A Southern Maryland 1930's Christmas Tale

Madge Thomason Ebner and her daughter Karen Kunow. Madge Thomason Ebner and her daughter Karen Kunow.

The following Christmas story is from Madge Thomason Ebner (now age 94) as told to her daughter Karen Kunow. Madge is a resident of The Hermitage in Solomons. Her family loves to hear her stories about her childhood in St. Mary's county. The family still has the farm Madge's father purchased in 1942 in Avenue where Karen resides for the winter and family reunions are held in the summer. Return with us now to the winter of 1931:

During the winter of 1931 an epidemic of pneumonia had hit Southern Maryland and did not leave the Thomason family untouched.

It was the Christmas school break that our family moved once again. Seems we always moved when it was school vacation time so my older brother, J.L., and I didn't miss any school. I was seven years old when we moved from Virginia to the shores of the Patuxent in Mechanicsville, where we would become tenant farmers for the Coleman family. Compounding the long move, cold weather, and leaving our family behind was the battle with pneumonia for my younger sister, Clara, and I. You need to remember that pneumonia was treated differently then than it is now—they did nothing! It was treated like a cold. Eighty years ago, penicillin and antibiotics were not available.

Four-year-old Clara would jump out of bed and run to the slop jar (potty) and be sick. We didn't have indoor plumbing. She just never seemed to slow down! While the sicker I got the more I just wanted to lay in bed and be read to.

Landlord and good neighbor Marie Coleman would stop by often with news of the next child victim of pneumonia. There were many funerals every week for children who lost the battle. Mrs. Coleman left no stone unturned looking for something that might help we girls. Not much worked until she brought us her canned green beans. This was a food I could eat and keep down! I truly believe the nutrients from those beans saved my life!

Miss Mannly, my future Trent Hall school teacher, made a visit to our home to welcome her new students. She was so surprised at how little our family had. She must have spread the word that the Thomason family needed some help. Soon the Clyde Raley family supplemented our dinners with already cooked Maryland sea foods and showed Mama how to cook the catch. The Morgan boys gave Daddy the eels caught in their seine nets which he fed to the pig. "I don't know if I'm eating fish or pig", Daddy would say about the taste of the pig meat.

It was customary for the one room school teacher to ask each family to donate something for a basket to be given to a family in need. Miss Mannly received an overwhelming response and decided the Thomason family should be the recipient. That Christmas I had never received so many presents and mostly from kids I had never met! Imagine my joy as a seven-year-old kid!

Clara and I pulled through that bout, but in the spring she had a relapse and died in the hospital.

But I swear it was those home grown, canned green beans that saved my life and all the generosity of strangers in our community and being surrounded by new family.

For more local stories from the County Times newspapers, visit countytimes.somd.com or find a copy on local news stands.

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