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My sister Helen, now fifteen years of age, had come to live with me after our mother’s death in a Massachusetts hospital. I have made no mention so far of the first tragedy which came into my life. When I had been in training about a year, my parents with Ralph and Helen moved to Knoxville, and lived near the hospital in a second-floor apartment. Ralph aged sixteen had a paper route after school. On November 26, 1910, he stopped at a neighbor’s house to ask another boy to go on his paper route with him. They each had 22 rifles and had been hunting together during Thanksgiving vacation. They were discussing guns and the boy brought out his father’s pistol to show Ralph, who remarked, “That’s a peach of a gun.” After examining it, he passed it back with the muzzle pointing to his own chest. The gun was accidentally discharged, killing Ralph instantly. The word came to me at the hospital that Ralph had been badly hurt near the corner of Central and Broadway. I grabbed a scarf and went on a run accompanied by Dr. William Lynn from the hospital. Ralph was still lying where he had fallen as death was instantaneous. I was the one who had to go to tell my mother, who was still a semi-invalid.
My father just couldn’t get over Ralph’s death and wanted to get away from the place where it happened, so took Mother and Helen back to Massachusetts. Mother finally had to be sent to Massachusetts State Hospital, where she died, January 31, 1912. I found the telegram telling of her death on my desk when I returned to the Burwell Building where the Metropolitan office was located. Everyone was gone as I had worked late.
I went to the post office to wire my dad $50.00, which was all the money I had, and coming out of the post office met Dr. Billie Richmond, our company doctor who had heard of my loss. He only said, “Would you like to work tonight?” I replied, “I would like to work more than anything I know.” So he gave me directions to go to a house in North Knoxville and prepare a patient for a D&C which I did, and he and Dr. Kern arrived about 8 PM to do the operation. When they brought me to my apartment about 11 PM I was so exhausted I fell into a dreamless sleep. Wakening the next morning was terrible as I dearly loved my mother. Helen wanted to come and live with me after mother’s death, so I sent for her and we shared a small apartment on Clinch Avenue and I put her in a Knoxville school.
The health conditions were so bad in Knoxville I sometimes felt like a sprinkler pot trying to put out a great big fire and sometimes felt overwhelmed with responsibility. In October of that year a way of escape seemed to be opening.