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.
A tragic turn of events reversed the travel plans. Instead of Helen traveling southward to her childhood home, her parents were rushing north to be by her side. As their hometown newspaper reported, “She died while her parents were en route to her bedside.”
On no... so these poor parents lost two daughters at a young(er) age? :(ReplyDelete
Actually, Iggy, make that three. There is another daughter who died about ten years before this point. I just haven't tracked her story yet.Delete
Keep in mind that Maud's family is the one I finger for introducing whatever gene carried the Marfan syndrome I mentioned when I started this series. While the official records of death at the time of each sibling's passing may have recorded otherwise, I suspect that Marfan syndrome may have played a "supporting role" in the demise of each member of this family.
It looks like Helen was an interesting person for her time, too, given that she seemed fairly independent: (1) working, (2) living away from home (even though it was with her sister), not to mention possibly adventurous? How sad to lose what seemed like a very full life at such a young age.ReplyDelete
I was surprised to see that, too, Linda--especially given the traditional stance around that time period. On the other hand, there may have been extenuating circumstances in that family's situation that called for the daughters to seek employment. As we'll see later, the girls' father had health situations that may have prevented his continued support of the family.Delete
Then, too, it was a time period in flux. If any women were working outside the home during that time, it would be the young, single ones. After all, even Maud was away from home, working at the school in Berkeley, before she and Sam were married.
I'm saddened to hear any parent losing a child, but this one touches me a little different. How her parents must have felt not being able to say goodbye. Such a touching story.ReplyDelete
Karen, the newspaper report told it so plainly, but I can just imagine the parallel tracks of the two journeys: how the one trip was abandoned, while the other--unplanned--couldn't be traveled fast enough. It does touch a sensitive spot for anyone who can picture it. Not a scene any parent would want to be cast into.Delete
Wow, there's always something new under the sun -- and this time, tragic news. I've never heard of "black measles," but Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever I do know as a scary name. Those ticks can be anywhere, even in your own back yard.ReplyDelete
Here in CT we've had quite a time with deer ticks and Lyme disease (named for a city in CT).
I wonder how this will tragic death will affect the life of Maud and Sam.
Mariann, I hadn't ever heard of it, either. Had to look it up. So glad we don't generally have ticks around here--but Fresno isn't that far away from where I am, so I was surprised to learn of the exposure there. But then, I guess the disease isn't really geographically limited. I had a neighbor in New York who had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And even out here in California, we still are concerned about your neighborhood's variety--Lyme disease.Delete
What a sad story. It's so difficult when someone dies tragically at a young age.ReplyDelete
It is always hard to bear that loss, especially when the one lost is so young. However, I wonder if it really was more widespread, nearly a hundred years ago--and if people were more accustomed to such losses then...maybe more philosophical about the turn of events. Still, I can't see that as making it less difficult to bear.Delete
She must have relapsed..so sad and so young:(ReplyDelete
Sometimes, in the course of some serious diseases, there comes a point where the patient seems to rally and improve. I know that has been true for some of my friends with cancer...just before they died. I wonder if that was the case for Helen. It's always hard to lose someone; doubly so when hopes are first raised for a better outcome.Delete
Oh how sad! And her parents not arriving before she died is even more tragic.ReplyDelete
Oh, Jana, that line in the newspaper story just got me. I could just picture it--all the hope, after it seemed safe to not worry as much, then the sudden turn-around. I think parents everywhere mentally put themselves in such a story and imagine how it would feel. I don't know how parents back then could cope with the greater level of loss that was suffered so often in those times.Delete