“Miss Vada” Dillon never knew I wanted to grow up to be like her. In our farming community of Standing Rock Creek, TN, when someone was having a baby, “Miss Vada” was summoned. I never knew what she did exactly once she got there, but neighbors seemed to think she needed to be wherever a new baby was arriving. In my child’s mind, she was the wise one, the “go to” person who had all the answers and knew what to do in a crisis.
“Miss Vada” was really old, even older than my parents, who were born in the 1890’s. Most people in our rural neighborhood were relatives of mine, either on my father’s side or on my mother’s side, but “Miss Vada” was not a relative. She was just another farm wife who sometimes attended our one room Methodist Church. She was plain. Her homemade cotton dresses were long and in muted colors. She appeared clean and talcum-powdered, but made no other effort toward beautifying herself.
I wondered if “Miss Vada” had grown up in a Pentecostal family as there were times when, feeling the rapture, she walked up and down the center aisle of our Methodist Church waving her arms and praising the Lord. We called it “shouting”, and sometimes attended local Pentecostal camp meetings just to watch them do it. We Methodists impolitely and irreverently called them “Holy Rollers”.
Nevada (Vada) Dillon was one of nine children born to Henry Hicks McGee and Delilah Vickers McGee. Nevada’s sisters closest to her in age were Lavena and Lavesta, so their three names, Lavena, Lavesta, and Nevada, got a lot of attention and caused jokes, confusion, and mix-ups. This was in the 1800’s, before I was born to witness it, but I assume their names had been shortened to Vena, Vesta, and Vada, which was hard for folks to remember along with the names of their six other siblings.
“Miss Vada” and her husband, “Bud” Dillon, spawned a smaller-sized family of only three children and two grandchildren. One son, Hilton Dillon, was a big hugger. If my parents stopped our car in front of his house, because he was out front and they wanted to visit, his upper body came right through the backdoor car window to give me a hug. That would have been in the 1940’s when I was a teenager and was still called Pattie Mae. Hilton and his wife, Kate, lived in a small house down the road from his mother. I attended Sunday school, Elementary School, and High School with Hilton and Kate’s children, Owen Ross and Ina. None of this brought me into more contact with their grandmother, “Miss Vada”, who I considered to be so wise and all-knowing.
My opinion of “Miss Vada” was never discussed with another person. I suspect it was all in my head, and it probably says more about me than it does her. Apparently, I dreamed of growing up to be wise and to have all the answers, and craved for people to see me as a “go to” person for advice or comfort, or a calming effect in crises.
In my adulthood, I learned “Miss Vada” was the neighborhood midwife and also coached brides-to-be on becoming sexually active. This was back when respectable girls did not have sex before marriage. “Miss Vada” explained to these about-to-be-married virgins the use of Vaseline to ease things along, and unless the man was using what was commonly called a rubber in those days, the woman was instructed to use a douche bag immediately following sexual intercourse to wash out the semen and prevent pregnancy. Because this system was not highly effective, soon “Miss Vada” would be summoned to attend the birth of their baby. Those were some of the duties of a midwife.
In the following paragraph, my cousin, Betty Settle, describes “Miss Vada’s” involvement in her own birth. These are Betty’s words:
When I was born it was a difficult birth. Mama Jobe and Ms. Vada were in attendance as well as Dr. Crow, who threw me aside as he thought I was not alive. Ms. Vada put me in a pan of cold water and I gasped. She probably saved my life. Dr. Crow grabbed me at once. Before leaving, he put a “quarantined” sign on the door as he thought Mother (Elberta Settle) did not need company and knew all neighbors would want to see the baby. Daddy (Raymond Settle) had a problem turning people away so he let some folks in!
I am very glad that “Miss Vada” was present and knew what to do, so that our beloved Cousin Betty grew up and is alive today to tell this captivating story.
“Miss Vada” was not always called on. She was not present at my birth, as my parents apparently preferred a real doctor. In 1929, the year of my birth, Dr. Crow was the only doctor in Stewart County. He lived ten miles away from us in the only town in the county, the small town of Dover (population 500). He was present at my birth, but I don’t know how he was summoned as there was no telephone service where we lived. Cars were scarce in our neighborhood, so when Dr. Crow’s easily recognizable car was seen driving by, everybody went on alert, knowing there was an emergency somewhere nearby.
My oldest sister, Dot, was thirteen at the time and was sitting in the one-room Mulberry Hill School when Dr. Crow’s car went by headed down the hill toward our house. Dot’s desk mate said “I’ll bet you’re about to have a little brother or sister” and sweet, gentle, non-violent Dot swung and socked her hard in the face. Such things were not discussed in polite society, particularly if it involved your own mother. Three years earlier, when my future brother-in-law, Dudley Parker, was about to be born someone rode a mule over the ridge to alert Dr. Ryan of Lost Creek to come help “Miss Ethel” give birth.
When “Miss Vada” was in her late eighties and near death, my fifty-year-old brother-in-law, Benny Jobe, paid her a courtesy visit. Already in her final stage of dying delirium, she pulled back the bed covers and motioned for him to get in bed with her. I heard that story after I was middle aged, and it only added to my admiration for the lady. She was earthy and always knew how to make things better, no matter what, right to the very end. Even on her death bed!
On the hill behind our old Standing Rock Methodist church, “Miss Vada’s” small gravestone is near the grave marker of my grandparents, J. R. and Sarah Ellen McHood. J. R.’s first wife, Janie, is Betty and Gray Settle’s great-grandmother and is buried beside J. R. and Sarah Ellen. Recently, at my request, Dudley, now ninety-one, visited that cemetery in search of information about “Miss Vada”. He tells me her marker reads simply Nevada Dillon, 1878 – 1965.