Careful hygiene kept her family healthy

SMALL John A and Sophia T.

The photo above is the cloth used by Sophia Small during the epidemic as a cover whenever she had to go out. The picture is of Sophia and Albert Small.

My mother Alma Small Faber was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 24, 1918 to Sophia Theresa Small and John Albert Small. Alma had 2 older sisters: Elizabeth and Dorothy. The family lived in a section known as Brighton on considerable acreage.

Although Baltimore was severely affected by influenza, no one in the family contracted the flu, which was undoubtedly attributable to Grandmother Small’s assiduous practice of hygiene and isolation of all family members from outsiders.

I spent a considerable amount of time at my mother’s family home, which we called “Brighton,” and learned in great detail exactly how grandmother protected the family. For example, one can fashion a full head/face mask much like a schemagh, which some may associate with protecting the head/face from wind and sun.

I have had lots of time to organize family treasures during the COVID-19 pandemic and discovered a very large piece of cotton cloth among the things my mother left for me. Strangely enough, this piece of cloth was on the very top of a bin of beautiful linen tablecloths, napkins, and other accoutrements of formal entertaining which I remember so vividly from my childhood.

Mother must have known that I would know exactly what this piece of cloth is and why she saved it! I felt as if she were saying, “Elizabeth, remember what your grandmother taught you about the epidemic of 1918. She saved our lives. This is the cloth she wore on the rare times she ventured out to buy what little meat my parents and sisters ate at the time. We were fortunate to have a full ‘larder,’ thanks to your grandmother’s foresight which was gleaned from both Word War I and II. Remember how she taught you to tie it securely, so that only your eyes show. This cloth can be used even now. It may save your life. Have faith and remember Grandmother and me. God bless you.”

That the family survived the 1918 influenza epidemic without any sickness is due I am certain to Grandmother Small’s assiduous use of Clorox to sanitize surfaces and her awareness of susceptibility from exposure to people outside the immediate family. One hundred-plus years ago sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it!

Credit for story and photos belong to Elizabeth Faber Ewell

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