My grandmother was orphaned in 1918, when she was 9 years old. Between July and December she lost her father, her mother, and her older sister. This was the Flu Epidemic of 1918.
Kids playing ball in the street in San Francisco, ca. 1900. From Pictures of the American City.
San Francisco was a city of immigrants then, as it is now. My great-grandmother, Annie, came from Ireland with her sister and brother and settled in San Francisco's Mission District. She married an Austrian man and they had four children. Her sister Mae married an Irish man--he was killed in a car accident on the day of their child's baptism in 1914. Mae was left a single mother, but she had her sister to rely on. They shared a pair of flats on Bartlett Street.
Then in July of 1918 Annie's husband, Fred, came down with the flu. He died five days later. Her daughter Louise was next, and then Annie herself in late December of the same year. My grandmother, Kathryn, was left alone with her younger sister and brother, with only their Aunt Mae to care for them.
Mae worked in a milliner's shop, decorating hats. When she found herself with four children in her care, she did what any good Irish Catholic would do, she made an appointment to see the Archbishop to ask advice. Archbishop Hanna advised her to send the children to a convent boarding school outside of the City, so that's what she did. She worked to pay for their schooling, and they boarded at St. Gertrude's and St. Joseph's Academies in Rio Vista.
And so they helped each other grow up, and they helped each other through life's trials, because they had only each other to rely on.
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