Just when you begin to feel sorry for yourself, something reminds you…..things could indeed be worse, have been worse, we’ve survived worse AND just how blessed we truly are.
With everything that’s happening today or rather, not happening, the greatest complaint is boredom. It’s virtually all I read about, page after page, post after post, on social media. Clearly, having to stay home is the worst catastrophe ever experienced….or is it?
While doing the self quarantine cleaning out of drawers (yes, spring cleaning must go on!) I ran across a story that was passed down from my great grand uncle and sat to read through his childhood memories once more….
Cumberland valley 1875-76. Passed to me by my Uncle, Franklin Williams and as told by my great grand uncle, Isaac Towell Williams during his childhood: Scarlet Fever.
The fever first hit the Kemper family, just over the hill from our place, killing their daughter Jesse on Oct 6, 1875.
The first inkling that something was wrong, was when one of my sisters, Katherine, developed a rash on her face and her tongue began swelling up and turned white.
Mother didn’t know what was happening or what to do but my father knew right away as he’d seen it before when the fever had wiped out all the children in a town in Kentucky.
Our parents gave each of us a set of clean clothes and made all seven of us bathe in the creek although ice was already floating on the water. While we bathed, father took the clothes we had been wearing and burned them in the yard. Our parents moved us all into the barn except for katherine.
I watched over the youngest, Clara and Lenora. They didn’t understand our situation and cried constantly for the first 2 or 3 days.
By morning, my sister Betty, began looking awfully bad and she too, was brought back into the house where the rest of us were not permitted to go during the entire sickness.
Each day, our mother would kill 3 chickens and stew it over the fire in the yard and this is all we ate for 26 days. Each of us were given our own dishes and silverware to eat from and were instructed to wash them in the creek and never to use anothers. Mother would fill our bowls then move away, never letting any of us get near her.
The first I knew of one of my sisters dying was when I saw my father walking off with a shovel. I followed after him and watched as he dug a small grave. A while later, my mother came from the house, carrying one of my sisters wrapped in bed linens. I watched my parents place her in the small grave, pray over her and weep. Soon, it claimed my other sister as well and both the girls were buried behind the house beneath the peach tree and marked with field stones.
When the sickness had passed, our parents built a big fire beneath a kettle of water in the yard, removed all the dishes, pots, pans etc from the house and dipped them in the boiling water. Then, my father filled shovels full of the burning coals and threw them into the house and we watched as it burned to the ground.
We lost almost everything we owned, even the quilts our grandmother had made us. We had to live in the barn that harsh winter, many days spent huddled against the cold as our father was too afraid of burning the barn down to build a fire and for days straight, had nothing but raw carrots from the root cellar to eat.
In the coming weeks, our parents sold off everything but a couple of mothers cows. The owner of the general store in Goodlettsville let our folks purchase supplies on credit. It took them four years to pay it back but they did, every penny.
The fever rampaged through the valley for months, killing 60 children and half of all the babies. Afterwards, when we were finally able to go back to church, almost none of our friends were there. One man shot his wife, then himself after losing all 8 of their children.
-Isaac Towell Williams
I am so grateful for the time we live in, with medical knowledge, ready hospitals and doctors but also, this was a glimpse of just how bad such things could become. Without doubt, this is a time that will stand as a testament of who we are personally and as a people.
Suddenly, I have no taste for the whining of others, petty complaints and I am bereft of self pity. I see our current situation in a new light that makes me feel small, weak and childish. But, we came from stronger stock and that gives me hope.
The generations before us experienced so much! With a quiet resolve and strength of spirit, they survived: scarlet fever, smallpox, spanish flu, polio etc. and simply bore what they must, pushing through them without whining, self pity and doing so while so ill equipped.
Our situation pales and with it, I see my blessings more clearly. I count them and push forward with the fortitude of my ancestors, strength of my faith and with a heart of gratitude.