Patrice Buchanan Diamond, left, and her twin, Maurine (Motty) Buchanan, right, pose with their 90-year-old mother, Rachel Buchanan Burnett.
When Forrest General opened its doors to its first patients on July 15, 1952, the obstetrics unit was the only service line opened as the rest of the hospital construction was being completed. That proved lucky for Rachel Buchanan of Hattiesburg when she and her husband, Isaiah, welcomed the hospital’s first set of twins, Patrice and Maurice, on August 21, 1952. Those twins recently celebrated their 68th birthday last month among family and friends in Georgia.
In all, 403 babies were born at the hospital in the latter half of 1952. The Buchanan twins are proud to be amongst that group. Their mother, Rachel Burnett, now 90, and living in a senior retirement center in Stone Mountain, Georgia, still enjoys talking about those early days when she was a young mother at 22 and her husband was stationed in Virginia with the military.
She’s also the mother of five other children, five boys and two girls — Edgar (70, Columbus, Ga.), Denise (65, Stone Mountain, Ga.), Andre (63, College Park, Ga.), Brian (60, Lithonia, Ga.), and Jeffery, (58, Lithonia, Ga.)
Rachel said the family was elated when they learned they were having twins, and especially so after a diligent search of the family history found no other record of twins ever having been born in the family.
“Can you imagine a 22-year-old mother taking care of twins while still learning myself,” she said. “I tell you, it was a blessing to be there with my mom and dad to get help because, otherwise, I think I would have gone out of my mind. It was scary, really scary.”
The birth of Patrice and Maurice was the first time Rachel had been to Forrest General Hospital. Their son, Edgar, had been born at the Infirmary in downtown Hattiesburg. Her doctors were Kelly Ramsay O’Neal, Sr., M.D., and Glen Pearson, M.D. “They were my lifesavers. I dearly loved both of them; they were so sweet to me,” she said.
Miriam Barron was head nurse of the maternity ward and the hospital’s first Director of Nursing. Rachel remembers the starched white uniforms – from their caps down to their shoes – and how she thought they were the most beautiful nurses she’d ever seen. “They were beautiful in those white caps, white shoes,” she said. “You could hear them walking down the hall with those shoes squeaking.”
Rachel’s sister, Alice Denard, was a nurse’s aide under Barron’s guidance. Alice, the mother of Hattiesburg Councilwoman Debra Delgado and her brother, Donald, is the one who named the twins. While Rachel doesn’t remember where the name Maurice came from, Patrice’s name came from an opera singer at the time. (Patrice Munsel performed often with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and was the youngest singer ever to star with the MO).
Back in those days following the birth of a baby, new mothers stayed in the hospital for approximately a week. “I remember my Mom insisted they get an ambulance to bring me home,” she said. “I did not want to ride in an ambulance. So, my father had to come with them to get me and sit in there with me to get those babies home.”
It was about a week after the babies were born that Isaiah got to come home to see the infants. While there is great discussion about who is the oldest, Maurice admits to being the elder twin, weighing in at 7.5 pounds. “Patrice was a lightweight at 5.3 pounds,” he said, before she came back with a quick reply, “because he ate all the food!”
The twins have always been close, and Rachel admits that Maurice was the bossier of the two. While Patrice was the last to learn to walk, “once she got up off the floor, she stood her ground,” her mom said. Maurice, or Motty, to his sister, was described as more adventurous than his younger sister, who tended to cling to the edge of the couch for support until she gained more confidence. Patrice is proud to have been the better sleeper, with Motty being a momma’s baby, who always wanted his mother to hold him a lot, according to Patrice.
After time in the Hub City, a move to Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, was in line for this proud military family. Maurice remembers the start of that trip in the early 60s. “We were at the train station (Hattiesburg Train Depot) and I dropped my bottle of milk,” he said. “The train drove up, and it was the first time I’d been around a train. It scared me quite a bit, so I dropped the thermos of milk.” As he recalls, there were soldiers on the train who helped his mom get milk from the diner, so the younger siblings could have milk to drink.
It was in Alaska they experienced the Great Alaska Earthquake on Good Friday in 1964. The quake, rated 9.2 on the Richter scale, is the second most powerful earthquake recorded in world history. The family was in the base commissary buying up a few last-minute groceries for the holiday.
At the time, Patrice was the “momma” of the family, helping out with her younger siblings. When the quake hit, Patrice took the younger children and gathered them around her. Rachel said they still tease her that she was “like a mother hen with her bitties.” “She was scared to death herself, but she took care of the others until we got back home,” her proud mother said.
When it was time for the family to return to the Lower 48, they made their way back along the Alcane Highway in a Plymouth station wagon. “It was 1,500 miles of dirt road,” Maurice remembers.
The family reentered the United States at Minot, North Dakota, before making their way to Fort Riley, Kansas. The family resided in Salina for about 18 months. It was here they said goodbye to Isaiah who was deploying with the First Infantry Division to Vietnam. From there it was on to Columbus, Georgia, where Isaiah was assigned to Fort Benning.
“The joy of being in the military is you get to see different parts of the country,” said Patrice. “We didn’t get to go overseas, but we traveled to different areas of the country.”
Patrice said during their high school dating years, she had to have a chaperone. “Motty and I would agree to meet up after going our separate ways to get back together to go home and meet curfew,” she remembers. “He was my partner in crime.”
The twins graduated in 1970 from Carver High School in Columbus, Georgia. Maurice went on to attend college at the University of Georgia while Patrice worked as a stenographer for Blue Cross Blue Shield. She later decided to enter Civil Service and married a military man.
It’s often said that twins can finish each other’s sentences or feel each other’s pain. Maurice and Patrice both have an affinity for reading, math, and dogs.
These days they are both involved in giving back to their communities through their civic work. Motty, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, serves as president of the George Washington Carver Class of 1970, Carver High School Scholarship Committee and serves on the Kiwanis board within the Newnan community. Patrice, who worked with the Department of the Army for 34 years, is board president of her Homeowner’s Association and chair of the Scholarship Committee. She has also volunteered her time alongside her sewing buddies and made 250 pillowcases that were donated to children in ICU units. They also made and donated reusable, washable face masks to be given to new homeowners in their welcome packet and are currently working on masks for the neighborhood elementary school.
Rachel said her family has had lovely life experiences that she will always take with her. “We tried to instill in all of our children how to be men and women, bring them up in the church, and stress to them the importance of education and family. And to reach for the top. If you didn’t make it, then at least you knew you tried, and if you did, to reach back and help somebody else. We always told them, ‘Don’t keep everything to yourself, you share it, because somebody shared with you.’ We stressed being leaders, because I always told them, ‘Don’t be a follower. Be a leader. Always try to be a leader.”
They laud their mother for their good, but unique, life. “She has been a stalwart of our family and held us together,” said Maurice. “She’s a beautiful person who stressed family and education. And we all did good by her example,” added Patrice. “She instilled a life of service.”
Maurice noted his mom was a terrific cook and used the old-fashioned method of a pinch of this and a pinch of that. But when it came time to teaching fractions using one of her actual pies, that’s when the trouble began. “We’d get down to the smaller fractions and before we knew it, the kids had eaten all the pie,” said Maurice.
Patrice has memories of her and her siblings sleeping on their grandmother’s screen porch and walking to Steelman’s Grocery in Hattiesburg with her grandmother, her money tightly bundled up in the corner of a handkerchief and attached to her so she wouldn’t lose it.
Family dinners around the dining room table were also important to this family. “We opened with a prayer, and there was interaction among family members of the day’s happenings,” remembers Rachel, described as a praying mother.
“They’ve all made me very proud; they are such a blessing,” she said. “I’m 90 years old and to live to see them and their families is a blessing. You don’t know how happy I am to still be here and witness my children, all of them. These are memories I will always take with me. Through thick and thin, I look back and think about a lot of things we went through, but we made it through by the grace of God and ended up a happy family.”