Friday, August 11, 2017

Shared Losses

They were six siblings: three boys, three girls. They were born between 1919 and 1930 to James
abt 1932
Front (l to r): Jimmy, Mary Ellen, Clara Lou, Charlie
Back (l to r): Minnie Mae, Bob, Etta
Thurman Evans (Sr.) and Etta Belle Bridgewater Evans. Their names: Robert Douglas, 1919-2011; Minnie Mae, 1921-2009; James Thurman (Jr.), 1923-2007; Charles Wallace, 1926-2009; Clara Lou, 1928-2017; and Mary Ellen, 1930 - .

James Sr. was born in 1896 in Lynchburg, Tennessee; Etta was born in 1895 in Scottsburg, Indiana. In 1917 they married in Indianapolis, Indiana, and lived there during their married life. At various times, James worked as a mechanic, a machinist, and an auto body painter.

During the month of July 1935, Etta contracted typhoid fever and died on August 5, 1935. 

By 1935, typhoid fever was not very common. A vaccine had been developed in the 1920s. The death rate was dropping dramatically; in fact, the death rate in the United States was less than 20 per every 100,000 population.*  But somewhere, somehow, Etta contracted the virus which is spread by an infected person sneezing or coughing or sharing saliva through kissing or sharing a drink. Wherever or however she contracted the disease, James Sr. was left to take care of six children aged five years old to 16 years old. 

Soon after Etta’s death, Etta’s mother, Della May Everhart Bridgewater, thought it would be in the
Children's Home Administration Building
children’s best interest to place the children in the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Knightstown, about 38 miles east of Indianapolis. The only child not to go to the Children’s Home was Robert. He was the oldest at 16 and went to live with his uncle and aunt Ezra and Lulu Evans. He continued to live with them through the early 1940s. The other children, who lived at the Children’s Home, graduated from the Home’s high school. 

Despite the early loss of their mother, all the children went on to live a successful life, marry, have children; the men served in the military. However, lurking in the background was another loss to be suffered by all, but occurring only to four of the siblings: Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Back: Charles, James, Roberts
Front: Clara, Minnie, Mary
• Robert’s symptoms began around 2001. He was officially diagnosed in 2003 and died in 2011.
• Minnie Mae’s symptoms began around 1997. She was officially diagnosed in 2000 and died in 2009.
• James’ symptoms began around 2003. However, it was determined in 2004 he had Parkinson’s Disease and died in 2007.
• Charles’ symptoms began around 2005. He was officially diagnosed in 2007 and died in 2009.
• Clara Lou’s symptoms began around 2003. She was diagnosed in 2004 and died in 2017.
• Mary Ellen, who is still living, is symptom-free.

The siblings with Alzheimer's were diagnosed as having Late Onset Alzheimer's Disease.

At the suggestion of Minnie Mae’s neurologist, all six of the siblings were enrolled in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The purpose of the study: identify, evaluate, and follow families who have multiple members with Late Onset Alzheimer's Disease. The goal: identify genetic factors that contribute to the disease. 

James Sr. and Etta are my biological paternal grandparents. Robert is my biological father. The rest of the siblings are my aunts/uncles. I did not know them, but this little slice of history of their shared double loss helps me to know them.

Back: Charles, James, Robert
Front: Mary, Clara, Minnie

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, August 24). Incidence of Typhoid Fever, by Year - United States, 1920-1960. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from

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