Wilber, the protagonist of Wilber’s War, was born on Feb. 1, 1900. Tomorrow will be his 116th birthday, hard to believe. Here is a photo taken of him with his grandmother and mother. Decades later, his mother described his birth in a letter to my sister, Abigail. It is a nice bit of insight into life in those years. Here it is in full except for bits at the beginning and end:
Sunday P.M. Jan. 29, ‘61
. . . . . Sixty one years ago at this date, I was expecting Hale’s father [Wilber]. I hope I shall not bore you. We were living on Hunter Ave. in Bloomington on Friday, Jan. 27, 1900. On that day, I had trouble with the heating stove. We were burning coke and using Cannel(?) coal for kindling, but I couldn’t keep the fire going. When Hale [her husband] came home from school, I was sitting behind the stove and there was no fire. He was impatient and said I should be able to keep the fire going when he built it. He had been gone all day as usual on school days. [He was a teacher at the High School.] Took lunch from home. No school lunches those days.
When he rebuilt the fire he found the stove clogged with ashes and coke; it needs plenty of “draft” to keep it burning. Hale came to me and put his arms about me and said he was a beast to scold me. But he spoke too late. My first pain had begun. Neither of us knew anything about childbirth and were so old we were ashamed to ask any questions. I was 24 and Hale was 28.
When the fire was going, Hale had me go to bed and he went to see a doctor a fellow teacher had recommended and to send a telegram to his mother. She had promised to come to us. [Before] Hale left me, he told me I must stay in bed until he returned and I promised I would. There were not telephones near us and it took Hale some time to walk 12 blocks down to the doctor’s and the telegraph office, then back. While he was gone, I heard the fire engine bell come somewhere near; then men’s voices in excitement, and a cow bawling. Then chopping. I heard later that a barn on the opposite corner from us had burned. The owner couldn’t be located and he had t he barn locked, and he was carrying the key. The chopping was to release the cow, but she died. All that time, I stayed in bed where I couldn’t see a thing and no one came near.
I was happy to have Hale come. The fire had frightened him until he was near enough to see it. Just a short time before this, he had been vaccinated and it had “taken.” His arm was badly swollen and painful. Twenty-four hours later, we had an answer from Hale’s mother. She would come soon. I remember how both of us cried. Help was on the way!
Hale stayed with me during the next few days. I don’t remember when Mother came. I was conscious only part of the time, but I knew another doctor was called. (It was Dr. Ernest Holland’s father.) I remember thinking I must be “pretty bad” to have two doctors. I think I thought [sic] I might be going to die and I recalled that Hale’s Sunday pants had a rip in the stride. I thought “He will want to wear them to the funeral and he will find them ripped. Then he will marry some one who keeps the rips mended and he will love her better than he does me.
The days wore along, until the next Thursday, Feb. 1st. Wilber was born at 3:20 P.M. I had never seen a newborn baby. My bed had been moved into the living room by the fire and I saw Mother shaking and spanking and blowing her breath into the mouth of six lbs. of baby whose head was elongated, his skin was almost black. I didn’t know until later that the long labor had nearly taken the child’s life. I like to think Mother saved him.
Hale said, when he went back to school, there was always “Convocation” each morning, with the six H.S. teachers sitting on the platform. When he took his place all the B.H.S. [Bloomington High School] students cheered him and he felt like crying.
Hale’s college chum at Uni. of Neb[raska] was Wilber Elmore. At the time of Wilber’s birth, Mr. Elmore was a Baptist Missionary in India. While we were trying to decide on a fitting name for our baby, we had a letter from him. Hale said, “Let’s name the baby for him”, so we did. Years later, Wilber wrote to his father that Mr. Elmore was in N.Y. City. I am not sure as to whether they ever met. . . . .