These spring nights are chilly. I hope our guests bring blankets with them.” Clarissa was speaking to Jenny as they set up cots in the bedrooms and the living room of the White home. There was to be an important meeting, and the Review had printed notices that the friends at Battle Creek Michigan, would entertain all who came. The Whites were expecting a house full of guests.
The publishing office had been moved from Rochester, and the Whites now lived at Battle Creek. The members in Michigan had invited Elder White to bring the publishing work to their state, and they had promised to build a printing office. So the publishing business had moved to Battle Creek.
James and Ellen White lived in a small house with their three little boys and their two faithful helpers, Clarissa Bonfoey and Jenny Fraser.
On this particular afternoon everyone was bustling around getting ready to entertain the guests who were expected the next day. The women were cleaning house, Henry and Edson were raking the yard, and baby Willie, now twenty-one months old, was playing about, getting in everybody’s way and enjoying the excitement as much as his older brothers.
The rough board kitchen floor had been scrubbed, and a tub of dirty suds was left sitting in the middle of the room. As Jenny passed by on her way to gather chips for starting the cookstove fire, she noticed the baby standing beside the tub.
“What are you doing, Willie?” She asked.
“Sticky boaty! Sticky boaty!” chirruped the little fellow, pushing a small wooden pail around in the water with a stick.
Coming back up the steps a few minutes later, Jenny thought of the baby. Where was he? She hurried into the kitchen, where she heard a gurgling sound.
A tiny foot was sticking out of the water! She snatched it, pulled the baby out, and ran screaming to find his mother.
“Willie’s drowned? He’s drowned! He’s drowned!” She Shrieked.
Mrs. White came running from the front room and met her in the doorway. “Jenny, was the water hot or cold?
“He’s drowned! He’s drowned! He’s dead! He’s dead!” The girl kept screaming.
Mrs. White seized Jenny by the shoulders and, shaking her vigorously, asked, “Jenny Fraser, tell me, was the water hot or cold?
“Cold,” gasped terrified Jenny.
“Then give the child to me. You send for the doctor and call James.”
“Run for the doctor! Run for the doctor!” the girl shouted to a young man standing nearby. He began to run. Jenny followed, Run! Run! Run!
By this time Mrs. White was in the front yard with Willie. Using a pair of scissors she had snatched up as she ran, she cut away his clothes. As she rolled him over and over on the grass, quantities of dirty water flowed from his nose and mouth. She continued rolling the little body. James White arrived and stood silently praying and watching as the minutes ticked by. Ellen lifted Willie and looked for signs of life. There were none. She laid him down and rolled him again. More water trickled from his mouth.
Neighbors gathered and stood with sad, pitying faces, watching the mother’s efforts. Fifteen minutes passed, and still Willie’s condition was apparently hopeless.
“How dreadful to see her handling that dead child!” Said one woman. “Somebody take that dead baby away from her.”
“You let her have her baby!” retorted James White with unusual emphasis. “She knows what she’s about.”
Twenty agonizing minutes passed, during which Mrs. White saw no signs of life. She lifted the limp form and held his cheek against hers. She kissed the cold lips. What did she see? The flicker of an eyelid, a slight pucker of the lips?
“I believe he is trying to return my kiss!” she cried. “There must be life! There is life! There is life!
She carried the limp form into the house. “Jenny, quick! Bring some cloths and heat them.” Ellen wrapped the hot cloths around Willie’s cold body, changing them frequently. She held him up again, close to her face. “He’s breathing! He’s breathing! My baby’s alive!” And she hugged him to her. Thank God! Thank God!” she said over and over. Tears of joy ran down her cheeks.
Preparations for the visitors continued the rest of the day without my Grandmother’s help. Not once did she let Willie out of her arms, for although he was now breathing naturally, she knew he was not entirely out of danger.
If Grandma were here today I know what I’d do. I’d put my arms around her neck and whisper in her ear. “Dear Grandma, I’m so glad you didn’t get discouraged working over that little drowned baby.” You see, when he grew up he had a baby girl of his own, and I was that baby girl. And I think the children and grandchildren of my six brothers and sisters would say, “We’re glad too!”
The conference opened Friday afternoon in the newly built meeting house. It was so crowded that the congregation had to move into a large tent pitched nearby.