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Catherine Yeates, my baby nurse

January 5, 2013

I am very delighted and happy to share with you one of my very favorite portraits. The medium I used was water color on a 14 inch by 20 inch hard water color board. I hope that you will love this painting and story as much as I loved having the honor of presenting it to you today.

Mrs. Catherine Lee Fraizier Yeates was born on Nov. 25, 1899 to Ada and Lewis Fraizer who lived in Sturgis in. I was born on March 4, 1942 to Elizabeth Jeanette Lewis McReynolds and John Andrew McReynolds II in Starkville. I have loved and known Catherine since my birth 70 years ago. I was born in a two story old clap board home which was then the only hospital we had for our city, county and Mississippi State University patients. It was located right behind a building built later which was the Felix Long Memorial Hospital. In 1973, the Oktibbeha County Hospital was completed on Hospital Road here in Starkville. It is a fine community hospital.

I was brought into the world by both Eckford medical doctors. Dr. Jim Eckford, MD and Dr. Feddy Eckford, MD. Dr. Feddy was fresh out of Tulane Medical University in Louisanna, and his daddy wanted to make sure that Feddy knew what he was doing in mama’s labor and delivery. Mama was 30 years old when I was born and when we left that hospital, Catherine came home with us.

Catherine became my number one baby infant nurse and stayed with mama until she could get back on her feet and gain her strength again for several weeks. Catherine was a part of our family in 1942, and she again became a dear and wonderful part of my own immediate family when our three children were born. Catherine was for many years the baby nurse for many prominent families living here. She was truly a beloved family member of ours as she now was nursing our second generation of our babies who were just tiny infants.

Her face tells her own story of her life as I took my pencil and first sketched her facial features, and then my brush strokes, filled with many colors, painted my own special deep love for her. I attempted to capture her sweetness, kindness and very gentle personality. She was a lot of fun mixed in with being a real hoot of a Southern lady from Mississippi.

Let’s now share it together as if we are reading a book about her life within the paint itself. We’ll open up her biography and read the sentences of her face starting with the first sentence on the left hand side going to the right hand side of the painting. This is a lady who lived life to its fullest, and adored every minute of taking care of a new born infant.

At the top of her head, see the soft graying salt and pepper fine hair pulled back in a bun. It is almost white in color. I see a halo at the top of her head. Do you? She was an angel her on earth. Several strands of her pulled back hair have fallen gently on the sides of her head.

Look at her eyebrows, and then look deeply into the expression within her eyes. Her nose is elegant, and her lips show us a feeling of sweetness and caring. Look back at her ears and she has on tasteful ear bobs. See her sagging neck. To the far left, you can see a hint of a comfortable metal green yard chair she was sitting in underneath her car port where we had decided that I could paint her portrait in the cool car port that day. Look at her zip up “pretty in pink” dress in a stylish cotton material. Find the pretty little dark blue and crystal rhinestone pin right at the top of the collar just above the top of the head of her zipper. Look at the shadows of the collar and the zipper area on the right and left sides of her dress. I left the back ground pure white so that all of her facial features almost looked angelic.

What a beautiful lady both outside and inside her heart and soul. All I have left of Catherine are my precious cherished memories and this water color portrait. I treasure her portrait and my memories of knowing that she helped mama, and then helped me with the second generation of babies the first few weeks of their lives.

On October 2, 2012, my husband conducted his 15th International Insect Rearing Workshop. His lead speaker was Dr. Frank Franklin MD, MPH, Ph.D, a Professor Emeritus of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I invited Dr. Franklin to take a tour of our family home.

Dr. Franklin’s expertise is in feeding young children the correct balance of food especially plenty of proteins. A baby needs proper protein in the first 1,000 days of his or her life to survive as a healthy human being, both physically and mentally into their adult years. I had a great time showing him our family home, and when we got to the guest back bedroom I had stacked a few of paintings.

He leaned down and began carefully thumbing through them. I noticed when he came to Catherine’s portrait, he hesitated as if Catherine were speaking him. I asked him, “Frank, what painting did you like best?” He said, “The one of your baby nurse, Catherine Yeates.” I knew for sure that he cared about feeding babies and tiny children of this world so that they would grow up to be contributing and productive grown human beings. In a way, Frank Franklin is much like Catherine Yeates, a very wonderful, nurturing and kind person.

About Catherine, Mrs. Shirley Carley, wrote, “Catherine Yeates did not keep a count of the babies she helped deliver and care for during her years as a practical nurse, but the number probably would reach close to one hundred. It was not until she was in her 40s that she took a course in practical nursing from long time Starkville nurse, Frances Witherspoon. For the next 35 years, she was in much demand especially by going home with mothers who wanted her with them those first few weeks of the baby’s life.”

Catherine once said, “You know, newborns look like little old folks, toothless and wrinkled. I used to complain that just as I got one all smoothed up, then I’d have to leave them and go and straighten out another.”

Catherine Lee Fraizer Yeates’ sunrise was on Nov. 25, 1899 and her sunset was on March 29, 1999. She is buried at Oddfellow Cemetery. She was preceded in death by her only daughter, Letha D. Gillespie and her family, and by her adopted son, Freddie Lee Miller, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I would add my own name to her family because I too was her baby, as well as all three of my children.

If I could whisper to her right now, I would say, “I still love you so much Catherine for going home with mama, changing my cloth diapers, burping me, and holding, cuddling and loving me so much as well as all three of my babies too. This has been 70 years ago, and I loved you then, and I continue to love and think about you.”

Look one more time at Catherine’s painting. We see within her facial features, especially her eyes, the admiration, caring, sweetness, kindness and most of all love within her wonderful heart. Her knowledge in knowing how tenderness helped give the tiny helpless babies that she first touched and welcomed each one into this big world of ours. From the bottom of my heart, I thank her.

Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at fc64@ms.metrocast.net.

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