Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Spanish Flu in Suttons Bay

Jumping ahead again in Gramma Lu's memoirs. The train wreck happened in late winter/early spring of 1918. This was a very very busy year in the life of the family.  The youngest, Virgil, had his tonsils out (behind his father's back, because Fred thought all doctors were crooks.)  The oldest son, Orville, had gone off to war in March.  Fred got a job in Suttons Bay, and Lula finally prevailed upon him to get a house and bring the family there. The hardships of city life in Traverse City, combined with the hardships of the war, were almost too much for the family to handle.

Suttons Bay was heaven on earth as far as Lula was concerned -- however, that first year they were still in poverty.  Grace didn't want to live there, didn't want to go to school there. Fred had to go down to Muskegon to find war work in a factory -- taking second son Ralph's savings with him for expenses. By winter the family ended up settled in a huge barn of a house that was only partly finished.  Lula was having a hard time even clothing the children. And she was beginning to suspect she was pregnant again.

Then the flu epidemic kicked in....

The Winter of Flu (1918-1919)

from the memoirs of Lula Janet Wanamaker LaGuire

That was the winter the influenza was so rampant everywhere.  It finally hit Suttons Bay.  Many were down with it. Muskegon was peppered with it. Maud LaGuire lost her second husband with it there in Muskegon.  She now had seven children. 
Fred came home.  He was sick with a fever and a cold, he called it. Before we knew what was happening, some of the children came down with it. When I sent for the doctor, he came and asked Fred, "How long have you had it?" 

Fred said, "I haven't got it not the flu. Just a cold."

There he sat, a bright fever spot on each cheek, and running eyes and nose. He would not go to bed in daytime, but sat up all day and coughed and sneezed and cussed.

A nun  at the convent died, and was burried the same night, as they all tried to keep this killer from spreading. Mama wrote and told of a whole family who had lived on a farm. When neighbors noticed there was no stir about there for several days, they investigated.  They found the entire family of seven dead, but one boy -- almost dead -- and the cattle and horses starving in the barn.  That is just an idea of how that dreadful disease was playing havoc.

It was not long till four of the children and I were in bed with "flu" as it is called.  Ralph has heard of something called naptha, I believe, to take to ward off the influenza. We kept it in one of the coldrooms upstairs as he was told to keep it away from fires, and each day we'd go up and take a few drops of the stuff on a spoonful of sugar. It was like liquid fire, whatever it was.  But we swallowed it bravely, and perhaps it helped keep the flu in a rather mild state when we did get it.

Before long we were in quarantine. Fred, the three boys, two girls and me.  Fred got better, fortunately, and Ralph did not get the disease, but they had their hands full caring for the girls and I and the two boys upstairs. It was quite a task I knew, but we were real ill for a few days with sore throat, headache, back ache, and fever. 

The doctor left some tablets for us to take and a bottle of whisky. Naturally I, being a teetotler, got none of that, nor did the girls, but the boys and Fred had "slings" made of it. I think Fred was glad of my total abstainance then.

We had no baths, and were lucky if we got our faces and hands washed once a day. Ralph and dad did keep us warm, and feed us pretty well when we were able to eat.

One pain-wracked day followed another. The doctor was so very busy with so many cases, he couldn't come often.  Often all the sleep he got was in his car or sleigh, while his driver took him to another case.

Eventually we all began to improve and in a couple of weeks were up again.  I made chest protectors from old blankets for all the youngsters to wear and soon we were let out of quarantine. The health officer told us to spread our bed clothes out well on chairs, etc., and we all parked around that good kitchen stove while the officers fumed something upstairs.  I think it was the next day we all stayed upstairs while they fumigated below.  They did a thorough job, but it has been proven since that fumigation does no good. 

Schools were shut down. No one went to the stores unless necessary, and could not congregate about public places.

There was a back room upstairs with a cook stove in it, that some school children had had to cook on at one time, and we'd build a fire there and gather round and read, sew, crochet or play games. Sometimes make tea and toast or a light lunch. This we designated the "Cozy Room," and that just defines it. How we all enjoyed it. I'd advise everyone with a family to have a cozy room way upstairs someplace.

We'd found a large pile of ladies magazines in the house and they helped pass many an hour that would otherwise have been lonely and monotonous. We'd read the stories and recipes and sometimes try them out in the kitchen downstairs.  We'd save crochet patterns and copy some.  The girls and I did quite a lot of this pastime that winter. Only draw back, we couldn't afford much thread for that purpose.

When Fritz was well enough, he and Ralph got work in a camp farther north. So we were eating well again at least. But one night they came home and took baths and Fritz put his dirty shirt on again unnecessarily -- and came to bed with me and told me they had acquired bugs while working at camp!  Ye gods! What next?  I then had to fight body lice for several weeks before we could be rid of them.  And to make life more interseting, Dudley got a relapsed flu, and we were quarantined again!

After about a week of that, he was better -- able to get up and the health officer came to take down the sign. I said, "Mr. H., you might as well leave it up, as two more are sick again." He did. Queenie and Virgil were down again with flu!

Well, carrying their meals up to them in my condition, weakened by the flu myself, caring for them best I could and fighting gray backs was pretty exhausting but I kept at it. I don't know how.  Glad that we were all alive; that was a lot to be thankful for.

We had to get permission from headquarters for Orville to send home part of his army pay to help out at home.  He was perfectly willing to do this, I believe, and I'm sure I do not know how we would have gotten through that winter otherwise.

I knew by now the new baby was not going to be welcome. Grace had said, "If there's a nother baby born here, I'll leave home." Which she did not mean. Orville had written to Ralph that he didn't see why a man that couldn't support the ones he had wanted to keep on having more, etc. 

There was a lot of friction, a good deal of coziness and companionship and quite a lot of worry and fear that winter!  Would the flu epidemic never end? Would Orville have to go across to fight?!!

No, that was decided. He would not have to go overseas! We were told the war was over.  The armistice had been signed, had it not?  Orville had been sent to Newport News, VA.  Worked there in an office during the year, taking his training in Signal Corps.  He was a good soldier. 

Ralph had wanted so much to go, but being in the accident, and having one poor eye, he was denied that priviledge. And he smarted under the result. He wanted to be in uniform as many other boys were.  He made every effort to get in and finally was issued his questionaire. This elated him very much, but then came the Armistice and again he was disappointed. But at least he had received his questionaire.

I was very well aware that we could not keep up payments on the piano under present conditions, and called the music house up and told them so, so the children were deprived of their piano as well as their organ, much as I hated this.  Another week of relapses and the doctor came. Queenie was still in bed. 

"Isn't she up yet?" he asked. 

"No," I said, "she isn't able to be up."

"Well," he said, "let her sit up an hour or so, we can say she's up. We want to open up the schools and can't as long as we have any flu patients."

I said, "OK, she'll sit up tomorrow."

And he offered "There are tricks in all trades, you know."

Virgil was up, but doctor had said his appendix was in bad condition. I strongly suspect that the youngsters did not have the food they properly needed, though I always cooked food well and baked our own bread.  But one quart milk a day for eight! 

Queenie improved from then on and children were soon answering the call of the school bell again. The flu was on the decline. It had been a very mild winter, with only a few real cold days. Such a winter usually brings on a great deal of sickness.

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