Saturday, July 23, 2016

As It Was: WWI, Great Influenza Epidemic and Draper’s New Wife

My paternal grandfather, Draper was in his early 20s.  It was early winter up high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.  Riding warefully along a section of the wagon trail where he’d helped dig out bodies of unfortunate victims of avalanches on
two previous occasions, he reflected briefly on other hardships that friends and family had endured since he’d become the “man of the family” after his father’s death (who’d worked himself into an early grave) when he was just twelve.  

Passing beyond the danger zone, he deeply inhaled the crisp dry air in relief.  The sun glared brightly in the cloudless sky.  Miniature rainbow colors sparkled
off of the ice crystals clinging to the grass stubble that protruded defiantly up through the snow cover. Yesterday’s frozen slush in the wagon tracks and hoof prints refused to soften.  The story of previous travelers was frozen in time as his horse added its
hoofprints to the tale told.  The dry crunch of snow where its hooves hit unblemished surface was oddly reassuring--- such that Draper soon chose a line of travel that kept this wintry sound at a steady uninterrupted rhythm.

His thoughts and senses were keenly alive.  He had much of which to think and to feel.  His resolve to enlist in the army and join in the fight against the Kaiser was firm.  Coming down from the ‘high country’, the only thing that lay between him and the enlistment office in Salt Lake City was declaring his deepest feelings to Nelly, the dark haired young gal who’d helped the other womenfolk serve the ward’s men their
midday meal in her father’s field during their
communal lunch.  He’d propose that they be married after he returned from The Great War.

Riding down into Heber where Nelly lived, he noted a bit more activity than he’d expected.  When he came upon the first person out-and-about, they noticed Draper’s perplexed look and taunted him with, “The war’s over! What are you so down-in-the-mouth about?!”.  As a feeling of stunned astonishment swept through him, he urged his horse into a canter and headed straight to Nelly’s house.  In the short time
it took to arrive, he’d already made up his mind to wed his lass and return home with her just as soon as it was proper.

The happenings of the next few months were left out of the story told me, but married they became & it was late winter when Draper and Nelly were bundled and
loaded up in a buggy headed back to the high country. While crossing a creek that fed into the Duquesne River, their rear wheels broke through the ice.  As they were struggling to free themselves from this predicament, two of Draper’s buddies came riding along the bank.  When they saw him with a cute gal, they started ‘hurrahing’ him and giving him a hard time – but as soon as they found out that the two were
newlywed, they settled down and quickly pulled the buggy up and out.

It was during the following year that the worst of the Great Flu Epidemic hit.  Many people died.  Draper kept the now ‘expectant’ Nelly secluded on their
homestead as he often helped nurse the many stricken by influenza in their neck-of-the-woods.  He never caught it -- which he attributed to his love of raw onions (which we now know to contain the same antimicrobial substance as garlic and radishes).  It was this level of hardship and concern for his new family that made him decide to move them back down to Heber.  It was there and then that my father was born & the next story told was of delivering their milk each day to the Park City Jail for hard-to-come-by
‘cash money’.