Friday, November 26, 2010

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918

The life and times of my Mother and Fathers’ generation was filled with so many stupendous life-changing disasters that the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 has become less than a blip on the radar.

The speed of this pandemic, so deadly, striking so quickly and disappearing as quickly (it lasted about 18 months), made it easier to forget the proportions of the tragedy it inflicted.

But the shortest stroll through any cemetery of that day reveals the flotsam of family tragedies marked by the headstones of young adults. “Rebecca Morris..1895-1918 “Mother and Wife.” “Jerome Patterson… Beloved Son..1902-1918” and on and on.

In the United States about 28% of the population suffered, and 500,000 to 675,000 died.

Kansas City and St.Louis, Missouri were particularly hard hit.

State officials first reported on the presence of influenza in Missouri on October 11, 1918. However, influenza had appeared in the state long before that date. By the third week of October, 3,765 influenza cases and 90 deaths had been reported from St. Louis, with 558 cases and 13 deaths being reported for October 16th alone. State officials, however, rarely had access to accurate figures and the actual number of cases and deaths was probably higher than that.

On October 24th, state officials maintained that "conditions are either stationary or improving" in the state. But on October 25th, the situation took a turn for the worse. Influenza began spreading into rural districts. Between October 26th and 28th, the situation continued to be dire, with rural and urban areas across the state reporting high numbers of cases and deaths.

This Pandemic, targeting the future of populations by striking hardest in the young adult age group, is seldom even regarded when considering the devastations of a worldwide drought, the worldwide economic collapse and two world wars.

Yet the loss of so many in their most productive years must have left a gap. So many orphans, so many unformed families, so many crippled lives, so many losses. And as in all losses, the true cost is never known because it IS lost..not to be regained.

I have spoken to adults left orphaned by this disaster. Their lives, and the lives of those who took them in, were altered and invariably diminished. Being an orphan in the first half of the 20th century was not an easy thing.

If a Pandemic of this proportion struck today the world would be in an uproar.


Great Resistance From Troops Against Vaccinations:

"Camp Dodge, Iowa, May 1.—Elmer N. Olson, of Goodrich, Minn., a soldier in training here, refused to submit to vaccination. He was tried by general court-martial and sentenced to fifteen years in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth."

1918-19 Influeza in Great Britain: survivor statement as an adult.

In early 1919 my father, not yet demobilized, came on one of his regular, probably irregular, furloughs to Carisbrook Street to find both my mother and sister dead. The Spanish Influenza pandemic had struck Harpurhey. There was no doubt of the existence of a God: only the supreme being could contrive so brilliant an afterpiece to four years of unprecedented suffering and devastation. I apparently, was chuckling in my cot while my mother and sister lay dead on a bed in the same room.

Winston Churchill:

on the Influenza Epidemic of 1890

“For though it ravaged far and wide

Both village, town and countryside,

Its power to kill was o’er;

And with the favouring winds of Spring

(Blest is the time of which I sing)

It left our native shore.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Day Bud Killed the Goose

On the Sundays of my childhood the table was always stretched to the limit with extra plates and extra people, neighbors, stray relatives, kids kicked out by their more discerning parents, friends and often the unsuspecting prey of one of my older siblings.

On these occasions the menu was expanded to surpass the ordinary weekly suppers of meatloaf, beans and ham, tuna and noodles, goulash etc. This added Sunday touch usually meant a trip to the back yard for somebody, hatchet in hand, to do in a chicken or two or even on rare occasions a duck. They were quickly scalded, plucked had a little cold water run over them and popped into the skillet if young enough and if not, sentenced to serve considerable time in the oven. This kind of menu, with Mom’s biscuits and gravy and anything scrounged from our ill-cared-for garden, could be stretched a long way and always was.

Not a member of our family reached adulthood without acquiring the skill to look at a platter of chicken, mathematically determine the number of pieces divided by the members of the board, so to speak, and know without asking how many pieces or what piece would be their lot. The old saying ”I get the neck of the chicken..” did not come out of thin air. Merle and I generally got the wings.

The day Bud, the newest and, on this occasion most unfortunate, member of our coterie of friends, was charged with killing the goose, I was very uneasy. In the first place I was sorry to kill the goose, even if we had worked our way through all the chickens for the year. He was not a bad old goose and liked to follow me and my brother around. I would miss him.

And then Bud was a novice at goose killing. That worried me a little. To me, even with his sleeves rolled up, Bud looked awfully dressed up for goose killing. He was not and never became, a country boy. He came courting in the dress of the day, that is a white dress shirt, neat grey slack pants and shiny brown oxford’s. I sure hoped he wouldn’t get goose blood on his good shoes.

But what I should have been worrying about was my brother, Merle. Merle was what you might call accident prone.

The goose was easy to catch. Like everything else in the backyard in hopes of handouts better than their regular fair of dried up grass hoppers, half cracked walnuts and June bug grubs, he followed anyone who made the mistake of going out there. He never seemed to catch on to the Sunday dinner thing.

With Merle in the lead and the goose under his arm we angled down the path, through the weeds, to the spot where the chickens were generally killed. There past the cinder pile and under the walnut tree was a big rock.

The general run of things was that someone would hold the victims legs while someone else stretched the neck out over the rock and someone else swung and whacked. Miraculously on rare occasions, if pressed for time, Mother was able to single handedly do the deed and be scalding and plucking in half the time. But for the rest of us it took three people. It was not a pretty sight and I don’t think any of the victims liked it.

I know Bud didn’t. I don’t think Bud had ever killed anything in his life and I’m sure he never did again. His mistake was he was just not forceful enough! His first whack missed completely causing Merle’s hand to slip on the goose’s squirming neck. Just as he was taking a second swing Merle let go to get a better grip, just in time to get his thumb in the way.

Missed the goose the thumb. Blood spurted..not goose blood..all over the shiny shoes. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to cuss and said “Damn, Bud.”

I glanced up to see if he was mad about the blood thing or the cussing thing and he didn’t look mad but his face was whiter than the goose. I think he would have passed out if he hadn’t been afraid of falling on top of the goose and Merle’s bloody thumb.

Merle sucked on his thumb and hollered, “Hit him again” and Bud did and the goose was dead, or at least trying to be. He was harder to catch dead than he had been alive..flopping around in the tall grass.

Merle finally got hold of him and we hung him up to bleed out before taking him in to Mom. Merle stayed with the goose but I felt like Bud needed someone worse than the goose did at that point. Anyway, he let me hold his hand all the way to the house.

He continued to date my sister and turned out to be a great brother-in-law. We loved him dearly. After all, you can't hold one little accident against a person.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Airport Patdowns

Maybe because I don't have a dog in this fight and seldom fly I am thinking we are feeling sorry for the wrong people for the wrong reasons here! There are two people involved in these little docudramas, the "pattor" and the "pattee"!

The next time you find yourself in the boarding call waiting area look around at your fellow travelers and pick at least three whom you would like to stand face-to-face with and whose armpit, cleavage and crotch you would be willing to stick your hand into, even if it was gloved.

I'm not surprised that some travelers, finding this procedure embarrassing and degrading, are in revolt. I'm also not surprised that the pattors are not. They cannot afford to revolt. They need the job.

So I guess my sympathy leans toward the pattor charged with conducting the pat downs in the face of crappy verbal abuse, jokes that would make you cringe and the contempt of people who ought to know better...or at least behave better.