Dad hadn’t stayed far enough away from the man who was sick with the flu but still on his feet. Dad began to complain of aches in his arms and legs, and then chills, and his cough sounded deeper and more persistent. Then Chlora and I got sick too. Then Mary, our two year old toddler. And three year old Pearl and her twin brother Earl. Mamma tucked us in bed, made mustard plasters for our chests, and brought in cold water from the well to wipe us down with wet towels. We all were staying downstairs, and she kept the parlor stove going all night.
Dad’s Uncle Joe came a couple of days before Christmas. Dad sent word through Grandpa Hunsaker that all of the family were pretty sick. Uncle Joe was doctor to most of the people in the western part of Jasper County around Wheeler, and to his family too, though they lived mostly in the northeastern part of the county. The moment he stepped inside the house he said, “This place is too closed up and hot. You’ve made a brooderhouse for germs here. We’ve got to open the doors and windows and let the fresh air clear things out.”
Uncle Doc and Mamma went around and opened the windows and doors for the cold air to blow through the house. With the cold air and shivering, we all felt even more miserable. He listened to our chests with his stethoscope, and said he heard the grippe but no pneumonia, and pronounced us “as good as could be expected.” After he left, Mamma kept the house open as long as she could stand it, then shut it up again, and fired up the stove “to keep us from shivering to death,” she said. I thought that if the flu didn’t kill us the cold would, and I started to wonder about Uncle Joe.
One night Mamma was up all night with Earl. I heard her say she didn’t know whether he would make it through the night. I was afraid. I watched her take all the covers off and all his clothes off and put him in the metal laundry tub with a bucketful of cold water. Then she wiped him down and put the plaster back on his chest, and talked quietly to him so that I could not hear. Earl didn’t seem to hear either. She made some weak tea and tried to get us to drink. She went out and got an old hen and made chicken soup, and baked some bread and slathered it with butter and tried to get us to eat. That was how we spent Christmas that year. Every one of us was in the only bedroom downstairs or lying around the parlor. Dad didn’t have the strength to go into the woods to find a cedar tree to decorate. I didn’t feel like going either. I hadn’t used an ax to chop down anything bigger than a jimson weed anyway. We were all still coughing.
I began to eat before anyone else did. I could even feel a little hungry again. We were just glad that Earl was beginning to be strong enough to cry. Then three days after Christmas Mamma went to bed. By the next evening she was gone.
“Mable, don’t leave me! I’m so sorry! What am I ever going to do? Don’t go!” I heard Dad crying out in the bedroom. Chlora and Earl and Pearl and I listened and whimpered and looked at each other with big eyes. Grandma Mollie was in the kitchen, and she came and took us away from the bedroom door back into the kitchen, where Mary was tied into a high chair, and baby Alonzo was in his little drawer, the bottom one from the dresser. “Your mamma is gone. My only daughter,” Grandma said. “Now we will have to pull ourselves together and go on living.” Grandpa Hunsaker was outside on the porch, smoking his pipe as he sat on one of the ladder back chairs he had dragged out there from the kitchen. He climbed onto the seat of the buck wagon, and urged his horses toward Hidalgo, ten miles west, where there was an undertaker,
so he could buy a coffin to bury her.