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.

 

Locked Doors

“Why do you always start the car and lock the doors before you open the garage door?” Loved-One asks me.

“It’s because of what happened to Mrs. Bowman.”

When I was a little girl, the Bowmans bought an acre of land from Dad and built a little house there. Mr. Bowman worked at Ma Bell with Dad.  Mrs. Bowman worked at Ma Bell, too, but not the way the men did.

Dad and Mr. Bowman wore Carhartts to work in the winter and drove trucks and climbed poles to fix the lines.  Sometimes they crawled under houses and down coal chutes.

Mrs. Bowman wore church dresses to work and earrings and kitten heels.  I might have thought she was going to church, ‘cept no pretty hat. You always wore a pretty hat to church.

I guessed Mrs. Bowman didn’t have any kids when she first lived next door to us, cuz I never knew a mom that worked.  Well, Mom worked, but not after she had two kids.  I heard her tell Mrs. Bowman that she tried to work when Deanna was a baby, but it was too hard.

“At work I had a calendar with a schedule, and I had things I had to do, and they got done,” I heard her tell Mrs. Bowman.  “At home, every day was a new day.  No matter how hard I try to keep things on a plan…”. Her voice got sort of lonesome. “Well, it’s just too frustrating to try to control the chaos that comes with children.”

Mrs. Bowman nodded and sipped her coffee and looked at the floor.  Maybe she tried to keep her mind and eyes off all the chaos.

I heard Mom and Dad talking about something that happened to Mrs. Bowman on her way to work.  She opened the garage door and was heading for the car when somebody grabbed her.  She managed to push him off by stabbing him with her keys.  She jumped in her car super fast and locked all the doors.  I guess it was lucky she had long arms and didn’t drive a van like we did. Mrs. Bowman was so scared she just drove off and left the garage door wide open.

“Can you imagine that happening way out here where everyone knows each other?” Mom said.

“Just goes to show, you never can tell.”

“I’m going to put another sign on the door that says, ‘There’s six kids in here and they all have the chicken pox,” Mom said.  “That’ll keep any sane person away.”

Later on, Mrs. Bowman had three kids: Scott, Sandy, and Mark.  Scott was just the same age as Loren Dee-Dee-Bopper, so come to think of it, he must’ve been a born when the Bowmans moved next door.  Scott decided to drink some Draino and got asthma from it.  Mom said he was lucky to be alive and why would a kid drink something so horrid. By the time Mark came along, Mrs. Bowman decided to stay home with all the chaos and stop working. Bonita and I were old enough to babysit whenever Mr. and Mrs. Bowman went out to the show or to the beer garden.

I liked to read Mr. Bowmans science fiction magazines after the kids went to bed. I stories gave me the heebie-jeebies, and sometimes I dreamed about pear-shaped men hanging from dead trees, like in one of the stories I read.

Bonita and Adela

Once Bonita got a phone call when she was babysitting.

“Do you want a truck?” the caller said.

“You’ll have to call back later,” Bonita said.

“I said, do you want a truck?”

“I’m just the babysitter.  You’ll have to call back later.”

“I wanna know if you want a truck.”  Bonita told me the guy was getting sorta mad.

“I can’t answer you. Call back later.”

That’s when Bonita realized the frustrated man was not saying truck, but something that rhymed with truck.  She told me she could feel all the blood drain out of her face and she hung up with a bang.

I heard Mrs. Bowman tell Mom that I was so good with her kids because I liked to play with them.  Mom said I was still a kid myself, that’s why.  I remember thinking that I was never going to forget what it was like to be a kid and playing with kids is the most fun ever. How could anyone forget what it was like to be one?

After a while the Bowmans moved to Arizona on account of Scott’s asthma.  Mrs. Bowman said the dry air was super good for her curly hair, too.  She never had the frizzies like she did in Michigan.

It’s funny how one little question Loved-one asked brought back so many memories.   Bonita and I still laugh how she frustrated an obscene caller.  I never forgot what it’s like to be a kid. (Well, maybe the tough part has faded a bit.) Loren still keeps in touch with his childhood friend, Scott.

All the tripping down memory lane got me thinking about how the things one person says and does can have impact for a long time. I’m sure Mrs. Bowman has no idea how much I remember her or how much her words and actions stuck with me.  And I’ll bet Mr. Bownman never realized that he turned one little girl into a science fiction fan.

I’ll bet neither Mom nor Mrs. Bowman would ever guess that one overheard conversation would make a little girl make a promise to herself to never forget what it’s like to be a child.

Who has an impact on you like the Bowman’s did on me?  Do you ever think about looking them up and saying thank you?

Uncle Kenny, that’s Ken to you.

When I was a little girl I spent a lot of time at Grandpa and Grandma Z’s house. Aunt Annie was just a little girl. Uncle Kenny was almost a grownup. Aunt Annie L-O-V-E, loved Deanna. Uncle Kenny was my pal. He was my godfather, too.

I don’t remember that much about Uncle Ken from when I was a little girl, but Grandma Z told me lots of stories and so did Mom. Maybe it was Uncle Kenny’s wedding that I went to with the shiner as big as my Mom’s fist. Of course it wasn’t that big when the wedding came, but still big enough for me to be the center of attention. That was fun.

Grandma told me Uncle Kenny was a bald baby, just like I was. And it took him a while to start talking, just like Vickie. She didn’t want anyone to know he was bald, because then people would think he was a Moron. So she cut a piece of her own hair and sewed it to the inside of his baby bonnet. Just a wisp of a curl sticking out at the front, so people wouldn’t know baby Kenny was bald.

Mom told me Uncle Kenny was a pipsqueak all through high school. I couldn’t even imagine him being small. I guess he grew so fast Continue reading

Wake up World, It’s Easter Again

When I was a little girl, waking up Easter Morning was the second best time of the year for me.  Right between Christmas morning and the First Day of School.  The night before, we put our Easter Baskets by the front door, and in the morning they were gone, hidden somewhere in the house.  Anticipation of the goodness waiting for me, if I just searched hard enough, made my stomach jittery like too much coffee does now.

Forty days and forty nights ago, all the statues and the crucifix got covered in purple cloth and the little bowls of holy water at the back of the church got emptied.  I thought I’d never remember to forget about blessing myself when I came in and out of church; no point with an empty blessing-cup.  Finally, no holy water was normal and then comes Easter morning:  Surprise, everything is changed again;  bright and wonderful.  At church, it was glorious ’cause everything was like brand new.

Easter was when I got to put on my new hat, and the brand new dress Mom made just for Easter. All the girls and women had on new straw hats, with flowers in the ribbon, and the dresses looked like a field of flowers: pink tulips, red roses, yellow daffodils, and purple hyacinths.  Starched stiff, with bows tied straight across behind all the girls dresses, just like we were freshly wrapped presents.  Even Father looked like sunshine with his white vestment embroidered with a crucifix across the whole front and back with golden rays of sun just a-shooting out of it.

The whole church was full of Easter Lilies, and the  two sets of three candles were lit on the altar, not just the one lonely candles on each side like all during Lent.  Most of the time, I held my breath when the my friend Mike’s big brother Bob, who was an altar boy, came out to light the candles.  Girls couldn’t be altar boys, ’cause only boys can get to be priest, that’s another one of those rules.  I guess when he was building the church and making up the rules about who could run things, Peter forgot all about the Marys and Veronica, who stayed right by Jesus when he got tortured and nailed on the cross and died.  Mom said that a smart woman lets the man think he’s running things, ’cause then his feelings don’t get hurt.  That was another one I had a hard time catching on to, like keeping my lip zipped.

All during Lent, just one candle on each side got lit, that was a low mass:  pretty quick.  If three candles got lit on each side:  high mass, never during Lent.  High mass meant gobs  of singing in Latin, on and on, Ed come spur tutu, oh and dominoes Nabisco, until I thought it would never end.  I thought it was polite how Bob sent out a little signal with the candles like that, then I knew whether I had to get ready for the long haul with a bunch of day-dreaming.   On Easter, right behind the gospel side of church, stood a brand-new-taller-than-me Pascal candle, which Bob had to reach way up on tip toes to light.

On Easter it was always high mass, except it seemed like it was so long ago that Father did a high mass that all that singing, one note over and over, then everyone changing it up a bit all at the same time like they learned to sing that way when they were still up in heaven before they got born, made my stomach feel all relaxed and happy, like after having a cup of hot chocolate.

The singing, all the hallalulias and hosannas, and the bell ringing  for the high mass just got me reminded how empty all of Lent was, and now it was like everything woke up and came alive, just like Jesus did.  God sure picked a good time to make the most super-duper miracle of all, ’cause the whole world was just like a big rock got rolled back and rose from the dead.

Happy Easter Everyone.

Fighting the Weasel Monster

I posted this back in 2010.  Yesterday, a small cat crossed in front of the car.  She had short little legs that made her almost slink.  If it weren’t for the slight calico markings on her dark coat, I might have thought she was a weasel.  Mom and  the weasel popped into my head and I started to laugh.  

When I was a little girl, I lived in a big house full of mysteries.  The windows had shutters operated by ropes inside the house, except paint made the ropes stick and there was one window which had shutters that never opened.  I could only see the shuttered window from the outside, so sometimes on rainy days, I searched the inside, looking for the secret window.  The basement floor was dirt, and sometimes animals like moles would make their way into the house.  Once a skunk got in there and got scared, and woke us all up in the middle of the night to a dreadful smell.   There always seemed to be places to explore and mysteries to contemplate in that house.

The bottom corner of each bedroom door had a half-circle of wood missing. Maybe  a hungry wood-eating monster took a bite out of each door.  Mom said squirrels lived in the house before we moved there because  the house was empty for a while.   I tried hard to imagine that house empty, no one there at all, and it seemed impossible, my house was a house that needed noise.   Continue reading