‘Neath the Warbling of Bluebirds

By Domenica Di Piazza, Editorial Director, TFCB

meribel and fern 1913 My maternal grandmother (at left, with bow in her hair) was very close to her mother’s cousin, Fern (at far left, wearing hat and gloves). Fern and my grandmother’s mother (Virginia) were raised by Fern’s mother (Virginia’s maternal aunt) after Virginia’s parents died, one right after the other, from tuberculosis. Virginia was all of eight years old when she lost her parents. By the time she was in her twenties, her only siblings, Lois and Ethel, had both died of tuberculosis too. Fern herself was an only child, having lost her three sisters to scarlet fever and diphtheria.

I thought of those deaths this weekend when I ran across a photo (below) of my grandmother in a daybed in her backyard when she was about nine or ten years old.

meribel on the day bed

Written on the back of the photo in brown ink is a note, in her adult hand, that reads, “’Neath the warbling of bluebirds—before measles and diphtheria, 1914.” I’d somehow forgotten that measles, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and scarlet fever were once big killers, especially of children and young adults. When my grandmother was a girl, in the early 1900s, vaccination was still a new concept, and she knew firsthand the devastation that these diseases could wreak on families.

I like our Twenty-First Century Medical Library series because along with basic information about the symptoms of, treatment for, and research into a variety of mental disorders and physical diseases—including tuberculosis and influenza–readers also learn about medical history. It’s amazing how far medical science has advanced, and how quickly, to the point where diseases that orphaned my great grandmother are now easily avoided (at least in the developed world).

Take a look at the Medical Library series and check in next week for more from TFCB!