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Chapter V - A Cold Winter and The Spanish Flu

World War I had caused shortages, which affected many people in the eastern part of the U.S. and possibly the whole country. The winter of 1917-1918 was a hard one. It produced snow in the early part of December and the snow lasted until late in March. Some of the coldest temperatures on record were recorded.

Coal was needed to keep our house warm, but due to a severe shortage it became necessary for the government to ration coal. My husband, who had suffered a severe burn on his foot at work, was home sick and we also had three small children. All of us could barely endure the sub-zero temperatures with the little coal we had. My baby had been born in January into a world of freezing temperatures. My coal supplies ran out and I would not get more. Something had to be done.

I decided to visit the office that controlled the fuel supply. It was nice and warm in the office. An employee asked me what I wanted and I answered, "Coal."

She said, "We have no coal here. Go to your supplier." I said, "I have. He said he was out of coal."

She said, "I cannot help."

I answered, "Yes you can. You have it nice and warm here. The prisoners are kept warm in jail. My three small children are freezing and one is a baby!"

I was very angry. I wanted to hit her with a chair so I could go to jail to protect my babies from the cold. Then a door opened and a man came out and said, "What's the trouble?"

I told him my predicament and he said, "Do you have the money to pay for the coal?"

I said I did. He said, "Go home. You'll have coal this afternoon." I left and went directly home. A truck with coal was already there. This sight was a relief to me.

The calamity was over but another one was soon to follow. This time it was the Spanish flu! The first casualty in my street was my next door neighbor, a father of five children. Exactly as the sirens were ushering in the good news of the signed armistice, his coffin was coming out the door. This malady hit like a fury. Many families lost one or more members.

Aunt Rafaela who had only been in this country three years became ill with the flu. One of her two sons had sent for her from Italy and she and I had become very close. Nicola forbade me to leave the house for fear of contacting the disease and infecting the children. However, I could not see my beloved aunt who was very devoted to me and very helpful, being abandoned without care or comfort. Her sons had already recovered from the sickness and returned to work. I used to call her my old aunt since I was twenty-one and she was sixty-three. That seemed very old to me. I disregarded Nicola's wishes, left the children with my landlady, and went to her apartment. She was alone and in bed. The room was cold and there was no fire in the stove. I started the fire, cleaned her room, washed her clothes, made some soup and left. My husband never knew that I had gone. He would have been furious because I could have caught the disease. However, I didn't, and neither did my family.

My brother Luigi was hit very hard too. His wife and mother- in-law landed in a hospital with the youngest child, a baby only ten months old. The whole family came down with the malady. I went to my brother's to help. I found clothes to be washed, ashes to be carted away, and food to be prepared. I took care of the immediate needs.

Two days later the baby died and was brought home from the hospital. My husband and I assisted in the preparation for the funeral and the burial. His mother-in-law was discharged from the hospital the day before the funeral.

The disease abated and a period of readjustment took place after the onslaught of the war and the flu.

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