Friday, October 30, 2009

The 1918 flu

I was just looking at a book we have about the 1918 flu epidemic. Now, let me immediately remind everyone that I personally, was not alive in 1918. And, yet I personally knew people who were alive and who's lives were affected by the flu. They were old by the time I knew them, but I heard their stories and think that a few of them need to be remembered.

I'm to young to know about the fear that epidemics brought to parents in the past, but I know my parents and others of their generation talk about polio scares which was "their" epidemic. Those of us born after 1950 or so, have never experienced that kind of fear.

I've said before that I like to walk through cemeteries and look at the tombstones. You can track epidemics there by clusters of death dates. In local cemeteries, you see young adults--from 18-25 years of age dying in the years of 1918 through 1921 or so. Many of those folks died of the flu.

My Woodruff Grandparents were born in 1900 and 1906. The flu epidemic was very real to them--as were other epidemics. But this one struck the healthy and killed quickly. I remember Grandad telling how the school in Fowler closed one winter, and maybe two winters to keep kids from getting the flu. He graduated from High School a year "late" because of the school closing.

And, there were Jim and Grace G. I remember Jim and Grace only as little old people, but... they had each been married before. Jim's wife died of the flu, and Grace's husband died of the flu. Each had children to care for, and married each other shortly after the death of their spouses. They had a child or two together, and lived a long life together. And yet, how different their lives might have been if their first spouses had survived.

I also remember we kids talking about Walt? McKinney--who died of the flu. (Mom, was he George's son or brother, or am I mixed up?) But, I remember we kids talking about him dying, and how devastated his parents were. Even if this memory of mine isn't accurate; it does demonstrate that the flu epidemic of 1918 was something that impressed we kids who grew up in Big E.

I remember people talking about friends and family who died of the flu. I remember them talking about it and just shaking their heads as they remembered. To me, it was always a puzzle. What was it about the flu that made this generation have conversations like:

"What ever happened to his son "JOE'?

"Oh, he died of the flu back in '19."


And then, they'd both simply shake their heads in a mutual ritual of remembrance for something that needed no further explanation. Having never experienced that, and not really truly understanding that bond, it's something that's always fascinated me.

I hope I never do understand that bond.

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