Woman of the Mountains

parkway200 169-2

I was in awe as I read the story of Aunt Orelena Puckett. She was born in 1837, married at 16, and became a midwife after age 50. She lived in this house in the later years of her life – a long life having lived to the age of 102. She helped bring more than 1000 babies into the world, the last one in the year she died, and it is said no baby died due to her fault. Orelena knew great grief, however, because she bore 24 infants herself, with only the oldest living just past 2 years. All the others died in infancy.

parkway200 185-2That is the story written on an information board at milepost 189.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It tells so much but so little about the life of this woman. This homestead would have looked so different in 1900 when people were living here.

parkway200 179-2I wonder what her life was like on a daily basis when she was, say, 70 years old – like me. She had to be a tough woman because she, along with her husband, widowed sister-in-law and her children, had to provide for and protect themselves. She also needed to be tender and supportive to bring so many women through labor and delivery. How did she grieve the loss of 24 babies and maintain the “cheerful and witty attitude” that she was remembered as having?

I think I found a new hero on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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23 Comments »

    • I was wondering if there is anything written about her elsewhere. There was a little in the guidebooks I purchased but basically the same information. What a great biography it would make.

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  1. There are many places in the Smoky Mountains Pat that, like this place, are at least to me, a great tribute to the strength, creativity, resourcefulness and perseverence of women. I have visited/photographed several dozen cabins in Eastern North Carolina and Western Tennessee where an individual woman like Orelena Puckett or sometimes several sisters lived in the wilderness by themselves for decades and sometimes, their entire life. And each time I stand there in awe and admiration thinking of the challenges they faced and also the joys I’m sure they felt.

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    • Yes, Rick, yes, yes, yes. And then I start wondering how future generations will think about how we live. Will anyone be in awe of our strength in facing our challenges and will they understand the joy we experience? Or will the infrastructure of our developed world collapse and everyone return to sustenance living? Throughout history the pendulum has swung to extremes many times. Maybe the basic challenges and joys of living never change – we always have to work to put food on our tables and find joy in spending time with those we love. We play games, make music, laugh together, cry together, and hope for the future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on our common awe.

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    • Yes, life is difficult but in comparison we have a whole lot of comforts. It seems like we have come to believe that we shouldn’t have to suffer – everything should be fixed for us very quickly.

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  2. A new hero indeed. I can’t imagine working to bring all those babies into life for other people when suffering so much personal loss. What a selfless woman and very interesting story, Pat.

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    • Thank you so much, Pat Bean. I really enjoyed your humming bird, and your morning reflections. I love mornings before the “official day” begins.

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  3. I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of loss. I suppose being a midwife would be a great way to be connected to babies if you could never have your own. I honestly wonder how she could talk herself into sex after so many infant deaths. Her life must’ve been both hugely tragic and beautiful.

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  4. An inspiring story of courage and strength. There are so many unsung heroes in this world. This reminded me of a song I heard recently, “Hidden Heroes.” And many of them are still living today, those who care for special needs children, or for a wife with Alzheimers. So many people we never read anything about. Thanks for sharing this.

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