Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

My Life Stories: A family’s struggle during the Spanish Flu

Mountain City resident Cloyce M. Eller, smiles while being photographed as she is writing in her journal. Eller is just one of many seniors that have been writing stories as part of the Johnson County Senior Center’s “My Life Stories” writing activity. Photo By Tamas Mondovics.

Submitted by Cloyce M. Eller
Mother Ivalee Moody
Grandmother: Minnie Harmon

If you think the Coronavirus of 2020 is bad, read my family story of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. My name is Cloyce Eller.  Kathy Motsinger asked us to write a story about our mother or grandmother for Mother’s Day while we have to stay home. I would like to share a story about my grandma, Minnie (Trivette) Harmon, and my mother, Ivalee (Harmon) Moody.

When the Spanish Flu of 1918 hit our country, my Grandma and Grandpa Harmon had a family of seven children.  Five of those children died within a three-year period of time, and at least four of the five were victims of the Spanish Flu.  It is suspected that the fifth child was also a victim.Although my mom was only five years old at the start of the 1918 pandemic, she had vivid memories of what her family went through. Mom’s eight and ten-year-old sisters died first; their names were Floye and Hazel. They died on the same day.Their mother, my grandma, was in bed with the flu herself when they died.

She wasn’t able to get out of bed, so they dressed the girls and brought them to her bed for her to see them before they were taken to the cemetery for their burial. One and a half months later, Mom’s little three-old brother Henry died. Nine months and twelve days later, Mom’s brother D’Arnt died the same day he was born. One year and ten months later, Mom’s brother Dexter died at the age of 17. As I remember Mom’s story, the first four deaths were Spanish Flu victims, and she thought the fifth was also.

Mom said they had good neighbors, but everyone was afraid to come in contact with the Flu because it was so contagious and deadly. She called it the “bloody flux.” Neighbors brought food and left it on their porch. When the children died, their father (Grandpa Harmon) and their grandfather (Grandpa Trivette) had to take their bodies on a farm sled pulled by horses to the cemetery and bury them alone.  It must have been a horrible and sad time for them.

After the Flu went away, Mom said she and her brother Ben were sitting in front of the fireplace roasting chestnuts one day when he looked over at her and said, “Ivalee, I wonder why all the pretty and healthy children died and left us ol’ unhealthy ones.”

My Uncle Ben got a spanking for making that remark.  Mom said she could understand why he was thinking this because she had a tumor over one eye and very bad tonsils that needed to be removed. He was not in good health, either.

February 22, 1921, Grandma had another girl and named her Ruth, but Grandma had been so emotionally damaged by all the deaths of her children that she would not let herself get close to another child at first. Aunt Ruth said that her sister, my mom, was the one who gave her hugs and kisses and let her sit on her lap for the first four or five years of her life.  Mom and Aunt Ruth remained very close for the rest of their lives, and eventually, Grandma was able to love again.

Mom and her brother Ben grew up, and Uncle Ben got married and moved to Elizabethton, Tennessee, to live.  When Mom was almost 16, she went to live with Uncle Ben and his wife, Della.They had a small apartment with one bedroom, so Mom slept on a pallet under the dining room table.

She worked at the Bemburg factory until she made enough money to have the tumor taken off her face and her tonsils removed.  Soon after she returned home, she met my dad, Daniel Moody. They got married in Mountain City, moved to Butler, Tennessee, and over the next several years, had four healthy children (Joy, Cloyce, Minnie, and Willy).

I could write a book on the love and Christian inspiration my mom gave us as we grew up, but I fear this story might be a bit too long already. So, I will close by saying this one thing I know,  my mom taught us over, and over that it doesn’t matter what this life deals us, we can get through it if we keep our faith in Jesus and stay close to Him. I pray every day, “God, please give me just one-fourth of the strength and faith my mom and grandma had, and I know I will be alright.”

Love and prayer always,
Cloyce M. Eller

Grandparents of Joy Cress, Cloyce Eller and Minnie Miller, Lewis and Minnie Harmon. The picture was dated 1912 on the back. The children’s names were Dexter, Ben, Floye and Hazel. Dexter died at the age
of 17 due to the Spanish Flu. Submitted photo