The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Winter Of Influenza

By Grace Cash © 1988

Issue: January-February, 1988

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

When I remember the influenza epidemic following World War I (1914-18), I think of my eldest brother, Frank. He was eleven in 1922. That winter every bed in our house was filled with a sick patient. It was a cold blustery winter. The wind whizzed through the big old white farmhouse we had rented from our grandfather, who lived in a small unpainted house nearby.

We had no telephone, and there was hardly any traffic on the unpaved country road. A mule-drawn wagon was our means of transportation. Our grandparents were also sick with influenza. If any outsider knew of our dilemma, they didn't come around, nor send help. But we had Frank, who was adept at handling emergencies.

Frank had never cooked a meal in his life. Farm boys plowed the fields and cut wood for the fireplace and the cook stove. They considered it a woman's job to cut slabs of bacon for frying, or to turn over biscuit-hoecake in the iron frying pan. But in this family, Frank did all of these things. He kept the old blackened coffee pot boiling, and he ran constantly from bed to bed with hot black coffee.

He rambled long-leggedly to the hens' nests and gathered eggs, and he milked the cow. He fixed food trays, smiling as he worked, confident that he could "manage to get everybody well." Since we had no telephone, we couldn't call the doctor, who might have chugged out to the farm in his black T-Model Ford. He no longer used the buggy and mule, which had transported him across the countryside, and at an earlier date, when he came to bring the eldest children of our family into the world.

Mama and I had stood on the porch, the past year, and watched a truck, lumbering noisily on the red dirt road, bearing a coffin to the graveyard, another victim of influenza. My parents knew about the thousands laid flat in their beds, sick and dying, for lack of medicine and food. Influenza victims could quickly freeze to death in a cold, unheated house. My parent's circumstances and their fear, was shared by thousands all over the United States.