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Woman, 106, recalls 1918 pandemic - the year of church bells

Myrtle Edness may be one of Bermuda’s last people to recall the constant ringing of funeral bells from the 1918 flu pandemic.

Mrs Edness, who turned 106 over the summer, spent 2020 carefully shielded from family in their Warwick home after the global outbreak of the coronavirus arrived here.

A former proprietor of the AJ Edness Grocery Store, which used to stand on South Road near her home on Billy Goat Hill, Mrs Edness remembered the 1918 pandemic for church bells, and said she was related to some of those lost in Bermuda.

It was called “the year of the church bells” by the late historian Vernon Jackson, who wrote in 1995 that “the bell hardly ceased its mournful, recurrent knell of departed life” from the volume of funerals.

Mrs Edness, a youngster at the time, also remembered having to stay at home.

She better recalls the lean years of the Second World War, when Bermudians contended with shortages far more severe than those of 2020.

Helped by her daughter, Maureen Eddy, she remembered “trouble getting groceries” and how families divided up perishable supplies like butter.

She said: “Two or three sisters would get home and share it between them.”

Ice was delivered by horse and cart. Codfish was popular, but meats such as beef and chicken were rarely eaten.

Families improvised on clothing during the war: Mrs Edness recalled people would “take the flour bags and make shirts and shirts”.

Remaining in the house has been a necessity in the pandemic year of 2020.

Ms Eddy said: “Most people probably think I’m being overly cautious.

“I can probably count on one hand the people that have been within these walls since it’s started.”

After the summer, as the island’s cases of Covid-19 dwindled, the family took Mrs Edness to her favourite restaurants.

Jason, her grandson in New York, was able to visit in October and November, but had to isolate in quarantine before he could say hello to her.

Ms Eddy recalled: “He came to wave to his nana from the patio, and she asked why he had to be down there.”

But with the return of tighter restrictions, Mrs Edness has kept comfortable in the house, and enjoys ordering delivery meals.

Up in the air for now is a visit next year from her granddaughter, Melanie Eddy, a jewellery designer who lives in Britain.

Ms Eddy said: “She is hoping she can come in January – we’re just hoping that British Airways still flies. She has said it’s stop and go.

“But we are blessed if she can make it – we have a studio where she can quarantine.”

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Published December 31, 2020 at 8:17 am (Updated January 03, 2021 at 7:29 pm)

Woman, 106, recalls 1918 pandemic - the year of church bells

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