Did My Family Not Hug Because of the Spanish Flu? (Part Two)

Sixteen months ago, I wrote Did My Family Not Hug Because of the Spanish Flu? I remember at the time I was telling people my theory, and they scoffed at me. But now, all these months later and dealing with all the things we’ve had to deal with during the Covid pandemic, I’m not so sure I was wrong.

In May 2020, I was writing about what was the first wave of Covid (or was it second?), and now as Alberta is dealing with what has been deemed the fourth wave, I realize that in May of last year, I really didn’t understand the impact of what we were dealing with then and what was yet to come.

In that article, I talked about how my grandparents were all young children during the Spanish Flu outbreak. They would have seen and worn similar masks to what has become a part of our daily lives. They would have perhaps heard their parents talking about the people they knew who had died from the Flu, and I’m sure that would have left them with some emotional feelings and even what we would call scars today.

Edmonton Journal 1918

I say that because as I’ve lived through these sixteen months, I see how I feel differently than I did, say, even two years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I do go out of the house, but I also spend a lot more time at home and away from people. I buy more things online rather than go to the store. During the Spanish Flu, that wasn’t even a possibility. You would have had to go to the grocery store. I wonder how you would have felt doing that? I know when I do go to the store now, I sometimes think in my head, “back off, buddy, you’re getting too close.”

In the past sixteen months, I have seen my brothers only a couple of times. I’ve had one grand-niece, as well as one grand-nephew, be born. I have seen my grand-niece on two occasions, but I’ve never been able to touch her, and I’ve never met my four-month-old grand-nephew. To me, that’s so sad because we haven’t had babies in our family for fourteen years. I wonder, what are those little people thinking in their heads about how we are acting, and how will this affect them in the future?

I’ve written about Jesse Vincent before on the blog. He was my great grandfather, Jesse Oliver’s nephew, and he died from the Spanish Flu only a few short months after coming home from WWI. Because he was still associated with the military when he died, I found a record at the Alberta Archive about the handling of his will.

A few years ago, my uncle told me that there had been a falling out in the Oliver family, but at the time, he said he had no idea what the riff was about. So when I found the will and saw that there was quite a bit of correspondence about some stocks that Jesse owned and that some members of the family thought there was a value that wasn’t being captured in the will, it made me wonder if that was what caused the falling out. The government said the stock had no value, but some of the families did not buy that. As an FYI, I checked further into the company, and I found that the government was correct; the company never amounted to anything.

But was the riff in the family about his will, or was it because the family didn’t see other family members in person either because of the Spanish Flu or distance (some members of the family lived in England and the U.S.) and they just lost touch? I guess we will never know.

Thankfully due to technology, we don’t have to lose touch with family near or far. We’ve all become Zoom aficionados in the past year. You can always send an email or talk to family on the phone. In 1918, a letter would have taken weeks to arrive, and telephones were barely a thing in Alberta. If you wanted to get in touch quickly to tell the family important news, you could send a telegraph, but those would have been costly.

This is a telegram to Jesse’s fiance telling her of his death.

How they got the news and how we get news now is very different as well. Yes, I found articles from 1918 in the Edmonton Journal (requires a subscription to view), and they would have had to deal with that every day… but not the sometimes all-day bombardment of information we get through the internet and on social media now.

So there are similarities to what happened then, but there are things that we have now that might better equip us or hinder us from dealing with it all. But one thing I do know is that I feel differently about being around people, and I definitely don’t hug people anymore. So I might have been right in my hypothesis.

P.S. I hope that I don’t have to write a Part Three to this blog, and better days are ahead. Stay safe.

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