There are so many stories that could be told for Mother’s Day, but I think I will follow up on an earlier posting about how my paternal great-grandparents came together and pay tribute to my great-grandmother’s courage and determination. In Buckwheat Resiliency, I shared that my great-grandparents met while both were attending the College of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri, and that they built their amazing lives out of the ruins of a tornado that leveled that town. But now I want to go back a bit further to look at how my great-grandmother came to be in Kirksville, so very far from her home in Vermont. I find the story absolutely fascinating, and I consider myself so very fortunate that I have it in her own words. Here is what Mary Anna Burbank Sherburne had to say about the family circumstances that motivated her journey:
On a Sunday after church in the summer of 1895, Mrs. Willard Hatch came to me to inquire for my sister, who had been an invalid for a long time and recently returned from Hanover, New Hampshire Hospital. She expressed a wish that we would have Dr. Helmer examine her. He was a student from Kirksville, Missouri and spending his vacation in Chelsea, Vermont, my home town. She told me something of his method of treatment and said it was called Osteopathy. I told about it at dinner table very cautiously. It was very quiet for a time, then Father said, “Good old Dr. Goss is good enough for me and my family and I will not tolerate a fakir in my house.”
Next morning Dr. Goss came; before leaving he told my mother that Abbie could not last more than two weeks longer and added, “The quicker the better for all concerned for she is killing you and Mary.” I found my brother and begged him to drive to the village and get Dr. Helmer. My father was a farmer four miles from Chelsea village. My brother was in sympathy with the idea and remarked it wouldn’t do any harm to try, for he couldn’t make her any worse.
While the doctor was making the examination of her spine, he spoke of a slipped vertabra at lower dorsal, also one in the neck which was very sensitive. I was much surprised when he turned to me and said, “I think your sister can be made as well as you are.” He treated her and she fell asleep ‑‑ the first natural sleep since she returned from hospital, seven weeks before.
She had been living on morphine mainly, for it was impossible to make her take nourishment, as she had been violently insane during that seven weeks. Dr. Helmer ordered all medicine taken away. He came every other day for about six weeks, when he had to return to Kirksville to resume his studies. She gained in some ways all winter with no medicine.
In order to tell you what Osteopathy did for my sister, I will have to give something of the history of her case. She was a rugged, healthy girl till fifteen years of age when she had double pleura pneumonia. The family had been having grip colds.The doctor was called for Grandmother, but Abbie had been growing sick fast that afternoon, so he prescribed for her also and alarmed us by saying, “If Grandma was as sick as Abbie is she wouldn’t live 24 hours.” He came twice next day and found them both worse. Mother gave Grandma her sleeping powder about 8 p.m. She was dead at 10 o’clock ‑‑ never woke from that potion. Next morning, an uncle and his wife came to help us and begged my father to allow them to send their physician who lived in an adjoining town and was noted for his success in pneumonia cases. Mother was anxious to make the change so Father consented. He arrived at about the same time as Dr. Goss. My sister was then in a state of coma with eyes rolled up in her head. They each visited the sick‑room, then held a consultation. I overheard Dr. Goss say there was no possible chance of saving her, and he didn’t object to stepping out. Dr. Durkee asked for two helpers, one to wring flannels out of hot water to hand to him while the other changed water often and waited on them. Before he began this task he carefully inspected the different medicines. He set the whiskey bottle far back and pushed back sleeping powders with a sigh, but never a word. He took his stand by the side of the bed and allowed no one to change those hot cloths. My mother and aunt tried to have him let them spell him, but he never left his post but two or three times in 24 hours, then for not more than ten minutes. We took him tea and milk, but he wouldn’t stop for food till breakfast time next morning, then for ten minutes, looking so pale and haggard we felt worried for him. He must have been past sixty years. At 10 a.m. at the end of 24 hours, he asked that dry heat be used till evening, and he would drive home for a bath and rest. He returned at 9 p.m. and resumed the hot water and flannels. The next morning, my sister opened her eyes and answered when spoken to. At noon he thought her all right to leave and went home.
She gained rapidly and rallied from that sickness, but was never strong. She went to school and did light work at house till she had a severe attack of grippe about two years after this and was given iron in liquid form and dope to make her sleep ‑‑ this kept up for about a year. Her beautiful teeth turned black and were nothing but shells when nineteen years of age. She suffered with teeth so much that Dr. Goss said she must have them out that summer but had to wait till I closed school and was home to vacation. I drove to town with her, got the doctor to give the ether. I told him Mother thought she wasn’t strong enough to have more than five or six at a time. He agreed, but she didn’t take the either well and had to have so much that he told the dentist to clear the upper jaw. He did and took the wisdom teeth, which were not decayed, leaving the very worst ones on under jaw.
After the teeth were out, they thought her dying. There were no telephones, so I could not let the folks at home know. The doctor told me to wring towels out of cold water and slap her face. He rolled her on the floor while the dentist rubbed her hands and feet. I noticed her head was turned under. I said, “You’re breaking her neck,” but be was too excited to pay attention. He got her to breathing, but decided she couldn’t ride home then, so told me to drive up to the door and we would put her to bed in his house. I got her to bed, and he thought she could go home in late afternoon. Father drove down to get her but came home alone, said she had been having convulsions and was unconscious. At four o’clock next morning, a livery team came for Mother. The driver said he ran his horse most of the way and feared Abbie wouldn’t live till Mother got there. She had 20 to 30 convulsions a day for a week. She could not be moved home four miles. I had previously worked at Judge Stowe’s while attending High School, so Mrs. Stowe kindly offered her large front room downstairs. At the end of six weeks, Abbie rode home but so weak and frail! This was 1891.
She was in bed a year. Dr. Goss called it Nervous Prostration. Then for about two years around the house some and got interested in doing patch work. About 1893 she began to fall on the floor. These spells seemed a little like Petit mal Epilepsy. In the spring of 1894, Dr. Goss brought a surgeon with him and said they were going to give ether and stretch the neck of the uterus. She was then twenty-two and had never matured, but the poor girl was anemic. She was in bed several months and a great care. The following spring, the doctor advised taking her for short rides. My brother would take her in his arms and set her in the carriage with a pillow under her feet and one at her back, but she always went unconscious. In the early summer of 1895, I talked with Dr. Jackson of Barre about her case. He expressed a desire to see her, so I asked him to drive down, which he did. After examining her, he said she had inflammation the whole length of the spinal cord, and when it reached the brain she would become insane. He advised taking her to a Hospital and having her spine seared with a white hot iron. Dr. Goss heard a nerve specialist was to be at the Mary Hitchcock Hospital at Hanover at that time. They seared her spine. At the end of a month a letter came saying she was violently insane and must be taken away at once. She weighed 70 pounds. They cut off her beautiful curly hair, and she had no teeth as the under teeth had been extracted before this. I paid the bill of $400 but felt she came back a hundred times worse than she went.
We had a sorry time with her for seven weeks, then Dr. Helmer, the osteopath, appeared, as I have related in the first paragraph. She grew physically stronger all that winter. Dr. Helmer returned to Chelsea with an assistant the following summer. She rode to the village twice a week for a treatment and gained in weight and strength. This continued also through the summers of 1896 and 1897, but her mind did not return until the following Thanksgiving morning 1897, when she arose, dressed herself, and went to breakfast table apparently all right. It was indeed a Thanksgiving at our home. Her mind has never gone wrong since. She will be 66 years old this June and is comfortably well. My father was a thorough convert to Osteopathy and our family has always been grateful to Dr. Helmer.
There is another story worth telling of what Dr. Helmer did. My own health was breaking ‑‑ the sleepless nights caring for my sister. A part of that time I was taking a two year course at Randolph Norman School. I lost time by staying at home when Mother would be left without help. Eight weeks one time, but I struggled on and graduated with my class in June 1893. All my senior term, I had severe neuralgia headaches. I taught the next year and did a big day’s work for Mother every Saturday. In the fall of 1894, I entered the Spaulding Graded School in Barre, for I could earn more than Father had to pay a woman, so I could help more that way. I developed hayfever which persisted for three years. The winter of 1896 and 1897, two‑thirds of the children in my room (I had 65) developed Whooping cough. I had it as hard as any of them, that and hayfever caused me to have Bronchial Asthma. The spring term of ’97 I had a hard sickness. The Barre physician who attended called it Typhus fever. I was in bed three weeks but returned to school in one more week.
I took treatments from Dr. Helmer all summer. He cured my asthma but the neuralgia headaches persisted. I went to Montpelier every Saturday in spring of 1898 that I was able to for a treatment. Dr. Helmer was there that winter. He advised me to give up teaching and take up the study of Osteopathy. It was an icy winter and I had numerous falls, so my spine was affected. He told me I needed treatments for a whole year. I entered the School of Osteopathy in fall of 1898 as much for the treatments as to study. My spine was X‑rayed and tests made by Dr. J. Martin Littlejohn, a member of the Faculty. He found nerves in lower dorsal area partially paralyzed; the nerve reflexes at both elbows and knees entirely gone; a very bad and sensitive neck. I had always been constipated from a child. He told me if I had lots of Osteopathic treatments, I might keep out of a wheel chair till 60 years of age, I am now 71 years of age and not expecting to have to use a wheel chair.
I graduated with my Class in June 1900. I practiced off and on for over 20 years and brought up a son who is now taking his father’s and my place in the same office where we practiced. I retired in 1927. My husband retired in 1937 at the age of 82 years.
This photo of Mary Anna and son Hermon, Jr was taken in 1932, when she was 66; she lived to the age of 82.