Chapter 19- The Life and Times of William Roy Caple -1918 – Puyallup, Influenza and War Ends

As the train pulled into the station in Puyallup, Roy spotted his parents waiting on the platform. He and Mae gathered their bundles and made their way down the aisle to the door. A porter helped them get their baggage onto the platform.

Roy’s mother threw her arms around Roy. “You do not know how good it is to see you again.” She kissed Mae’s cheek, “And you too, your family now.”

Roy’s Dad stepped forward and shook Roy’s hand. “Good to have you home, son. He tipped his head toward Mae. “Glad you finally brought that girl of yours back to Puyallup. I brought my delivery truck to collect your baggage. It’ll be a might crowded, but I expect we can all squeeze into the cab.”

As they drove down Main Street. American flags fluttered and red, white, and blue buntings hung from all the buildings in support the war in Europe.

 “Sure, wish they’d get that mess in Europe done with,” said Roy. “If you ask me, it should never have started and we should have stayed out of it.”

His father steered his truck around a corner. “I have to agree with your son, I’m proud of my service in the War Between the States, but this war is a horse of a different color. I fear nothing good will come of it.”    

His sister, Lida, and her husband George were out on the porch when his dad jerked the delivery truck to a halt in front of the house.

Roy gazed at the big white house before making a move to get out of the truck. “I’ve missed this place, it’s good to be home again.”

Lida hugged both Mae and Roy. “You don’t know how much I have missed both of you.

Roy took a step back. In his 2 years away, she’d changed from a girl to a beautiful young woman. He stretched his hand out to the dark- haired man standing next to her. “You must be my brother-in-law”

 “That I am, George McKay.” He offered his hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, I’ve heard so much about you.”

Roy chuckled. “Nothing good, I imagine. Would mind giving me a hand unloading our baggage.”

Over dinner, Roy reached for Mae’s hand. “We have an announcement to make, we’re expecting a little bundle of joy.”

“Oh, wonderful,” said Lida. “I can’t wait until we have a child of our own.” 

“I knew it.” said his mother, “the minute I saw Mae. She is positively glowing. Now we’ll have two grandchildren. Joe’s little guy is such a cutie. When can we expect this little bundle?”

Mae blushed, “Not for a while, mid-December I think.”

“How nice, another December birthday. Robert, Joe’s boy turns two in December.”

“I can’t wait to meet him and Joe’s wife,” said Mae.

Roy’s mother stood up to clear the table, “Hopefully they will be by Sunday, since they moved to South Prairie, I don’t see nearly enough of him.”

Roy and Mae spent the next few days with his parents. They agreed three families in one house were too much. They obtained some rooms at the nearby Scott hotel to live in until he got their house built on the lot next to his parent’s home. He found a job in Tacoma working as a shipwright for the Wright ship building company.

He bought plans for a craftsman bungalow, a style becoming popular. He purchased a large tool chest of the tools he’d need from a retired carpenter. Every spare moment he had that summer he spent working on their house. He wanted it ready to move in before the baby arrived. His brother-in-law, George, came over and gave him a hand whenever he could. Roy found he enjoyed the man’s company. And Lida and his wife picked up their friendship as if there had been no six-year interruption. The two couples enjoyed going on outings together.

News of the war in Europe continued to make headlines. Roy was not happy when a third draft required all men up to age 45 to register. The first draft had been up to age 31, and he had escaped it by a year, but now at age 33 he would have to register.

On September 18th, he took the interurban bus to Tacoma. With a heaviness in his heart, he got off on Pacific Avenue, walked to the tall Bank of California building. He stared at the door as he rode the elevator to the third floor and found room 302. He’d considered applying as a conscientious objector.

Chuck at the shipyard said, “Roy if I were you, I wouldn’t do it. I’ve heard of too many cases where you get drafted into the regular military pronto. Besides, I doubt they will ever draft guys your age, anyway.”

Roy hoped so, besides not wanting to leave Mae and their soon to be born baby, he wanted no part of killing in this war.

 That fall news of war continued to make headlines as well as reports of a nasty flu in Europe and parts of U.S. But in Puyallup, Washington, it was a distant problem.

On October 5th Roy picked up a copy of the Tacoma paper while he waited for the bus. Once seated he unfolded the newspaper. The headline at the bottom of the front page caught his eye.

 “Flu scares in Seattle.”

The article stated churches and theaters had closed. He pointed the story out to the man seated next to him. “That’s getting close to us.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said the man. “We’re safe here, haven’t heard of a single in Tacoma or Puyallup.”

“You’re probably right,” said Roy.

But when he opened to another page, he found another disturbing headline ‘Fluenza Rumors officially Denied’ said an article about Camp Lewis.

Over dinner that night, “He read the front-page article aloud to Mae.

“Goodness,” she said, “that doesn’t sound good. I’m glad we’re young and healthy. Maybe we should suggest to your parents that stay close to home for the time being.”

Roy closed up the paper. “That’s not a bad idea, but you know Dad. He likes to keep busy supervising his transport business.”

Mae dabbed her mouth on a napkin, “And with Lida and George going out daily, I suppose it doesn’t help much having them stay home. Besides, I haven’t heard of any flu cases here.”

On the 7th of October, the Puyallup Tribune mentioned there were a few cases in town. The schools and theaters closed indefinitely as a precaution. People were encouraged to not meet in large groups and to keep ‘rooms fumigated daily.’ Mask wearing became  common though not required in Puyallup. Nearby Tacoma required masks for all waiters, cooks, barbers, and city employees. Quarantine signs appeared on houses. Roy noticed one on the door of a sweet older woman who lived a couple of blocks from his home.

“Poor woman,” he remarked to his wife, “she isn’t in good health, this flu will do her in.”

 Only to hear a week later she’d recovered, but her strong healthy logger son had died within 3 days.

 A neighbor told him, “He seemed better and got up to eat dinner with the family and died later that night. The newspaper reported that four of the six young adult children of the George family died within four days of each other while the parents remained well.

Roy worried about Mae. She was due to give birth in a mere six weeks. Had he made a mistake moving to Puyallup.

A letter from Mae’s family arrived. That evening she read it aloud to him.

Such awful news about the flu, her mother wrote. We’ve had a few cases in Belle Fourche, but it’s hit Lead hard. So many miners are ill and too many deaths. I am thankful you aren’t there any longer.

Mae folded the latter up. “No one seems to be spared, this flu is everywhere.”

Just after midnight on November 11th, the loud continuous whistle of the town’s cannery roused Roy from a deep sleep. He rolled over and whispered, “Do you hear that.”

“Yes,” said Mae. “I wonder what it means.”

Minutes later, all the whistles and bells began to ring. From the hallway outside their rooms someone shouted, “The war has ended.”

Soon the hallways of the Scott hotel filled with the noise of cheering and noise makers.

Sleep was impossible, so Roy and Mae hastily dressed and went out to join the rest of the revelers. Out on the street, pedestrians carried flags and every kind of noise maker available. Cars joined the group on Pioneer Avenue, beeping their horns. Roy and Mae made their way toward his parents’ home a short 2 blocks away. On the way, they ran into Lida and George.

Lida threw her arms around Roy, “Isn’t it wonderful, the war is over. We’re joining the crowd headed to town. Won’t you join us.”

Roy looked at his wife, heavy with child. “I think we’d better pass.”

They found his parents on their covered porch beating pots in celebration and went up to join them.

His Mother hugged him. “This is the best news, now I don’t have to worry about any of my boys getting drafted.”

After most of the crowd in front of the house had headed for the downtown area. Roy and Mae went back to their rooms at the Scott Hotel to catch a nap before he had to head to work.

After breakfast, Roy kissed his wife. “Don’t get up I can see myself to the door. He patted her round belly. You two try to find some time for more sleep.”

He walked to his bus stop amidst all the wild cheering still going on. The bus arrived full of men waving flags out the window and creating a ruckus of noise. Instead of work, many headed to celebrate in downtown Tacoma.

Not a lot of work went on at the shipyard that day. The ship workers spent much of the day pounding on anything that would make a booming sound, joining the mill workers who in turned pounded on large logs. The busy harbor filled with boats, small and large, blasting their horns and whistles as if to say peace at last the war has ended. Everywhere folks were happy and celebrating.

Mae greeted him at the door at the end of the day and gave him a big smooch on the lips, “Hasn’t today been the best day. Did you see any of the celebrating in Tacoma?”

Roy hung his coat on the coat tree next to the door. I saw little of the city, but I can tell you there was plenty of celebrating going on at the port. He patted her protruding tummy; I hope you two got a chance to nap.

Mae patted her tummy, “I caught a catnap or two but his little one has been kicking all day. I guess he or she wanted to celebrate, too.”

After Roy washed and changed his clothes, he sat down for the dinner Mae had prepared.

She poured him a cup of coffee. “I hear there’s going to be an enormous bonfire in front of Victory Hall tonight. Appears folks can’t quit celebrating.”

“I can’t blame them,” said Roy taking a bite of the stew she’d prepared. “But I for one am bushed, it’s early to bed for me.”

School reopened in Puyallup on November 16th. The nasty business with the flu also seemed to end with the war. Although isolated cases in Puyallup would continue to occur for the next year, life went back to normal.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Authors notes: specifics on Roy’s registration for the draft came from his draft registration. Interestingly enough the room he had to report in the Bank of California building was the same room my husband registered for the Viet Nam War draft. He often mentioned that he had opposed this war and that he had considered being a conscientious objector should he be called for service.

Information on the deadly Influenza outbreak of 1918 came from old Tacoma and Puyallup newspapers as did the information on how the town celebrated the ending of World War I. My grandfather also spoke of how older people he thought would die from the illness lived while the healthy younger ones did not.

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