Often, life’s finest moments and happiest memories are tempered by sad news and challenging episodes. It should not be any surprise, then—especially considering Samuel Bean’s unusual run of success stories in the local paper—to see the unfortunate mixed in with more favorable reports.
Just before Sam’s poetry publications were once again brought before the public’s eye in July, 1921—and that, just before the arrival of Sam and Maud’s firstborn son—the newlyweds were confronted with an unexpected family emergency.
For the two years previous to that date, Maud’s younger sister, Helen Woodworth, had been living with their older sister, Nieva Searcey, in California’s Central Valley. The reason the young woman was living away from her childhood home was that she was serving as bookkeeper at an “automobile agency” in Del Rey, the town where the Searceys lived, about fifteen miles to the southeast of Fresno.
Anyone who has driven between, say, the state capital and Los Angeles on California’s Highway 99 knows how much it feels, nearing Fresno, like traveling through the middle of nowhere. I can only imagine how much more that feeling would have been accentuated ninety years ago.
I don’t know how it happened—could Helen have gone hiking out in some remote part of the region? Or been exposed to a lot of animals?—but a message came back to her family down south that she had contracted “black measles.” That, evidently, was cause for alarm, for a newspaper article reported that the event “caused her immediate removal to the Fresno sanitorium.”
Though up to thirty percent of people afflicted with the disease—we know it today as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, caused by an infection arising from a tick bite—died in that era predating antibiotic medications, apparently Helen’s treatment was progressing to the point where she seemed to have recovered considerably. So well, in fact, that she had been “granted a leave of absence” in order to travel home to southern California for further recuperation.