Quarantine in the Old Days

All this “shelter in place” got me thinking about how diseases were back when I was a little girl.  Mostly I feel sorry for Mom because she “sheltered in place” for months at a time.

Once, when I was in kindergarten, I fell asleep during rest time.

Everybody had to bring a rug to school at the beginning of the year, and right before we left for the day, we had a 20 minute rest.  Nobody fell asleep, that was for babies.  I had a hard time even keeping me eyes shut, like I was supposed to.

Once, I did fall asleep, and the high schoolers came in a peered down at me like they wanted to say, “Dontcha know this is our room now?  Scram!”

Teacher pretty much said it for me and I high-tailed it out of there and got on my bus.  I leaned my head against the cold window and just watched the trees go by until it was my turn to get off.  For some reason, I had no interest in talking to anyone, not even Betty who was my best friend on the bus.

As soon as Mom saw me, she pulled up my dress and looked at my belly.

“Chicken Pox,” she said in that same kind of voice she has when she catches me licking the frosting off the edge of the cake before suppertime.

Mom took my temperature and covered all the bumps with calamine lotion.  Deanna had the Chicken Pox just a while ago.  She finally got to go back to school after two weeks home covered with scabby, scratchy sores.

I was in for two whole weeks of going no where until every single scab disappeared.  Man-o-man, that was the worse.  No school.  Lucky for me, Mom had Lad a Dog, from the Book


Mobile, and she read to me every day when the little kids were napping and I wasn’t sleeping or watching Ding Dong School or Captain Kangeroo.  Mom was the best reader in the world.  She could really make a story come alive.  When she got to the end, and Lad had to choose between the crotchety old man and the boy, we both cried.

After I got back to school, Bonita got the Chicken Pox.  She had sores all over, even in her mouth and in her front butt.  She cried and cried.  Mom did, too.  Mom read Black Beauty to Bonita. Maybe she was too young to know that was a super-duper sad book, cuz she never cried about that at all, just about how itchy and sore she was.

After Bonita healed up, Vickie broke out.  Then Loren-dee-dee-bopper, who was just a baby back then. He didn’t even know how to scratch, so he just rubbed his face around on the crib mattress and cried a lot and got snot all over his face.  He couldn’t understand any books, so Mom only sang to him and rocked him in the squeaky chair.

All that time, Mom couldn’t go anywhere.  Mrs. R brought Nancy and Doug over to play with us, so they could catch the Chicken Pox and get it over.  Mrs. S said Betty got them on her own, so she stayed home about the same time I did.

All in all, Mom stayed at home over 10 weeks.  After Julie, Frankie, Marcia, and Johnnie were born, she went through it all over again, with them.  Kids had to stay home until every single pox was gone, not just until they scabbed over.

Mom told me we all held off getting sick until the last day of incubation. “You’d think you’d all get sick at once,” she told me when I had kids of my own.

She went through the same thing with Mumps and Measles.  Each of getting sick, 10-14 days after the last one did.

“It seemed like there were years when I was in forced isolation,” she told me the other day.

The Governor proclaimed an emergency about six weeks ago.  It seems like forever.  Not to Mom.  She’s seasoned at isolation.   She reminds me that it could be a lot worse.  She lived through times when the Health Department nailed signs to houses, quarantining whole families, and their dogs.  No one could go in or out. We talked about the dire consequences of some disease, like heart disease (thematic fever,) paralyzation (polio,) sterilization (mumps,) and even death.

The Governor extended the order until the end of May.  I’m drawing on Mom’s experience and strength to get me through.  Her inspiration has served me well for most of my life.

Oh, yeah, and I’m relying on books to get me. through, too.  Right now I’m reading The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli and I’m listening to Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People, recommended by my littlest brother.


6 thoughts on “Quarantine in the Old Days

    • Thanks Diane. I’m told that saying, “It could be worse,” is not comforting to people in times of crisis. Yet, when I think of some of the things my parents went through, I take heart. I can do this. They did. And more.

  1. I’m of the age of childhood illnesses and quarantines and “chicken pox parties” where, if one kid got it, everyone else brought their kids over so they could be exposed. Measles, mumps, the fear of polio that came in the summer and closed municipal pools as the heat got unbearable…yes, mothers had it way harder. A co worker, who is one of seven kids, claims all seven of them got the chicken pox at once. Yes, there are worse things than your kids getting it one at a time.

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