Letter Written During the Flu Pandemic in 1918 – Part 2 “Grateful for God’s Blessings”

By Mark Lehman

Several weeks ago, the Shoebox Chronicles  (http://shoeboxchronicle.wordpress.com) published a 1919 letter written by my great Aunt Milly to her twin sister Martha letting her know she and her family had survived the flu pandemic.

Shortly after Milly’s letter was published, a distant relative contacted me who also had a letter written by Milly to her great-grandmother living in Iowa.  The letter, dated December 12, 1919, is extremely fragile and parts of it are illegible.  However, the letter is noteworthy enough to pass on as valuable in todays environment.

The first letter was written the day the quarantine was lifted, and it focused on basic survival and acts of human kindness during this period.  This new letter was written several months later, focusing on lessons learned during quarantine and their efforts to define a new normal, and hope for the future.

Unlike Milly’s first letter, I am not able to publish it as written; however, here are some of the salient points I was able to glean.

Health update:

All in all we got off better than most. Only Callie [17-year-old daughter] got it, but her fever broke on the fourth day.  Betty Stevenson, the mother of Adam who is Callie’s betrothed didn’t make it.  He is a strong young man and I think he will be okay.  His daddy is the preacher to the Methodists, so they got the faith.  Although, I think it would be better if they were Baptist.

Planning for the Future:

Who knows what type of future any of our kids will have anymore?  Before all this hit, there was so much promise. It looked like the war was winding down so Adam didn’t have to worry about that.  — Bobby and I so want Callie to finish high school and maybe even go to teacher’s college. But I don’t even know if our school will have enough students to re-open, and who knows how long Bobby will have his job. So, college will probably not be an option. That seems to suit Callie just fine. 

However, before the school closed, she was showing some real aptitude for short-hand and was learning to type. Girls can make good money with those skills these days.  Adam says he is hoping to go to technical college in Ft. Worth so it would be good if she could help make ends meet.

All Johnny [16-year-old son] wants to do is farm, so I guess there will always be work there.

Quarantine Isolation:

In a strange sort of way, being locked up with just the 4 of us for 36 days had some silver lines [sic]. Before the plague, Bobby was going to work at the Mercantile every morning before daylight and I had already fed the kids by the time he got home.  During [illegible] harvest he also worked most Saturday’s at least till mid-afternoon.  Both of us were glad to spend more time together as a family before they all go off on their own.  Bobby and Johnny must have played a thousand games of checkers and every afternoon I helped Callie make her wedding dress.  It is a beautiful white eye-lit that she can wear for Easter or to other weddings if she adds a shawl with some color. We ran out of material and found enough decent cloth on Grandma Baker’s old quilt to finish the belt.  

Every evening we turned on the radio and listened to the news report.  But it was always the same and we could hardly stand to listen to more news about all these deaths and crop failures.  I got to where I would just go in the bedroom until it was over.  If there is a comforting part in all this sadness it was that after supper, we would pass around the family Bible and each read a verse or two just like our daddy always did.  I think this gave us all hope.

Reopening Church:

The 1st Baptist Church reopened last Sunday.  I didn’t go but Bobby said it was less then half full. I don’t know if it is because people are scared to go back out in public, or if it is just so many people have died.  I guess we will know in a few weeks when we have Christmas services.

Upcoming Christmas:

This was Martha and her families turn to come to us for Christmas, but we canceled all that.  We are going to just be grateful for being alive.  I have enough preserves left to make a peach pie and we may go out to daddy’s old farm and see if we can catch one of the chickens to fry.  They are just running free since we moved to town.  You probably remember Ruth Hopps’ daughter Karen.  She never married and runs her momma’s boarding house now. One of her boarders had to pay his room with a typewriter which she sold to me for 25 cents.  The L sticks but Bobby is going to try to oil it and give it to Callie for Christmas and her birthday.  I think she will love it because the school only had one machine and all the girls wanted to use it so Callie could never get the practice she wanted.

We moved Cassy, our milking cow, into town and she is about to drop any day.  Hopefully, she will have a healthy [illegible] and we are going to give it to Jimmy.  I am sure that will be his best Christmas ever.

Conclusion:

The letter closed with her customary optimistic hopes for the future, and her longing to see distant family members.  As always, she included her never ending praise for our Heavenly Creator and her grateful heart for God’s tender blessings.  

 

Mark Lehman recently retired from the Vice President of Governmental Affairs as the Texas Association of REALTORS®.  In this position, he is responsible for coordinating all legislative and political activities related to the Texas Real Estate Political Action Committee (TREPAC) and the 120,000 member association. Lehman’s primary focus is centered on legislation that directly affects the real estate industry and the rights of private-property owners in Texas.

Prior to joining the Texas Association of REALTORS®, Lehman served as campaign director for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s successful campaign for Texas attorney general.  He has served as chief-of-staff for a Texas State Senator and worked for 3 U.S. Congressmen in Washington, D.C.   He is a veteran of more than a dozen political campaigns and has been featured in the New York TimesWashington PostAustin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News.

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