It was October 26, 1918. Ethel Wesley woke slowly.
She was cold, very cold. A blue norther had blown in in
the night—keeping her awake and covering the flat
prairie ground with snow. It was odd to have snow so
early. Often, it didn’t snow until January.
Ethel was pregnant. A tiny woman--short, slender and
short-waisted--there hardly seemed room for a baby.
She’d had her first two years earlier, a boy she and
Mose had named Cecil. If this one were a girl, they’d
have the perfect family.
She snuggled her heavy body closer to Mose. He was
burning up with fever, the sheets wet with sweat.
They lived in the tiny town of Happy—smack in the
middle of the Texas Panhandle—in the two-bedroom
frame house Mose had built for her with his earnings
from the auto repair shop he owned down by the
highway. Over the sound of the constantly-blowing
wind, she heard him cough against her, felt him strain
to catch his breath.
The sound sent a cold tingle of fear down her spine.
She dismissed it quickly. It was just the flu. Everybody
caught that. She’d had it herself the previous year, and
now she seemed to be catching it again.
She was just lucky Mose was still here with them. The
Great War had been raging for four years now, and so
many young men had been wrenched away from their
families, too many never to return, but he was older
than the husbands of most of her friends.
She knew she shouldn’t just lie here. Mose and Cecil
would be needing their breakfast.
She dragged herself out of bed, pulled on the heavy
coat draped over the rocker, and slipped into her
slippers. Careful not to wake Mose, she slipped into
the kitchen and felt on the counter for a candle.
Grabbing one of the tallow candles she’d dipped
herself, she lit it with a wooden kitchen match. Then
she hooked the pail over her arm and opened the back
door. A sharp gust of wind would have extinguished the
flame had she not protected it with her hand.
She slipped out the back door and trudged across the
snow-covered lawn to the chicken coop. Lifting the
circle of wire that secured the gate, she opened it and
walked toward the little shed. She turned the wooden
stick on its nail to release the door, and was met with
the sudden heat and smell of chicken droppings and
Chickens came to noisy, excited life around her—
squawking and ruffling their feathers. She shooed
some, reached under others, until she’d found half a
dozen eggs. Then she went back into the house, pulled
out the bacon from the ice chest, and cut off several
She fried up the bacon in a skillet on the stove and cooked
the eggs in the grease, filling the room with the sharp, warm
scent of breakfast. Slicing bread for toast, she took three
plates from the cupboard to set the round table just inside
the front room.
Cecil toddled in from the front bedroom, rubbing his eyes
with the backs of his hands and dragging his worn teddy
bear. “I’m hungry,” he said.
“Aren’t you bright as a button?” Ethel said proudly as she
filled plates for father and son. Leaving Cecil attacking his
breakfast at the table, she carried the other filled plate to the
bedroom. “Wake up, Mose. I brought your breakfast.”
She pulled open the drapes, and the pale light struck his
face. He lay there, eyes wide as though in fright. She could
tell before she touched him that he was dead.
She put down the plate on the dresser and felt again. His
skin was beginning to cool.
“Oh, Mose,” she thought, “What will I ever do without you?”
But she knew. She’d survive. She had to—for Cecil’s sake,
and for the sake of this new one yet unborn.
She jumped suddenly from the sound of knocking at the
door. It was her brother Emmett LaRoe. “Just stopped by on
my way to work, . . .” he began. He worked for Mose at the
shop. Then he looked at her again. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Mose,” she said. “He’s gone.”
“Oh, Dot, I’m so sorry,” he said, and he gave her a hug. Then,
pushing past her, he went into the bedroom and closed
those staring eyes. “We’ll have to take his body to Tulia, to
the county seat,” he said.
“The wagon will never make it in this snow.” She felt a tear
trickle down her cheek.
“We’ll have to take the wheels off,” he said, “Replace them
with runners. You go get the horse. I’ll get started on the
Cecil was still eating, so she left him at the table. “Poor
fatherless child,” she thought, as she started toward the
shed behind the chicken coop.
Cecil grew up to become my father. My grandfather Mose
was one of 20 to 50 million victims of the influenze pandemic
worldwide that year.
Other articles in this website include The Influenza
Pandemic, World War I, and the impact of the year on my
family and my life.
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