Saturday, January 05, 2008

Scarlet Fever hits our family … 1943

Isn’t it strange how our memories seem to pop to the surface when we least expect them? I was listening to a book review recently on National Public Radio and the author spoke of a family member who had suffered with Scarlet Fever. I was transported immediately to the lawn of a large hospital in Boston.

I remember that my Mother and sisters and I were on the lawn because we were not allowed inside the building. This was a very large hospital dedicated to the care and (hopefully) recovery of patients with Scarlet Fever. Of course it was under strict quarantine and our only communication with my sister, who was in a ward room on the 3rd floor, was with the aid of hand written messages.

That particular memory of sighting Barbara in the window and holding up my greeting poster was very vivid to me although it has been 64 years ago. However, try as I might, I couldn’t remember anything other than that, and I began to think that it was all a figment of my imagination.

I am the youngest of five girls and Barbara is the second from the oldest. She has just turned 80 and I wondered if she would corroborate my memory. Sure enough, she not only remembered the instance but was able to fill in the empty spots.

She was 16 at the time and we were living in Wellesley Hills, which was approximately 40 minutes from Boston. After the Dr. diagnosed her (on a house visit, no less) with Scarlet Fever he made two decisions. She was to be sent by ambulance to the city hospital and the rest of us were quarantined in our house for two weeks.

Barbara said that it was a great thrill to ride in the ambulance and that she was too sick to miss us much for the first week. Then, as she grew stronger, she had little time to fret. World War II was raging and the nursing staff had been cut to a bare minimum. As she, and the other patients, got stronger they pitched in to help wherever it was needed.

Even in the 1940’s the words Scarlet Fever conjured up death and disfigurement …. remember Beth, in “Little Women”? It must have been agonizing for my folks and it was over a month before Barbara was considered out of danger. Then it would be another two weeks before she was allowed out of quarantine.

My only memory of that time, and it is fleeting, was the occasion on the lawn of the hospital. I was ten years old then and I’m sure I was mightily impressed with my hand written sign. I can see myself holding it high and angled so that Barbara could read it. I see her in the window, waving and happy that we were there.

I wonder what I wrote?


Blogger kenju said...

An interesting memory, Ginnie, and a little sad. I remember hearing about scarlet fever when I was a kid, but I never knew anyone who had it. Luckily, your sister survived!

7:41 PM  
Blogger Bud said...

I never knew anyone who had it either Ginny. But I sure remember my mother worrying about diseases we don't even thing about today.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Bud said...

she also worried about my spelling. Make that "think"

2:19 AM  
Blogger Crayons said...

They don't make stories like that these days. The image of two sisters communicating by signage is just so moving. Kids today would use cell phones, hardly as intriguing or clever.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I'm glad this memory surfaced. For em, it's like a documentary of something that I didn't know about.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great telling of a long ago memory.
I remember my mom telling me how her and her brothers and sisters all had Scarlet Fever. They lived on a farm in NH and were quarantine there. And she told of the sign that got nailed on their front door, like the one you have here.
Gosh, it must have made you feel like lepers.

2:29 PM  
Blogger KGMom said...

Your recollection is a helpful caution, particularly for people who don't want children to be immunized against childhood diseases.
When parents reject immunizations, sometimes they are unaware of how devastating some of the "old-fashioned" diseases were.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

Talk about bringing back memories, I had scarlet fever when I was 16.

Still working on library info, Aunt Skip was no help with Windham history, which surprised me, but my caregiver knows someone whose family has lived there forever. It's just a matter of getting in touch.

2:46 AM  
Blogger Weeping Sore said...

What a poignant memory! Thanks so much for inviting us to share your bittersweet recollection.

Your recall of the physical experience - as more memorable than the intellectual component - says much about the rich childhood sense of feeling that seems to diminish as we age.

And what did you write on that long faded sign? I'm sure you wrote "We love You" and some hearts.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Weeping Sore said...

Thanks for sharing the news from the frontiers of your 80’s. I recall my Mom telling a smartass teenage version of me to visit Grandma before she died in her 90’s. I grew up sharing a bedroom with my poor hypochondriacal paternal Grandma, widowed at 40. What a grumpy old lady with blue hair!

But the last time I saw her shortly before her death, she recalled little past her long-lost childhood about 100 years ago now. What amazing stories this sunny dementia patient had about her childhood. She was the big sister who got blamed for sneaking under the back yard fence to play in the woods with her little sister. She said she took the rap, but her sister was really the instigator. I was captivated!

I recall hearing such stories from my Mom and her sisters, from cousins as we grew up, and now that I’m in my 60’s as the oldest of 6 sisters, I realize I’m becoming the keeper of some of the oldest family memories. Such wisdom seems best transferred among sisters.

I’ve blogged about this and quoted part of your post. See:

4:05 PM  

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