Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Friends Are True Friends

Another of my mother's memoirs from 1933:

When Friends are True Friends
Details from childhood memories frequently become distorted as years pass, but the events of the year 1933 still stand out in sharp relief in my mind. A small community of conscientious people went so far beyond the call of duty or mere neighborliness that recollections of their devoted services would evoke a warm feeling in any heart.
A scrawny little youngster of ten -- a "funny looking kid" in the words of a teasing cousin -- I was the youngest of eight children. For some reason, I was rather shy, and didn't make friends very easily at school, or among other youngsters near my age in play groups, and depended much on the love and security found at home with conscientious parents and congenial sisters and brothers. Actually I felt my existence centered in and revolved around the sunshine of Mother's love. The abrupt end of her life that summer seemed almost the collapse of my world. The tender care and concern of many friends helped see us through this unbelievably difficult time.
The succession of our tragedies began when sister Inez collapsed backstage after her high school commencement exercises. Her lovely china-blue eyes were glazed, and the smooth, white skin hot and dry to the touch. She registered a highly elevated temperature, and that marked the beginning of many weeks of severe illness. For days, the mercury in the fever thermometer ran to the 104 degrees mark, and our family physician, a typical country doctor of that time, diagnosed her illness as "bilious remitting fever".
The fever continued to run high, and Mother was in constant attention upon her needs, thus in continued exposure to the illness. Also we, the younger children, would unwittingly subject ourselves to much needless and dangerous exposure. We'd sip a drink which had been left in the patient's glass, or take ice from the glass. This, of course, was done without Mother's knowledge, as we'd return the used glasses to the kitchen. Naturally, in the innocence of youth, we didn't realize the hazards of such practice, and adults in the family never thought to caution us.
After prescribed medicines failed to effect a cure for Inez within the first two weeks, further tests were made, and the sickness then diagnosed as typhoid fever. This was a killing disease in those days before antibiotics. Immunizations were begun immediately, but proved ineffectual for most of the family. Mother became the second victim of the disease early in July.
One night there seemed almost no hope for Inez's recovery. As was a custom of the time, a dress was selected in which to "lay her out". Bonnie, an older sister, wept silently as she pressed the dress for the sad eventuality. After a night-long vigil, though, the crisis passed, and Inez improved. The following day, Bonnie fell ill of the dread malady.
Each day Daddy, a rural preacher on a nearly non-existent salary, drove our shabby, black Model-T the eight miles to a neighboring town. There he'd buy a 10¢ block of ice to cool refreshing drinks for the patients, in a crude wooden icebox. After the third trip, the proprietor of the ice plant stopped him.
"Preacher, have you got sickness at your house?"
"Man, it looks like sickness is with me to stay." The tone was not a complaining one, but Daddy was frankly worried.
"Then you just back up here and let this boy take out that little chunk of ice and put in a hundred-pound block. You come here anytime, long as you got sick folks, and get the same amount. Won't cost you a penny."
This was the spirit which prevailed throughout our community. People for miles around worked out a schedule of 'round-the-clock nursing care by two's or more in our home, furnished and prepared foods, and assisted in every way possible. Our doctor, himself the son of a poorly-paid country minister, attended us regularly, making house calls day and night, and would take no pay for his faithful ministrations. Considerations like these were indeed a real service in those depression years.
There were at home that year a brother, twenty-seven, who'd left his job for the time to help with the sick; a sister, nineteen; another brother, thirteen,; and me. Bonnie, too, had left a regular job to help out at home. Another older sister, married and living nearby, came at regular intervals for her turn with the extra duties. The sixth sister had suffered a ruptured appendix six years earlier, and had succumbed to that ailment then, at the age of fourteen.
Mother's death came twelve days after she was stricken. At her funeral, on a dull, gray Sunday, Arthur, the thirteen-year-old brother, came down with the fever. The following Wednesday, I became ill. Nine days after Mother's passing, Bonnie's sweet life ended.
At the time of Bonnie's death, my condition was considered so critical the doctor deemed it necessary to withhold from me the news of her passing away. She'd been carried to a hospital the day of Mother's funeral, therefore I was unaware of the seriousness of her illness. When the well members of our family left home to attend Bonnie's funeral, they told me they were going to the nearby town to get ice cream, and would all go just for a little while away from the house. This explanation satisfied my childish mind, and I didn't question their statement that the train bringing the ice cream to town might be late, and they'd possibly be gone longer than I thought necessary. In my eagerness for the promised treat, it did indeed seem long hours before the return of my family, and the doctor's presence when they came home raised no undue question in my mind.
It was quite late, and in my imagination that ice cream had been eaten many times. You may well imagine my chagrin when the delicacy was brought in and a well-meaning neighbor lady, noting the extreme elevation in my temperature a few moments before spoke out.
"Dr. Bairn, do you think she should have ice cream?" Milk and milk products were thought to be harmful to one with a fever.
"No, I don't think she should have it with that high fever." The good doctor couldn't know the deep disappointment his few words brought, nor the actual starvation caused my body. I'm afraid any affection I might have felt for this dear lady was forever severely jeopardized.
In those days, any continual fever was a signal for liquid diets only. We were allowed to consume only clear broths, strained soups and stock from vegetables, fruit juices, coffee and iced drinks. The lining of the stomach was thought to be tissue thin, and unable to tolerate solid or even semi-solid foods. This might have been true, but the knowledge did nothing to ease our hunger pangs. It is somewhat amusing now to think of the means we devised to claim a little extra nourishment for our weakened bodies, and satisfy appetites.
We would drink coffee in unheard of amounts for children, getting satisfaction from the requested and allowed extra ration of cream and sugar. Sugar which settled in the bottom of iced tea glasses -- perhaps a sympathetic sister had purposely left it thus -- was stealthily sucked through a straw, and then more sugar called for because our tea wasn't sweet enough. This system worked some days to get as much as two or three extra tablespoons of sugar as we'd ask a different attendant each time to add sugar to our tea. Soups were sipped slowly, and the little settling of pulverized vegetables which happened to slip through the sieve into our bowls was carefully saved for a last, satisfying bite.
It'd be interesting to know for a certainty just how many packs of gum we chewed during the course of our illness, to get the small amount of sugar contained in that. Cold drinks, too, were taken as often as our capacity for drinking them allowed. Sweets are indeed satisfying to a hungry child. I don't know if there were just a few flavors of drinks on the market then, or if we were allowed only to have certain kinds, but I do recall we drank hundreds of grape and strawberry drinks. Grape, especially, was a favorite. To this day, Inez and Arthur refuse to drink or eat anything of grape flavor, so indelible on their minds is the remembered taste. Perhaps my appetite for the drink was never quite satisfied as I am more tolerant in this respect.
Out of almost any situation, sad, tragic or otherwise, some peculiarly amusing incidents frequently will arise. Due to this unusually long time Inez's fever ran so high, she'd drift into a semi-conscious state for many hours at a time. In this confused condition of her mind, and for some reason completely unknown to anyone, she thought she had a bag packed for travel and stored under her bed. Day after day, she'd call for her little brown suitcase, and repeatedly accuse a former classmate of taking it when she was told it wasn't there. Since this didn't seem very upsetting to her, however, each of the attendants would gently and affectionately tease Inez about her little brown bag, and it was one tiny thread of amusement throughout the dark days. I'm not sure she was ever convinced that little brown suitcase wasn't stolen from beneath her bed!
The long summer was one of physical sufferings and indescribable heartaches. Daddy's physical strength and mind were so taxed that family and friends alike showed deep concern for his endurance of the situation. I was later told that at one time when I was still unaware of Bonnie's death -- I didn't know about it until two weeks afterward -- Daddy stood by my bedside and spoke in a profoundly sad voice,
"This typhoid is a terrible thing. It has cost me my wife and twenty-two-year-old daughter, and looks like it is going to cost the rest of my family." The doctor had told him he could offer no hope whatsoever for the recuperation of the three remaining sick children. This was one of the few times Daddy's faith so lagged he almost lost hope.
One would be caused to wonder how much pain, sickness of body, mental anguish and grief, people can cope with and come to renewed interest in life. Only the tender care and healing hand of a Higher Physician brought Inez, Arthur and me, back to desired health, and gave strength to those attending us. Inez was held in the grips of continual fever for eighty-four days, Arthur for fifty-four days, and I was the more fortunate with forty-four days.
By the following summer, Daddy was again on his regular schedule of farming during week days and performing ministerial duties at two local churches on weekends. Home life once again was going forward, and time, the wondrous healer of nearly all wounds, had allowed our heartaches to lessen.
The true concern and close cooperation among our dear friends remains in the minds of all who were familiar with our tragic experiences as a memorial to demonstrated love for fellow man. Friends in need are truly friends indeed.
Written by Mavis B. Howard