I attended History Camp on Saturday and gave a condensed version of my talk that tells stories of families impacted by the 1918 flu. After the talk was over, people started telling me their stories. I said I would like to remember these people and tell their stories, and would do so via blog posts and in my talk. There was a rush for my cards after the talk. People really do want to hear stories and tell stories.
I’ll start by telling my stories. When I asked my parents a year or two ago if we had any 1918 flu stories in my family, they both answered no. But, when my mom came to visit, we went through a book about her tiny hometown in New Mexico and there was mention in the book of Grandma Keeler taking care of affected town members. This wasn’t proof that it directly affected my family, but chances were good that it did since the town was so small.
A few months later my mom was going through some papers at her dad’s house and found a life history written by her Aunt Cleo. She writes: ““During the winter of 1918 there was a terrible flu epidemic that swept the entire country and many people died from it. I was five months old when I got the flu and was very ill. Mama told me that for
three days I lay in a stupor but through faith and administration I was spared. My father had the flu that same winter and was very ill with it.” I am glad that both she and her father survived. My grandfather was born a few years later.
While going through some family histories on my dad’s side I found the following about his grandmother written by her daughter: ““During the flu epidemic of World War I, Mother had the dreadful disease, which left her with a lost of most of her hearing. This was a real trial to her all her life. But she tried to be cheerful and not dwell on her infirmities.” My dad knew his grandmother well, but thought her hearing loss was due to old age.
We thought we didn’t have any 1918 flu stories but we did. It was so widespread that everyone was affected in some way, even if their story is that they were one of the lucky ones that didn’t get it.