True story of a Prince Edward Island’s family’s experience of the Spanish Flu; see below for further notes.
My name is Cil Delory, though a Cullen I was born
Here on Prince Edward Island, where the waters meet the morn
I’ll tell you of my girlhood days in simple words and true
And of the deadly fever that we called the Spanish Flu.
The year was nineteen eighteen, and my age was seventeen
I had two older sisters, there were nine more after me
And had our mother lived to see the springing of the year
There would have been another babe to christen and to rear.
Now as the war across the sea drew to its bitter end
There rose an epidemic that claimed as many men
The ships that brought our valiant boys back home again from war
They also brought the new disease onto our peaceful shore.
The place where I was teaching school shut down to slow the spread
My brother Tom was freed from class, he went to work instead
Down at the docks of Charlottetown, while loading up the freight
He caught the fever and the chills and felt the grip of fate.
Eugene and Art and Gertie too took sick within the week
Brave cousin Maggie came to help although our hopes were bleak
Our mother spent her restless days by her poor children’s side
Alas the day she joined them in a sickbed cool and wide.
The tenth day of November, I was tending the young ones
The doctor said the end was near, I went to her at once
My father held her weakening hand, she laboured for her air
The last rays of the setting sun spun gold into her hair.
The undertakers in those times were working night and day
So Doctor Leadwell laid her out for just one night of wake
And though no neighbour dared to cross our fever-stricken door
Papa brought us one by one to see her face once more.
Morning on the way to church, word spread to everyone
The peace was signed in Europe and the victory was won
We heard the pipes and trumpets at their gayest and their best
As we laid our mother in the quiet grave to rest.
The worst was over for the boys, and Gertie’s hair grew back
Aunt Laura came and stayed awhile to help make up our lack
The neighbours they pitched in to reap the praties and the grain
By these good folk and grace of God we turned to life again.
Cecelia Delory's memoirs are published in "Close to the Folks" by Reginald Pendergast, a book of PEI oral history. When visiting PEI I met the book's publisher; after sending her the lyrics I learned that she was a daughter of Gertie (narrator's sister) and that this song would be circulated among the family.
The melody is "The Garden Where the Praties Grow", or you may recognize it as the tune Pat Cooksey used for "The Sick Note". I sing it unaccompanied. Praties are potatoes.