Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Flu Shots, Beauty and Dying Young

An online friend recently asked if I'd gotten my flu shot for the year. The question prompted this outpouring of family history:

I don't get the flu shots. CFIDS docs are split on that but most say no...don't get. I remember my mother got them when she got older and had at least three days of flu-like symptoms after. In her retirement apt down here, a number of people would actually get the flu after a shot. I decided if I was going to get the flu, I would get it on my own :-)

Historical mother was next to youngest of six children and then didn't have me until she was 35, so my roots go back further than most my age. Her mother had the killer flu that swept our country in 1919. Everybody did except mother, who'd had it the year before when it was killing people in Europe. Mother was 13.
Her mother got up, feeling well from it, then relapsed. It soon became obvious that she wasn't going to make it, so the family doctor who was attending the dying all over town had her taken to the hospital. My grandfather was sick too, but pleaded with the doctor to go with her. There was no heat in cars in those days so the doctor told him one of them had to survive for the six children and my grandmother's elderly parents who also lived with them.

My greatgrandparents are seated left and middle, with my grandparents and children standing. A family friend is to the right. My Uncle Herman hadn't been born yet. Mother is the towhead clinging to her mother's skirt.

When she was in the final stages, however, the doctor sent word. He said that if my grandfather wrapped himself in blankets he could come. To his relief, he was able to be there and hold her hand as she died. My Uncle Herman was only five. Grandfather kept his wife's parents even after her death. They were part of the family and any other choice was unthinkable to him. Her father, W.B. Dickson, had fought in the Civil War, meeting his wife, Anne Harris, when a dying buddy asked him to deliver a letter to his sister after the war for him. Unbeknownst to my grandfather, it was a 'letter of recommendation' saying that there would be few men left after the war of marrying age and he could vouch that W.B. Dickson was a good man.

Uncle Herman and his father, my grandfather, after my grandmother's funeral.

Five years later, my grandfather was killed by a drunk driver. Mother was 18 and had just entered college. Her oldest brother was married and willing to take him in when the house was sold and the Dicksons moved in with another of their children, but his wife who was rather sharp tongued refused to take him on. He went to my grandfather's half brother whom he barely knew but I think turned out to be better.

When all this happened, though, he begged mother to go with her and stay in her college room. He said he would hide in the closet and be very very good. It was heartbreaking. Uncle Herman, by the time I knew him, was a man who kept his feelings close to his chest. I think those losses created that survival technique in him. Mother tended to hold her emotions in a lot, too. She may have been 18 but had no home to go to and no space at her two married sibs over holidays. She spent some holidays with roommates and stayed many at the dorm.

Mother's college graduation photo.

When she graduated, times were rough My father was then a school principal, out 4 years, himself. He hired her to teach first grade and they married a year later. She was beautiful. Whe was voted 'most attractive' in her senior class , and resembled Greta Garbo.

This is me with my father. He was 40 when I was born.


Lyle Daggett said...

Oh what a great story and history. It's amazing, isn't it, how much is there -- I constantly have to remind myself of the real history behind the family stories. I guess because they become so familiar, like (as it were) family.

When my dad was born, on a farm in Iowa, his mother had complications from the birth. They were a conservative religious family, afraid and superstitious of doctors and hospitals -- hospitals were considered a place where you went to die. My dad's mom died, from fever and infection, three days after he was born.

When he was born, right at the time of birth, he didn't start breathing spontaneously, as can happen sometimes. His cousin, who was 14 at the time, picked him up and slapped his behind with her hand (the standard thing back then when babies weren't breathing), and the shock of it, crying from the slap, started him breathing.

I met his cousin many years later, and heard her tell the story. It still amazes me, to think how different their world and lives were. 14 years old, and she knew what to do when the newborn baby wasn't breathing, and had the presence of mind to do it.

Pris said...

Lyle, that's an amazing story! And yes...fourteen! How many of us at that age would've had a clue what to do. These old family stories are invaluable. My mother inherited a stack of any family picturs and her mother's scrapbook. When I was in my thirties, I took it all and started a new scrapbook, since the old one was beginning to shred. I wasn't as much interested in detailed geneology as the family stories. Mother was a natural story teller so I bit by bit recorded these into the scrapbook along with the pictures. Over the years I added photos of mother and her sibs, grown, with families and wrote in stories about them. It really is a treasure. A few years ago I scanned most of what now was two albums and two large envelopes of extra photos (took me a year doing it leisurely) and passed it on to a second cousin who can share it with family. I can't do that anymore and didn't want it just to sit in a chest until I died.

steve said...

Pris, thank you for writing this out - and your mother looks quite beautiful.

Pris said...

Thanks, Steve!

Anonymous said...

Your mother looks positively serene on her graduation picture. What a lovely picture to have in your collection Pris.

Pris said...

I'm really lucky to have so many photos of her during those years and younger.