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The Flu Pandemic of 1918

My mother, Berniece A. Lewis, was born during the flu Pandemic of 1918 to Benjamin Frank Lewis and Malona (Barks) Lewis on July 18,1918. She was their third daughter.

Lewis Family 1911 – Berniece Lewis’ parents far left;

Frank and Malona Lewis with daughter, Opal

By November 1, both of her parents had died. My mother’s sister, Opal later wrote of her earliest memories “I saw my mother in bed with a lovely new sister that looked like my baby picture. I adored her and enjoyed rocking her”. She continues; “One day our neighbor came to tell us that his son was home from France. He was a soldier and had been wounded while fighting in our army. He was also having a high fever and needed someone at his bedside especially at night. My dad offered to help and after a week or so he, too, became ill. He kept doing the chores and got some of his crops in the barn. Then my mother started not feeling well. By that time my dad was in bed. My mom pumped the horse trough full of water, threw out a lot of hay and baked and cooked extra food. Next morning, she was unable to get up. She took the three-month-old baby to bed with her. I took diapers to her and gave my parents cold drinks of water while feeding my three-year-old sister and trying to keep her amused. That night my dad called me to the bed and talked a long time to me, making me understand how very ill he and mom were. He put my little red coat and hood on me and buttoned my high-top black shoes, lit a lantern for me to carry, and told me to go to our neighbor a mile and a half through a corn field. I was to tell them to contact my grandparents about ten miles away.”

At seven Opal walked to the neighbors to contact her grandparents because her parents were sick with the flu. The parents died but their three daughters survived. My mother was orphaned as a baby, yet she survived. Because she survived, I was born as were my children and grandchildren.

Each of the three daughters were adopted by different family members from both sides of the family. My mother, was adopted by her father’s sister, Serrah Anne married to John H. Cook. They had one biological daughter Pearl. My mother adored Pearl. She claimed she was her shadow. Sadly, Pearl died on her wedding day of lockjaw. But that’s another story.

My mother grew up in Arkansas and their family eventually moved to Michigan in the 1930’s where my grandfather got a job in South Lyon. My mother finished high school, started working and went on to marry my father, and as they say . . . the rest is history at least for me, my children and 10 grandchildren.

Berniece at age three with Pearl

So why share this story now? The Covid-19 pandemic is calling me to share it. Many stories are being published about the 1918 flu pandemic history now. My mother’s story is one of them. I am writing about my mother’s story to preserve and share it with my family and I also want to encourage all of us to tell our story of Covid-19 now.

The word I have used to describe both my mother and her story is; perseverance. Adopted at three months, she grew up poor but was determined to finish high school even as the family moved around. She knew that education would be the way to a better life. She loved learning. Her hard work and dedication became a stepping stone to many life-long achievements.

Senior Trip 1938. Berniece Cook 2nd from left. “They drove in cars, five in each. There were not enough teachers to have one in each car. We lucked out and we didn’t have one!”

What pictures and stories does your family have waiting to be shared and told? Do stories of your family tell of lives well lived? Have your parents or grandparents overcome adversity? Have they been able to achieve beyond what would have been normal expectations?

I’m sharing this story 102 years later during Covid-19 because what is happening now is defining our lives. Unlike the flu pandemic of 1918, we have an abundance of pictures to help us tell our stories. For me, this has been a time to call family members and see what if anything was written down about our family during the 1918 pandemic. I located the actual notes and a written account from my aunt Opal. I located the genealogy of both sides of my mother’s family. I pulled out the scrapbook album that my mother and I put together of her life with all of her old photos. I found a small photo book treasure that I created for my mother of her 90th birthday celebration.

Celebrating Berniece’s 90th Birthday – 2008. What a wonderful celebration. Berniece in front in the pink.

At the beginning of Covid-19, I began taking pictures to tell a new story. I have pictures of what I have been doing, of what my children and grandchildren have been doing. I made soup and shared it with neighbors and friends. I have made phone calls to make sure people I know and love know I are thinking about and praying for them. I am holding Zoom meetings. I have started a gratitude journal. All these things are helping me tell my story.

How about you? What are you and your family doing right now? Many children stopped going to school in March which means many of you are homeschooling for the first time. Are you and your spouse working from home? Are you practicing social-distancing? Are you glued to the news and to the daily briefings? Are you, too, trying to figure out life during a quarantine?

A new Story – Zooming with family on Easter, 2020

As a photo manager, I am privileged to see my client’s pictures and hear their stories. I work with them to organize their photo collections. I scan the photos, memorabilia and treasures of their lives. I create photo books to help them tell their stories; births, graduations, retirements and life histories. Once the photos have been preserved and their stories told they are documented for future generations.

Let me challenge you to tell your story. What will you, your children and your grandchildren want to remember of Covid-19? Tell it, write it down now. Let this be a time when you preserve your photos and tell your story.


Marianne Behler is celebrating her 10th year as a Photo Manager. Her business, Lifetime Photo Solutions, curates photo collections for families and professionals. They organize both the printed and digital images into a unified searchable collection. They create timeless legacy photo books of both the pictures and stories of lives well-lived.

Marianne Behler, Certified Photo Manager - Lifetime Photo Solutions


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