Day: February 24, 2017

Friday, 24 February 2017

09:52 – It was 50F (10C) when I took Colin out this morning. Our high today is to be 68F (20C), but then a cold front comes through. The high tomorrow is supposed to be in the early morning, with snow coming in tomorrow evening. Today I’ll be working on taxes again. Barbara is at the gym this morning and volunteering for the Friends of the Library bookstore this afternoon.

There was a story in the paper yesterday about a 12-year-old girl in Winston-Salem who had died Valentine’s Day of the flu. A follow-on article this morning said the hospitals in Winston-Salem were limiting visitors to try to keep the flu from spreading.

Every time I read about flu deaths, I think about my mother’s mother. My mother was born just as WWI ended, which was a few weeks after the first cases of the Spanish Flu occurred in New Castle, PA. Pennsylvania as a whole was very badly affected by the flu, but Lawrence County was luckier than most of the state. Not that it seemed that way at the time to the people living there.

My grandmother told me what it had been like. Like most people, she was terrified, afraid to leave the house, literally. Afraid to stand on the front porch and talk to the next-door neighbors on their front porch. Afraid to touch the mail that was delivered to the box next to their front door. Afraid to use the tap water without boiling it. Afraid to walk to the grocery store across the street. Local businesses shut down, at first just the bars and restaurants and churches and other gathering places, but soon all of the businesses. Men no longer went to work because they feared bringing the contagion home with them. And through all of this, my grandmother was more than 8 months pregnant and ready to deliver her baby any time. And this amidst a pandemic disease that was selectively killing healthy people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.

Fortunately, it being 1918, my grandmother, like most wives at the time, both urban and rural, had a very deep pantry of dry staples, commercial canned goods, and foods she’d canned herself. They lived exclusively on those stored foods for the first weeks following the arrival of the flu. They heated with coal, and had both electricity and oil lamps for lighting, so they really didn’t need to leave the house.

They didn’t know it at the time, but the flu came in waves. Within a few weeks of the first cluster of deaths, the authorities declared an end to the emergency, which unfortunately was premature. The flu returned at least twice more, killing more people each time. Eventually, people had to leave their homes, if only because they were running short of food. When they did go out, they stayed as far as possible from other people, and they wore face masks. The fear persisted into mid-1919, when my mother was 6 or 7 months old.

When my parents were first married, they moved in with my mother’s mother, where they lived until I was two years old. I remember my grandmother’s basement, which was filled with shelves packed with dry staples, commercial canned goods, and home-canned jars of food. Which in retrospect was understandable. My grandmother had lived through WWI, followed by the Spanish flu, followed by the Great Depression, followed by WWII, followed by the threat of being nuked by the Soviets. Is it any wonder that she was what nowadays would be called a prepper? Of course, back then pretty much everyone was a prepper. They had reason to be.

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