Please welcome guest blogger Arlynda Lee Boyer. She grew up in Hillsville, VA and received her BA in history from New College of Florida. Her new book “Buddha and the Bud Car: The Spiritual Wisdom of NASCAR” will release November 2009.
I find it very interesting that the list you cite in “125 reasons you’ll get sent to the lunatic asylum” doesn’t include what would have been a very common event in the mid-1800s: loss of a child. Today, psychologists recognize the loss of a child or a spouse to be two of the five most devastating life experiences a person can experience.
Yet then, when both experiences were far more common, they did not seem to be commonly accepted reasons to suffer extended anguish. Your list did mention “loss of a son in the war,” but that’s a loss limited in two ways, by gender/age and by circumstance.
My guess is that grief was more socially integrated then. Being in closer contact with life and death than we are today, there was a better social mechanism for publicly grieving and for comforting one’s neighbors.
Quite interesting that it isn’t on the list, though, isn’t it? And yet we tend to forget that it was nonetheless devastating. I hear so many people say, “Oh, everybody lost kids then,” like it didn’t actually hurt these families terribly.
My grandparents had a baby that died early, at eight weeks old from whooping cough. The whole family was sick with it, and Grandma tried valiantly to keep the baby from getting it, but with no vaccine then, it was a losing battle. After Grandma and GrandDaddy died, the family was going through their belongings. All ten babies had a baby book, and Grandma had given them to each kid as they became parents themselves. But she had packed away that baby’s book.
It was from 1942, filled in with weight, length, eye color, etc. Of all the milestones, the only one filled in was the first: “first smile.” It said, “at mother while bathing.” Then, in the very back, was the baby’s obituary notice for the paper, written in Grandma’s own hand. The only other thing in the book was a picture taken at the graveside, which was the only “picture” they would ever have of baby Francis Lee (my dad was the next baby — his middle name comes from her, and mine comes from him).
Even as we were grieving Grandma and GrandDaddy, who died within six months of each other after 60 years of marriage, coming across that book was incredibly moving. Someone commented, “She was breastfeeding. Can you imagine how it felt to be full of milk and have no child to suckle it? She must never really have gotten over it.”
I also wanted to add that I was deeply impressed with the earlier Appalachian History podcast on Spanish Flu. I was stunned to learn the numbers who died and the speed with which the death moved across the state and nation. If the same percentage ofAmericans were to die today, there would be 1.5 million people dead.
Can you even imagine today’s country going through that???
In loving memory of Paul and Irene Boyer of Galax, Virginia.