Friday, December 11, 2020

Angels in the Room - The Year of Influenza 1918

This is a true story as told to me by my mother. It's about another pandemic, the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918 and the tragic effect it had on her family. My mother is 12-year-old Jessie in this story and her sister, Selma was 14 at the time.  I wrote this about 2 decades ago. Everything in the story is true however I wrote it in a creative form to give voices to the real-life characters. At the time I wrote it, my mom was no longer here to correct me with names and ages and the proper sequence of the events, but the angel in the room seen by her sister made an everlasting impression on my mother and on me as she told me the story. The story is a little rough around the edges. I like to think I've learned a little more about writing since then.  In light of our own pandemic of 2020, I have revived the story and will share it now since history seems to be repeating itself. My mom's life was forever changed by the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

Angels in the Room: 1918 – The Year of Influenza


Jessie turned two of the kitchen chairs around to face each other. She sat down on one and propped her feet up on the other. She would catch a quick wink before she laundered the fever-soaked sheets from her sister Selma’s bed. Just as she felt herself slip into a lulled sleep, racking coughs and gasping sounds came from the bedroom she shared with Selma and her younger sister, Pearl. As Jessie jumped up, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror above the fireplace. Her slight frame and pigtails were a stark contrast to the furrowed brow and dark circles under her eyes, revealing the worry, stress and responsibilities weighing heavily on the shoulders of the twelve-year-old child.

The year was 1918. World War I had just ended, and something far more terrifying had put fear in the hearts of the people of rural Union County. For them, the war had been a remote, far off war that had taken away some of the local boys and spit them out on foreign soil with a dozen or so them never to return home again. North Carolina lost approximately 1600 men in the war. In contrast, the tragedy that was happening now would claim the lives of over 13,000 men, women and children in the state alone and more than 675,000 in the United States. It was a flu epidemic and it had hit Jessie’s family of twelve with brute force. The first to get it was young Woodrow, who had just turned 4. The other children followed quickly.  Jessie's mama had nursed them through it until she and Papa came down with it. Only Mary Lee, 6 months old, had escaped being sick and was sent to an aunt who was nursing her own child and had plenty to spare to nurse Mary Lee.

The younger children had bounced back quickly, but the others weren’t so lucky. Their fevers would spike and break, then spike again.

And the persistent, non-stop coughing seemed as if it would take their breath away. Grandpa Will brought over some whiskey and mixed it with honey which helped a little with everyone except Selma, and Selma was the one Jessie worried over the most. Of course, she was worried over Mama and Papa, too. They were talking nonsense, but Grandpa Will said it was normal because of their high fever.

Besides Mary Lee, Jessie was the only one spared from the illness and in her young mind, it was because God had intended for her to be the one to care for them. Papa said that she was named after Jess Watson, a circuit rider; a saddlebag preacher who rode on horseback through the country preaching the gospel and saving souls. She may not be able to save souls, she thought, but she could work hard at trying to save lives, so she worked night and day caring for her family. This was her third day as the lone caregiver, and she was bone-tired.

She checked on Selma, but she was now asleep. The steam from the water she was boiling to do laundry seemed to have calmed her coughing for the moment. She was alarmed at how pale Selma was and how thin her little arms were. Although two years younger than Selma, Jessie had quickly outgrown her. She had learned early on to carry the load of both their chores because Selma couldn’t keep up. The two were inseparable. Not only were they sisters, but they were best friends. Jessie really didn’t understand what a “heart condition” was, but she sensed her older sister’s frailty and she vowed to always take care of her.

Jeremiah Starnes had built a big house in anticipation of a large family after his marriage to Jenny Griffin in the beginning of a new century, 1900. There were three bedrooms, a big kitchen and a sitting room. The boys all shared a room and the girls shared another. Mama, Papa and the baby slept in the other bedroom. Their little farm had thrived and with all the children pitching in, the crops had been harvested and a little money set aside for provisions would last until the pattern began all over again in the Spring. They were a happy family. They worked, played and prayed together and their life was good.

The younger children had been unusually quiet all day. Pearl and Eli were playing with marbles on the kitchen floor. Roy was out splitting wood and milking the cow. Billy brought in wood to keep the fire going. Jessie poured water from the stove into a metal tub and quickly washed the sheets from Selma’s bed. She hung them from a makeshift clothesline hung from one corner of the room to another. They would freeze stiff if hung outside. It was the middle of December and an unseasonably harsh winter where the days were short on sunshine and long on cold. Inside, the heat from the woodstove would dry the sheets quickly.

Jessie had no idea what they would eat for supper. They had eaten three meals off the soup Grandpa had brought over on Sunday. Usually, neighbors pitched in and helped each other when there was sickness in a family, but trouble was, all the neighbors were sick too. The ones who were not sick were too afraid to venture into a home filled with raging influenza. She supposed they could eat some cornbread and side meat with a cold glass of buttermilk, so she went about warming up the skillets on the cookstove and sent Billy out to the icehouse where the milk and buttermilk were stored. She never once complained nor thought that the responsibilities she was undertaking were anything but normal. She was unaware that in households both near and far away, people were dying of the very illness that had taken over her home, and she had no idea that it was taking the lives of the young children, the weak and the elderly. If she had, her little heart would have been heavier than it already was.

After they had eaten, she finished up the supper dishes. She fed the children their cornbread and buttermilk and had boiled a few potatoes and onions she found in the cellar to make a broth for the sick ones. Mama and Papa had eaten it but Selma would only drink water. She put the little ones to bed and curled up on a blanket on the floor beside Selma’s bed and finally went to sleep.

Sometime in the night she heard a stirring and Mama came into the room with a lamp. She could tell Mama’s fever had broken because her eyes were clear and sharp. She put her hand on Selma’s forehead and listening to her labored breathing, turned to Jessie. “You’re tired, little one. Go on to bed. I’ll take over here.”  Jessie was too tired to protest. Her burden was suddenly lifted, and her eyes filled with tears of relief. Her body shook with emotion as she held her mother tight. She woke up the next morning to the aroma of biscuits baking and the younger children chattering. Mama was better and the world was a brighter place.

 She saw that Selma was awake and she ran to her side praying that she was well. Selma seemed to have less fever but was so weak she could barely lift her arm to touch Jessie’s face. But she was smiling! 

“Jessie, I saw Jesus last night,” she said excitedly. “And angels! Why there’s an angel in this room right now! He’s right there,” she said and pointed to the far side of the room. Jessie looked but saw nothing.

“Selma, you’re just seeing things, like Mama and Papa did when they were talking out of their heads!” 

“No, I’m not. He’s all dressed in white and I can see him plain as day. Jessie, surely you see him! There’s light all around him like the sun is shining on his face. Talk to him, Jessie. Find out what he’s doing here. I’m too tired to talk.”  At that, Selma went back to sleep and seemed to be breathing just a little better.

“Mama, Selma said she saw Jesus and some angels when she woke up. She says there’s an angel in our room right now,” Jessie said as she walked into the kitchen. Mama was still pale and at Jessie’s words, a fearful look came over her face. Her knees were weak and almost gave way under her as she made her way around the kitchen getting breakfast ready.

“Mama, please sit down. I’ll finish up. You aren’t well yet.” The last thing Jessie wanted was for her Mama to have a relapse.

“No, I’m fine. I’m just a little weak. You’re going to be sick too, child, if you don’t get some rest. I don’t know how you did it. You kept up with the chores and waited on all the rest of us.”

Mama’s praise made her blush as the other children looked on. She’d only done what needed to be done. The others had shared in the chores. She was about to say so when Papa walk into the room.

“Look, Mama! Papa’s better too,” she said excitedly. She ran over to hug him and was shocked at how thin he was. He was a small-statured man anyway, but now she could feel his ribs when she gave him a hug. It seemed to take a huge effort for him to walk across the room to the table.

Mama told Papa about Selma seeing Jesus and the angels as they ate breakfast. Papa frowned and he and Mama exchanged looks. “I’ll go check on her, Jenny,” he said and got up from the table. A moment later, she heard Papa cry out, “Jenny, come quick!”

Jessie fell right in behind Mama as she made her way down to the girls’ room. The child on the bed was pale and breathing shallowly, but she had a look of joy on her face as she reached one arm and then the other up into the air. “I can almost touch Him, Papa.”

“Who Selma? Who is it you’re trying to touch?”

“Why, it’s Jesus! Don’t you see him?”  She turned to look at Papa as if willing him to see the same thing she was seeing. “And the light, Papa! Can’t you see how bright it is? Jesus and the angels are calling me to go with them. Can I go, Papa?”

Jessie didn’t understand why Papa was crying and holding onto Selma’s hand so tight. “No child, don’t go just yet. We want you to stay here with us.”  Selma looked disappointed.

“I love you, Papa. I love you too, Mama.  I want to stay with you, but I think I’m supposed to go with them. Jessie, come here. Maybe you can see them.”  Jessie walked over and sat on the bed with Selma. She held her other hand and looked in the direction Selma was looking.”

“Yes, Selma – I see them!”  She didn’t, but it made Selma happy and she gave Jessie a weak hug and settled back on her pillow.

“I’m so tired,” she said. Jessie could hear a rattle in Selma’s chest, but she was no longer coughing. As she watched, the breathing became shallower. Mama and Papa knelt down to the bed and Papa put his head on her chest. Mama was crying softly. Jessie got up so they could both get closer.

Papa spoke. “You can go to be with Jesus now, baby girl. We will all join you someday.” The young girl on the bed took one more shallow breath and slipped peacefully away. Mama’s shoulders shook as she sobbed. Papa held her tight and motioned for Jessie to join them. “She’s well now, Jessie. See the peace that’s come over her face. God is the giver of life. When we’re born, He breathes our first breath into us, and when we pass on, He takes our last breath into His own and our spirit goes to be with him.” Their tears spilled down and blended in with the tears that were flowing freely from Jessie’s eyes.

She sobbed uncontrollably. All she knew was that she had lost the one person who understood her every thought – her best friend and sister. Papa pulled her to him. “Jessie, honey, our Selma will be running and playing with the angels. She’ll have a healthy heart in Heaven.” 

His words fell on deaf ears. She thought only of her loss as she walked back to the bedside. “Bye, bye, Sis,” she said and gave her sister one last kiss.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Cosmopolitan Magazine May 1926

I love old magazines and pick them up at antique shops and yard sales when I can find them. I especially love the ones prior to 1940. I was thumbing through this May 1926 issue of Cosmopolitan recently and thought I'd share some of the photos.

 I love those finger wave curls and the demure expression of the cover girl.
Front Cover - 35 cents
Back Cover - Moms are still staging photo shoots. This one is adorable.
 Diamonds: A girl's best friend?
1 ct diamond $145. I'll take one.
The teacher in this next ad would get in trouble today. She's blaming the mom for her son not being included in the games on the playground. He doesn't have the energy to play because she doesn't give him Wheatena for breakfast.
No Wheatena, no friends
This picture is amazing. This girl could step right out of the magazine and no one would blink an eye in today's world. Especially her hairstyle.

Apparently, Sterno and Gillette went in together to make this an interesting shaving experience. This was in the days before hot water instantly spewed forth from your faucets. A novel idea! I wonder how many sold.

I love the Lanvin ad below. The bride gets a silver server when she buys a wedding gown.

The next few pictures are solutions for this and that:
Blu-Jay Plaster for keeping your feet free from corns.

Okay! I want Dr. Folts Soap to slenderize my figure to ideal proportions. If it had worked, Dr. Folts would have made millions. I've never heard of him, have you?

So-o - Mange medicine for women? 

Girdles - always trying to hold that tummy in.
The age-old battle of trying to keep your teeth white

Don't let that gray show for heaven's sake!

Mum Deodorant for fresh smelling underarms - but if you want to get rid of the hair, use Evans Depilatory Cream
 Beauty Secrets:
Ponds Cold Cream - It's been around a long, long time.

Women must have started aging a lot sooner back then.
So it was a woman's duty to keep fresh the beauty of girlhood. 

Golden Glint Shampoo - I love the graphics of this ad

And YARDLEY'S Old English Lavender Soap. They still make this!
Car Advertisements
I'll take a new Ford for $520!

Ford is still with us today; Paige is not. Maybe they priced themselves out of business.
Electricity - A novelty in rural areas back then. This ad is interesting. Electricity is touted as the Great Emancipator for women. From the wording in the ad, it sounds like the Great Job Eliminator for women.

Deceptive advertising - From first glance, it looks like the typewriter costs $2 but the small print says you get a free trial for $2. I wonder what the cost of the typewriter really is? But look at the ad right beside it. All those envelopes and paper for $1 shipped! Plus your name and address is printed free. Or is there some fine print there too?

Learn to Fly. No thank you. The plane looks a little rickety to me.
Necessities: Toilet tissue and laundry soap.
Scot Tissue
I still love using Fels soap as a stain remover for my laundry

Kellogg's PEP cereal - love the color ad

Furniture: Bathroom and Living room
Where is the toilet?

This furniture is from the same era as when our house was built. They probably had something similar.
Stories: This magazine was filled with short stories and beautiful graphics.
The Haughty Miss Pink
I hope you enjoyed the world of 1926 through the pages of my magazine. This was before the Great Depression and WWII.  They didn't know the unpleasant surprises that lay waiting ahead. Life was good.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Memories - The Year of The Bicycle

We all have those moments in life where we remember who we were with, what time of day and exactly where we were when it happened. Some are historical moments like November 22, 1963 - moments that everyone who was alive back then remembers. And then there are private moments that mean nothing to others but mean oh, so much to us as individuals. For me, one of those moments was the Christmas when against all odds, Santa left a brand new bike under our tree. A new bike may not sound like much to some of you, but in 1959 at our house, it was nigh close to a miracle. Just four years earlier, our home and everything in it had burned to the ground and with no fire insurance, my parents struggled to build a new home. They never really recovered from the financial hardships the fire had caused. The fact that I knew this and had no expectations other than finding a few trinkets under the tree that year, made The Year of the Bicycle all the more miraculous.

We were a farming family; not a big farm but it produced enough, even in lean years, to feed and clothe the seven children in our family and still have a little extra. The fire changed all that, but the one thing it didn't change was the resilient spirit of my parents, their strength of character, and their unflinching determination to move on and not dwell on the past. I was the youngest of the seven who were spread out over a period of twenty-three years. At the time of the fire, there were only two of us left at home. All the rest had married and moved out. To help make ends meet, my mother took a job as a sales clerk at The Glamour Shop, a ladies' clothing store. Mama was everything I'm not. She was kind, courageous and outgoing - and she never met a stranger. Her kindness inspired kindness in others and in the Year of the Bicycle, that kindness paid off.

The Family Shoe Store was located right next door to The Glamour Shop and that year, they were giving away a bicycle for Christmas. It wasn't a raffle or a drawing. You wrote the name of a child on a small ticket and put it inside the large box that sat on the sales counter. The day before Christmas, the store owner would count the names in the box and whoever's name had the most entries would win the bike. Somehow my mama convinced her friends, coworkers, customers, acquaintances and complete strangers to go into the shoe store and write my name on a ticket and put it into the box. I have no idea how she did it. Surely, some of these people had a child that wanted a bike for Christmas, but on Christmas Eve, she was so certain my name would have the most entries, she wouldn't go home until the names were counted and I can imagine her excitement when my name was announced.

The next morning when I saw the bike under the tree, I didn't have a clue that it was mine. My sister and her children had come home from Kansas for Christmas and were staying with us. I assumed that the bike was for my nephew who is just a month younger than me. I passed right by it and rushed to the other side of the tree to find the large baking pan I had left out for Santa to fill with fruit, nuts, candy and toys. I was on a mission - I didn't want anyone to claim my stash! I'll never forget my sister grabbing me by the arm. I pulled away, thinking that Santa must have brought me more than he did her and she was trying to get to it first. She grabbed me again and pulled me over to the bike. It still didn't register. "It's nice. It must be Phil's," I said. "
It has your name on it," she said back.

No one fussed at me on that rainy Christmas day as I rode my new bike clumsily around the living room running into things and people. The Year of The Bicycle is one of my fondest memories, a memory that has been hard to top. And it's all because of my mother's kindness, strong spirit and sheer determination to bring it about - and the kindness of others to put the name of a child they didn't even know in a box.
Glenda Manus
December 28, 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Newest Update

October 29, 2018

We visited James on October 29th to deliver the last load. A freezer, kitchen cabinets, a microwave cart, a lamp and end table, and some new clothes. He has continued to work hard on his home. He is so grateful for all that has been done for him! We helped him install the kitchen cabinet and unloaded the chest freezer so he could install it later.

Here he is saying goodbye! And God Bless!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Before and After Shots

What a difference a day makes. I've been posting random pictures of the updates on James' little home that was flooded. It was even hard for me to figure how it looked before and how it looked after the repairs have been made with all the unorganized shots I had.

First of all, before we got involved, James had worked hard! He had torn out and replaced the lower inside walls and insulation. He had ripped out the rotten floors and put down subfloors, so he had already done a lot on his own despite having a severe kidney and bladder infection from ingesting some of the nasty water when he swam from his flooded house to his boat. He ended up spending a few days in the hospital and hasn't felt 100% since. It was all so overwhelming, he was at a loss of knowing what to do next.

So many people have helped financially, but some physical labor was also needed. That's when some men, including the pastor, from Waxhaw Baptist Church stepped in. In one day, this is what five men accomplished:

Before and after (front of the house)

Before and after (back of the house)

Before and after (left side of the house)

Before and after (right side of the house)

Before and after kitchen (beautiful floors!)

It's pretty amazing, isn't it? There is still some work to be done like underpinning and cleaning up. We're going down Monday to take a few things and try to figure it all out. James is extremely grateful! And from all I've heard, this project has been just as big a blessing to everyone who has contributed to it as it has for James! It sure has been for us. God Bless!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Doers and shakers!

Since my last post, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, neighbors, the people of Van Wyck Presbyterian Church, members of Waxhaw Baptist Church and even complete strangers in the quest to help James, the person I wrote about who lost everything in the aftermath flooding from Hurricane Florence. Click here for links to his story.  And here, and here where we delivered his car.

Today was a day of action! Several men from Waxhaw Baptist Church showed up to work this morning and I've already been getting photos of their work in progress. Here's what the outside of the house looked like before and then some work in progress.

Painting in progress

Replacing porch floor in progress
They're also working on the inside of the house and have put down flooring and are painting.
Floor down - painting in progress
These men have had a long day of hard work and I'm sure they'll be ready for a hot shower and soft bed tonight. I am so thankful for them and what they've done!

 And a big thanks to Jonathan Cox, the owner of Cox Warehouse Discount Furniture in Whiteville for donating this wonderful recliner for James. It was delivered today! Jonathan is a nephew of Susan Moss Deans, one of my first contacts in the Whiteville area who was willing to help!
I'm sure James is kicking back in this recliner tonight after an emotional day of seeing his home come together.

Between the BBQ fundraiser and money donated by friends, family, and church members, we have also been able to purchase James new kitchen cabinets to replace the ones that were damaged in the flood and a chest freezer which is much needed since his main source of food comes from hunting and fishing.  We plan to take these down next week and help him install the cabinets, the kitchen sink, and the faucets. The donations are also making a big dent in the biggest purchase of all, the Jeep.
The Jeep (before we delivered it to James).

The Letter of James was addressed to the early Christians and it encouraged them to be "doers of the Word". Our present-day Christians are taking heed and abiding by the Word!
  James 1:22-25 - "22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." 

I will continue to update this blog as we do the final touches that will make James' life a little more comfortable. Love and Blessings to all!

Monday, October 15, 2018

With God's Help

I don't know where to begin. I'm exhausted from our 9 hour round trip today, so I think I'll tell most of this story with photos. If you haven't read this link, His Name is James, you may want to read it first since it tells the backstory. But if you'd rather not, I'll give you a short recap. James lives in a community called Crusoe Island surrounded by the Green Swamp in Eastern North Carolina. He's one of many in the Carolinas teetering on the edge of poverty. The very people who, when faced with setbacks tend to give up hope of ever pushing their way up and out. Most times they just dig in a little deeper until no one knows they’re there.

The people in Crusoe were hit with an enormous setback after Hurricane Florence flooded their community in late September. James wasn't the only one hit hard and he's not the only one struggling to recover. He lives humbly in a small shack (way off the beaten path) that I'll estimate to be about 16' wide by 12' deep. He didn't have much in his house, but what he did have, he lost. Here's a photo that I took today.

James' humble abode

After the torrential rain that accompanied Florence, James went to bed one night not knowing what the next day would bring. His power was out and his flip phone's battery had died. He awakened to find his house flooded. The water continued to rise to about 4.5 feet and he was forced to make his way out of his property by this small handcrafted boat. He was rescued at the end of the road almost 2 miles away.
He also lost his truck in the flood. Our purpose for visiting him today was to take him a Jeep that we bought along with Henry's brother Gary. Two other friends also donated generously to the cause and we're hoping to get a few more contributions from other generous souls. We had planned to have a fundraiser, but James was in such dire need of transportation, we didn't want him to have to wait that long so we went ahead and bought it trusting that God would make a way. It was an absolute joy to see his face as Henry handed him the title and the keys!

A big smile

James introduced us to another survivor of the flood. Charlie, a small bear cub, has been hanging around since the flood receded. James thinks he must have become separated from his mother as they were swept downstream from the Waccamaw River. He sleeps in the big oak tree behind the house and plays hide and seek most days. He's a fat little bear so he must be getting plenty to eat. His presence has been a great diversion for James.
Charlie the Bear

On our way in and out of the road that leads into this community, we were dismayed to see the results of the flood. We only took a few photos, but every single homeowner seemed to have all their belongings ruined and out at the curb for trash pickup.
I look at this chair and wonder how many children and grandchildren have been held and comforted in it; how many family gatherings it has seen in its day; how many generations of this family have placed their weary bodies in it after a hard day's work. I look at this chair and I see myself; my own favorite chair sitting atop a mound of memories and I want to crawl up into it and cry for the person who placed it there. 

When we heard about the flooding in that area, we had struggled with how to help. When you donate your money to flood relief, you don't know where it's going. But then God put James in our path and we knew exactly what to do.