Friday, May 1, 2009

Chapter Eighteen - The Beginning

April 9, 1835

"That's right honeychile, you doin' good now , jes you keep on pushin'. Dat baby gone soon be here to welcome in dis' new day! " With an exhausted and weary sigh, Lydia Loudermilk Compton lay back against the sweat soaked pillow, hoping for a brief respite from the hard, painful labor as Aunt Magnolia, the black midwife, wiped a cool cloth over her face. Her pains had begun in late afternoon the previous day. She was utterly exhausted. She didn't know how much more strength she had left. Suddenly, with a fierce urgency, she felt the overwhelming need to push with all that she had. She heard herself scream as she felt her lips curl back and something that came from a hidden place, that place that never makes it's presence known until everything else is gone, came rising up as she felt her child finally and mercifully slip from her exhausted body. She anxiously waited to hear a cry. There! Yes, she could hear the angry, but strong cries of her child. "Oh Miz Lydia, you done gone and got yoself a fine, strong boy chile. And jes' you look at all dis' black hair! I do declare, I ain't ever seed such a mess of hair in all my born days!' Aunt Magnolia quickly, yet skillfully, tied off and cut that most precious connection that would forever be a bond between mother and son. Lydia Compton reached out her arms, hungry for the sight and feel of her newborn son. She gazed down at his tiny face, anxious to meet this wonderful soul who had inhabited her dreams for months. For a moment he just lay there, then he sleeply opened his eyes, squinted against the brillance of the sunshine, and gazed back at her. She smiled. Oh yes, yes. His eyes were Loudermilk blue.

Little William Thomas Compton, named in honor of his father and both grandfathers, was a joy to behold in the eyes of his doting mother as he lay there in her arms, greedily suckling the warm, rich milk from her breast. She reached out to take a plump hand and pressed it to her lips. "Oh, he is growing so fast" , she thought. She called him her sweet little Billy boy, and he was indeed the light in her blue eyes and had such a hold of her heart that she lived in constant fear of his falling into sickness. He was a fat, happy little boy with a grin that could melt even the staunchest heart and who seldom cried. As the months passed and spring became summer, then fall, he grew into a chubby little toddler who would stand on unsteady legs as he gazed at his father from across the room. With a toothless grin and a small stream of glistening saliva dripping from his bottom lip, he would take one tiny step before collapsing on all fours. Then, with a gleeful squeal, he would quickly crawl into the arms of his beaming father. Many mornings, before the hard days work would begin and the weather was still warm and mild, his father would pick him up and together they would walk through the fields of the Compton farm. His father would talk to him and tell him of all the things that could grow in the earth, and how important it was to strive to be not only a good honest man, but to do your very best in whatever endeavor you pursued. The Compton family of Bon Temps were not wealthy people, but had a good name, and a reputation for being good, honest and hard working people who were generous in spirit and always there to lend a hand to those in need. Through hard work, thrift and wise business dealings, the Comptons had managed to build a nice, spacious home and amass a few hundred acres of rich, delta farm land that seemed made for growing cotton and all the food this young, growing family could need. The elder William Compton had no doubt his beautiful son would not only follow down this same path of integrity and honor, but also come to love this rich Louisiana soil as he did.

The first year passed so quickly and soon little Billy Compton reached his first birthday. This was not only a momentous milestone in the life of this sweet, much loved child, but a milestone in the fact that so many infants did not reach their first birthday. The summers in Louisiana were brutally hot. Tiny Bon Temps was located on the banks of a large lake, as were many other small towns. When the spring rains came to replenish the earth for spring planting, it also brought the dreaded threat of malaria. As these fragrant rains fell and fresh puddles of water quickly turned stagnant, millions of mosquitoes began to breed. Malaria was a constant threat during the warm months and there was no medicine that could save a poor soul once the fever set in. Infant deaths were especially high. Every morning as Lydia Compton cradled her hungry son against her breast, she gave up a prayer that God would keep him safe.

But life was about to change for little Billy Compton. Soon there would be a new baby in the family and although Billy did not know exactly what it was, he had already begun to notice the excitement and anticipation flowing throughout the house. Also, he noticed that his mother seemed different. No longer was he allowed to satisfy his need for sustanence at her breast.  Many mornings it was his father, not his mother, who came into his room to lift him from his cradle. He hated the warm corn mush and cow's milk offered to him each morning. When he finally saw his mother, he would hold out his arms to her and cry to be lifted onto her lap and be allowed to drink the sweet, rich milk he craved. "No, you're a big boy now. You're going to be a big brother very soon, and you must not act like such a baby.. You must learn to eat your breakfast so you can grow strong and take care of your new brother or sister." Billy would contemplate these words, not exactly understanding what they meant. But he somehow sensed that something was about to change. And he wasn't quite sure if he liked it.

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