My great-grandmother died in 1918, a victim of the infamous flu pandemic; here's part of the story in real time

My great-grandmother died in 1918, a victim of the infamous flu pandemic; here's part of the story in real time
My great uncle Abe Hecht in 1928, holding his son Marvin

My great-grandmother, Cecelia Hecht died on Christmas Eve, 1918 of the flu. The big one. She was born in Germany in 1864. She married Mayer Jacob Hecht, who was born in 1848, also in Germany. They met in America and settled in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where they ran a general store. They had 10 children.

My maternal grandmother and great aunt and great uncles, in order of their birthdates, were: Mamie, Dave, Louie, Julius, Josie (my grandmother), Abe, Max, Alec, Irving and Philip.

And from them, a large family living all over the United States came forth.

My mom, Cecelia, was named after my great-grandmother. She is one of 24 first cousins (two of which are her late brothers). Seven of the 24 are still living, including my mom.

Many of these cousins were very close to each other. And many of their children–51 cousins of my generation, including me–are very close, too, despite being spread around the country. We are a diverse bunch in every way imaginable.

Many of the descendants of Mayer and Cecelia became very successful and famous. From the arts to politics to clever retailing to medicine. From education to law to culinary skills, writing and movie-making. And everything in between. The Hecht offspring through the generations have made their mark. We are all proud of each other.

Some of the cousins of my generation have joined Ancestry and 23 and Me. And they have found a handful of cousins we didn’t even know existed–for various reasons. And they have also been embraced. And their stories are fascinating.

One of my cousins, Jeremy (from my daughter Molly’s generation) did a wonderful thing a while back; before he and his family, ironically, moved to Germany. He circulated copies to our large family of two letters from two sons of Cecelia and Mayer–Max and Louie–written to a third son Abe (pictured above), who was overseas fighting in World War I. Both letters to Abe were about their mother’s death….

January 5, 1919

From Uncle Max to Uncle Abe:

Dear Bro Abe,

I hope you are well and in no ways the worse for the experience you have went through. We rec’d a letter and 5 or 6 cards from you about 10 days ago, and you said you were on the way to Germany.

We have neglected to write you in the past couple of weeks on account of so much sickness in the family. We contracted the influenza in the family and most everyone had it. I guess you know what that is, as lots of soldiers have passed away in France with it.

Abe, we have something to tell you and have neglected to write you as we didn’t know what to do, but I finally have decided to tell you. Papa took sick about 2 months ago, and I think he must have had the influenza. We got nurses for him but they didn’t suit him, and mama had to practically stay with Papa for 6 weeks, day & night you might say.

On the 19th of December Mama took sick and had to go to bed, we didn’t think nothing of it and after 3 days she was feeling better, but she tookk a relapse and pneumonia set in and God took her from us on December 24. Abe, you and us all lost the only friend we ever had in the world.

But life is short and someday we will all have to go and then I know we will see Mama and she will be more proud of us. I know Mama is much better because it is “God’s Will” that she went . Mama worried about everything, she wanted to live to see you Abie, but while she was sick in bed we got the letter from you that you were safe after the war & I am glad of that.

Mama passed away easy and she never suffered. Papa is feeling better, and I hope to God that you can get discharged before long so you can come home, you are what the rest of the family are looking forward to now, so that you can console them.

Mamie had a baby boy about a week before Mama took sick and Mama and Papa went to the briss. Mamie did not get to come over to Mama as she was in bed. David and Josie were sick at home at the same time, but thank God they are all getting better.

This is certainly an awful letter to get while you are away Abie but I just had to tell you. The boys are all staying at home and waiting for you. Louis got discharged from the army about 2 weeks before Mama passed away and was with us. He is going to stay home and you don’t know how he wants to see you. You can imagine how everything was at home.

Well, we all know what kind of a mother we had. The best that ever lived, she was too good to live, that was the trouble, that’s why God took her, everything she thought of was for the children, nothing for herself, and I want you to look at this in a sensible way, not to take it hard, but to think of Mama all the time and I know that you know it was best or it would not have happened. Abie I am sure looking forward to the day when you will come home home for that is all that is left in life. I will close with lots of love to Mama in heaven and to you.

Max

And an “addendum” from Uncle Louie to Uncle Abe:

Dear Abie,

It is hard to write you this letter and this is something that comes to all of us sooner or later. Mama was buried in St. Louis beside her mother. The ceremony was delivered by Rabbi Rosentreter. We had it taken down and have it here. You will be consoled when you see it as it seems plainly that it was the will of our Heavenly Father and his will must be had. We really thought Papa would never get well as he was so sick that he could not raise his hand but it was not his time to go so thank God Papa is getting better.

We are all looking forward for your return which means so much to us now, I am going to stay here and see that the store runs and the house is kept up. Philip is going to school in St. Louis, staying with Josie so he can go to the shul in the morning and evening and say Kaddish. One of us must say Kaddish for all year and we thought it best for Philip to say it as he was with Mama more than any of us.

Alex left Friday for Kentworth Military Academy at Lexington, Missouri, that is the best place for Alex as he was getting pretty tough around here.

Now Abie be sure and take this in a sensible way. It is hard but as we grow older harder things come before us. I have so much to tell you but don’t feel like writing now. When you get to New York wire me in detail where I can meet you so we can come home together. Do everything you can to get out as soon as possible for we are all so anxious to see you.

I will close with love from us all, from Mama who is in Heaven. Write us a big letter.

Louis

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