Jeremy stayed with Mathilda, his mother, while his father, Caleb Smitherlin, went to town to buy groceries and take handcrafted leather goods to the Mercantile. Someone needed to be with Mama all the time. Her illness had consumed her strength. Jeremy tried to do his best taking care of Mama, but the challenge of the job surpassed his capabilities.
Jeremy, a young teen, tells about his efforts to take care of Mathilda:
I stayed all day with Mama. Papa made me do it. He even went to town and left me there, nobody but the two of us.
Mama wasn’t good that day. Every time I went into their bedroom, she was wailing and crying. The spit pan on her table had globs of blood in it. The smell—oh how I hated it, but she was my mama. I loved her.
I found something else for her to spit in and took the other one to rinse it out.
“Go away, Spike.” I cleaned the blood out with an old rag and tossed the mess into the trash-burning barrel. Back at the well, I rinsed out the pan.
As fast as I could, I went back to Mama’s room. I brushed her stringy, dishwater blonde hair back with my hand. What thin hair she had was tangled in caked blood. Pale and splotched, she reached for me with her limp hands.
In her weak, whiny voice, Mama cried out to me, “Why, Jeremy? Why is God letting this happen to me? Why do I hurt so much? Help me, son, please help me! Oh, God.”
I was only a kid. I didn’t know what to do. I got cold washrags and wiped her face and pushed her hair back. It didn’t help. Nothing helped. Mama was dying and there wasn’t nothing I could do to stop it.
She choked on clots of blood as she spat them from her throat.
I couldn’t keep up with the mess.
Travelers in Painted Wagons on Cohay Creek by Mary Lou Cheatham and Sarah Walker Gorrell begins with Jeremy’s efforts as a nurse. He considered himself too young and inexperienced to do the job. Besides, he thought his mother needed a woman to help her with chores that embarrassed him.