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Many of the people I interviewed as I researched The Healing were elderly and it was clear that their rich memories held the answers to who we are as a people. I felt a certain urgency to get down their words while I could, but there were times when I forgot to ask the right question and called back later, maybe a few months or a few years, only to be told that they had passed. It brought home the saying, “When a person dies, a library is lost.” One loss that was particularly painful to hear about was that of Mrs. Willie Turner.

Mrs. Turner was a midwife from Midnight, Mississippi, born in 1911. I came to her home in 2002 and spent two hours enthralled, listening to her tell me of how she “caught” 2063 babies in her home county of Humphreys alone. At the time we spoke she was 90 and deaf. I had to write down the questions and she shouted back the answers. I have the tape and listen to it often. In fact, in writing The Healing, I often drew from Mrs. Turner’s spirit, her compassion and the fierce love and pride she for her calling.  She obviously adored her “her babies,” all 2063 of them, and they all adored her, still calling her “Mother” until her death in 2010.

When we parted that summer afternoon, she told me, “Jonathan, don’t forget God, ‘cause He is the Head of the Heaven. In your work with that book, put God in front and you’ll make it. That’s what I did and I done made it to 90 years old.” She made it to 99, and I’m sure God was in front all the way. I tried hard not to disappoint her.  

1. How many children did you help birth? 0.16
2. How busy did you stay? 1:00
3. Did some mothers get scared? What did you do to calm them?4:25
4. How did you get around to your patients? 5:44
5. Did any of the women fight you? 10:09
6. How did you raise a family and be a midwife?10:42
7. What were the homes like? 12:54

1. When did you decide you wanted to be a midwife? 0:15
2. How did you learn? 0:34
3. Tell me about a typical delivery. 1:13
4. What were some of the most difficult deliveries? 5:20
5. Were some babies born not breathing? What did you do? 8:26

In 2006 the Mississippi Legislature passed House Resolution 100, honoring Mrs. Turner.


    • paula tidwell
    • Posted March 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm
    • Permalink

    thank you for writing this book. I hope to get to Lemuria to get it. I too have lived here since 1951. moved away a couple of times but something drew me back. I can’t figure her out
    either! very well put. I wish you great success, this is certainly a mysterious place.

    • Jon Odell
    • Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm
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    Hello Paula, I hope you come to the reading a Lemuria and be sure to introduce yourself. It would be nice to meet you.

    • Annette Richard
    • Posted September 3, 2012 at 1:55 am
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    Mr. Odell, I really enjoyed your book, The Healing. It’s a wonderful book. I loved all the characters. You really made them flesh and blood. Your characterization of Polly Shine is magnificent. You did us African Americans proud. Your afterword was very informative. I didn’t know midwives live birthrates were often higher than degreed doctors. Thanks for sharing that information. I will host my next reading discussion group with your book The Healing.I really hope to see this book on a college syllabus. The book has left me so enriched, so much wisdom came from Polly Shines lips. The way you weaved that story is simply magic. Kudos to you and please tell me you’re going to write about Polly, Silas, and the others who left to start their own community. Please you made Polly so real. I must know more. Thanks.

    • Jon Odell
    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 2:09 pm
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    I can’t tell you how welcome your comments were. You put into words exactly the impact I want the book to have long-term. And as you mentioned, Polly is still not done with me. I do think she wants me to continue her life story. I’m so happy she speaks to you as well.

    If I can do anything to make your discussion group more memorable, please let me know. I don’t know if you went to my webpage or not, but there you can find my taped conversation with Mrs. Willie Turner, from Midnight Mississippi in 2002. She was 92 at the time and became my model for Polly Shine. Her voice is Polly’s voice. Here’s that link

    Thanks again for your kindness, Annette and good luck with your group!


    • Ifetayo
    • Posted March 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm
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    Jon, when might you be visiting South Carolina? We midwives, doulas and healers are waiting for you :)

    • Jon Odell
    • Posted March 4, 2013 at 3:58 pm
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    Thanks for asking! I’d LOVE to visit South Carolina. Sometimes you can find an organization (hospital, community group, school or college) that will agree to bring me in for a reading. I’m leaving tomorrow to do a reading with Johns Hopkins to doctors, nurse, midwives and doulas. Should be a wonderful discussion. Where are you located?

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