Ellen was old enough to dread her friends’ criticism, she cringed when her mother championed Cousin Jean at family events, making it clear Cousin Jean was dear to her heart.  A masculine-appearing woman, Cousin Jean wore dark tailored suits with brown oxfords and beige cotton stockings when society demanded at weddings, funerals, and christenings.  Otherwise, she caroused with her young cousins clad in overalls, men’s shirts, and brogans.  Though her own girls were beautifully dressed, Geneva made no reference to Cousin Jean’s unusual wardrobe.

As a young child, Ellen, along with her mother and sisters, spent wonderful times at the farm where Cousin Jean had raised Geneva after she was orphaned.  They fished, did chores, and worked on the farm, right along with Cousin Jean, who farmed as well as any man.  They spent long summer days playing outdoors and balmy summer nights sleeping on her screened back porch. As Ellen approached puberty, she felt embarrassed confusion at Cousin Jean’s differences in the company of her friends, while being torn for her love for her “odd” cousin. She felt so free in her love for Cousin Jean in Jean’s territory, the farm.  It was only when she saw Jean through the eyes of her friends that her affection waivered. She loved and wanted to be a part of Cousin Jean’s life at the farm, was miserable at seeing Jean through her friends’ eyes. Why couldn’t Cousin Jean just try to be more like everyone else?  When questioned about Cousin Jean, Geneva excused her with “That’s just Jean.  She’s the only mother I never knew.  I won’t hear a word against her.  Don’t ever forget that!”

Ellen resented her mother’s excusing Cousin Jean’s eccentricity while diligently pushing her daughters conform to society’s expectations, never realizing her mother must have struggled with the same issues until she eavesdropped on a conversation and learned her mother had rebuked a friend who’d spoken snidely to Cousin Jean.

“I could have slapped her face for that.  There’s no need to be so hateful!” Geneva spewed.

“Geneva, I learned a long time ago not to waste time on small people.  I can’t change who I am for anybody.  If you and the girls love me, that’s enough.  Some people go through their whole lives with nobody.  Don’t concern yourself on my account.”

From this, young Ellen knew Cousin Jean knew how “odd” she was, and resolved to love her, but felt Jean could fit in if she tried a bit harder.  I would have made life so much easier for everyone.

As an adult, she’d conveniently catalogued Cousin Jean as an eccentric, and was genuinely glad to see her on the rare occasions their paths crossed. She was much more comfortable not seeing her on a regular basis.


Charley’s Tale Part 3


They named the baby Charlotte for her father.  Though Ellen did her best, she didn’t bond with the little girl as she had her two boys, rarely changing or bathing her.  In addition to her concerns about her daughter, she suffered from baby-blues, as post-partum depression was known then.  Her own mother, Geneva, came to stay for a few days and recognized Charlotte’s ambiguous genitalia immediately, having given birth to four girls.  Ellen was appalled when Geneva expressed her concerns.

“Charles said he had to a little growth off her bottom, but she’s fine now.  He said if she has any trouble when she gets older, we will take her to a specialist then.  Charles doesn’t ever want her to know.  I can’t talk any more about it, it gets me so upset.”  Ellen broke off crying.

“Ellen, this might be more than that.  My cousin, Jean……….” Ellen cut her mother off sharply.

“Now, Mother.  Charles is a doctor.  He says there’s no need borrowing trouble.  He’s not going to like it if we discuss this any more.  Please don’t mention Jean ever again, especially to Charles.” Ellen was clearly agitated at the mention of Jean.

“Ellen, I am not about to go around telling your business, but I am going to talk to Charles about this.  There might be a specialist she can see now.  If money is a problem…………….”

            “Mother,  please stay out of this.  Money is definitely NOT a problem.  Don’t you think Charles would move Heaven and Earth if he thought she needed to see another doctor?  How could you bring Jean up to me?   My head is just throbbing.  You and Cora will just have to manage while I rest. Please tell Charles I am going to take something for my headache and will see him when I get up.”

               “Cora, I need you to bring up my tonic and pull the curtains for me.  I feel like I am dying of headache. Dust a little talcum on my sheets and bring me that silk throw before you go.  You have to take the baby downstairs and keep the boys quiet.  Maybe you can take the baby out in the carriage and walk the boys over to play with Mrs. Barnes boys, but don’t let anybody else change her.  Do you understand?”

                “Yes, Miz Evans.  I knows how to take care of things.  You git some rest.”  Cora hurried to get out of the room.  She’d seen lots of headaches and tonic since little Charlotte was born.

Charley’s Tale


Ellen Pendergrass led a charmed life till the day her daughter, Charlotte, was born in 1938.  At Ellen’s birth, her parents celebrated the long hoped-for arrival of a perfect daughter born ten years after the last of their six sons.  Ellen was all any parent could have imagined, dainty, feminine, and delightful.  She was all the more welcome, since her mother had despaired of ever having a daughter.  Both parents doted on her and were well-able to indulge her since her father was from a long line of bankers.

A high-minded young woman, well-aware of her importance, Ellen studied music and art at a notable Southern Women’s College, though she’d never need to earn her own way.  No one was surprised when she accepted the proposal of a wealthy plantation owner’s son.  It was the wedding of the decade.  The father of the bride built the young couple a Victorian mansion in the finest part of town and Ellen’s husband, a doctor, spent his time between his practice and his father’s plantation.  His practice grew so quickly, he had to hire a farm manager when he inherited upon his father’s death.  Ellen, like her mother before her, gave birth to boys, though she yearned for a daughter to follow her in society.

At thirty-nine, Ellen feared she was entering menopause, when to her great joy, she realized she was pregnant.  Surely, she’d have a daughter this time.  Her husband attended the home birth, of course.  Ellen was relieved to hear a healthy squall at delivery, but Charles didn’t meet her eyes as he handed the swaddled infant to Cora, the maid.  “It looks like a healthy girl.”  In minutes, Cora diapered and swaddled the babe and passed her to Ellen to nurse. 

Ellen counted all the little fingers and toes as she admired her little one.  “I do believe this is the prettiest one yet.”

Charles answered, “You always say that,” then whisked the infant away immediately instead of leaving her with her mother, as he had at all the other births. “Get some rest.”

Ellen was glad to rest, but was a little concerned that Charles had taken the baby. 

“Cora, was everything alright with the baby?” she quizzed Cora.

“That baby looked plenty healthy to me,” Cora turned her back as she tidied things up. “Shore had a fine set of lungs on her.  You ain’t as young as you was.  Git you some rest while you can.”

Miffed at the reference to her age, Ellen snapped at Cora. “I am plenty young enough to tend my baby, thank you.  I have the finest skin of any of my friends.”

“Yes’m,” Cora answered.

To be continued.