throwback thursday

1971-2 ~ Barbara, 9th grade

Adolescent angst captured in a sketch by my art teacher, whose name I have long forgotten… Still sorting through the boxes of stuff from my parents and grandparents…

Do you have any memories of the 1968 flu pandemic?

I have finished reading a book on the 1918 flu pandemic and was surprised to learn that there have been two flu pandemics since 1918 and both of them were in my lifetime. The 1918 flu was caused by the H1N1 virus. Another pandemic in 1957, the year I was born, was caused by the H2N2 virus. And in 1968, what we called the Hong Kong flu at the time, H3N2, happened when I was 11 years old.

The 1968 pandemic killed an estimated one to four million people worldwide. I had no idea! We haven’t got to one million deaths from COVID-19 yet, though it seems likely we will soon. Did my parents protect me from this news as it was happening? They weren’t shielding me from news about the Vietnam War…

It was the “Hong Kong” flu, though, because that’s what everyone was saying we had. For Christmas vacation in 1968 we (parents, sister and I) drove from Connecticut to Florida, picking up a couple of widowed aunts along the way, to spend the holidays with another aunt and uncle at their mobile home in Fort Myers, Florida. (I think some more relatives might have been staying in nearby motels. Not sure that all of us could have slept in a two bedroom mobile home.) But that is where and when we all came down with it.

All of us, except one, a 26-year-old cousin who kept harping on the “fact” that he wasn’t sick because he took lots of vitamin C. My sickbed was an air mattress in the living room so I wasn’t spared his endless crowing and the groaning, moaning, miserable grown-ups telling him over and over again to shut up. And that is my only memory of that Christmas and that pandemic.

I wonder how terrified I might have been had I known so many were dying.

Tomorrow we break out of our bubble to get our yearly flu shots. It seems worth the risk. Instead of wandering into CVS and waiting around, we had to make appointments and have been instructed to wait in the car until we are called in for our turns. Feeling jittery.

20 thoughts on “throwback thursday”

  1. Barbara, I was born in 1944, and I too have NO recollection from pandemies before this.How strange! I remember the swine flu – and the foot-and-mouth disease – and ebola – but they seem to be more local.
    That scetch of you – very tender. She must have liked you 🙂

    1. My granddaughter picked up hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) at her daycare and gave it to her father (my son-in-law) a few years ago. But I see now that’s not the same as foot-and-mouth disease, which I am not familiar with. Ebola sounds so terrifying.

      Leelah, I do remember liking my art teacher, too, even though I was totally self-absorbed at that age. 🙂 I gave the picture to my mother who kept it hanging in her study for the rest of her life.

  2. If you think about it, there were a lot less news outlets then. It seems as though things get tracked and reported on obsessively these days. People were more sensible then. Yes, with a death rate that high I imagine fear would have been palpable.
    I don’t remember hearing about that one at all either~I would have been 5 at the time. We lived in the Pacific Northwest, always in sparsely populated areas, so we may well have been isolated from it.

    The drawing is lovely. I agree, she must have liked you. 🙂

    1. That’s true, Melissa, for my parents, there was only the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite. The Vietnam war and the protests against it seem to be what I remember most vividly about those broadcasts. It makes me wonder, though, if that flu was so contagious and deadly, why people weren’t quarantining then as they are now?

      Thank you for liking the sketch. 🙂 I’m glad my mother kept it safe for me all those years. It’s bittersweet remembering the things I was feeling at the time.

  3. I was born the same year as you, but I don’t remember anything about the Hong Kong flu, although I have later gotten information about it. Any pandemic is scary, like the one we experience right now. Take care.

    1. It’s such a primal fear that pandemics kindle. And then there are those who don’t have enough sense to be afraid and take so many needless risks. I’m waiting to see how people behave during this holiday weekend over here. Stay safe, Otto!

  4. The sketch of you is really lovely and one I’m sure you treasure, even if you can’t remember your teacher’s name.

    In Australia we have been protected, due to our island isolation, from most pandemics throughout history. I know Australia was badly hit by the Spanish ‘flu 100 years ago when approximately 15,000 people died. Up until Covid though, I have no memory of any other outbreaks of disease, other than the usual chicken pox and measles, and now we have vaccinations against both of them too.

    Take care leaving your bubble. xxx

    1. Thank you, Joanne. Thank goodness for vaccinations! But sadly, we have a troublesome “anti-vax” movement here in this country and have had terrible measles outbreaks as a result. Sigh.

      So we showed up for our appointments yesterday and waited in the car to be called in. Finally Tim went inside and found a sign on the clinic door saying it would be opening late. ??? Why didn’t they call us? We could have been sitting there in the parking lot all day. So we came home and made appointments with our doctors for next week. We’ll have to travel a little farther but it will be worth it to not have to play games with the seemingly unreliable clinic.

  5. That is a very nice drawing – you look deep in thought. I was born in 1956 and all I remember from that 1968 flu pandemic was having to go to the Wayne County Health Department, to a special building set up just for administering the shots. Funny, just today I recalled going there with my parents because I heard on the news that agencies have no idea how the shots will be distributed, where/how they will be administered, etc. since they’ve never dealt with this before and they may lack manpower to do so. That makes me wonder why they don’t use CVS or Walgreen or grocery stores to administer the vaccine? Good luck leaving your bubble Barbara – it is worth it to ensure you are covered against the flu.

    1. Thank you, Linda. Did they have flu shots in 1968? I remember standing in line with my mother and sister at a very young age to get my sugar cube vaccine at the VFW. I think it was for polio? They are using CVS and Walgreens here in Connecticut, that’s where we tried to go. (See above comment.) That’s where we’ve gone every year but we didn’t need an appointment in the past. I’m not sure what the problem was yesterday. I will have to work up the courage to leave my bubble again next week. Who knew getting a flu shot would be so complicated! The things we take for granted…

      1. Barbara – we did go for the flu shot for the Hong Kong Flu which was in 1968. We had to go to the Department of Health which had several different government buildings, not necessarily the regular Department of Health Buildings, to get that shot. I can remember going with my parents and we lined up. Went after my father got home from work and me from school, so early evening – it was crowded. I do remember getting the sugar cube vaccine for polio at the doctor’s office and I used to like those sugar cubes as I had a pediatrician who was not “kid friendly” and I swear that he got some kind of joy of giving vaccination shots and jabbing me. If I squirmed in the least, he would scold me. And the tongue depressor he used … he would be nasty if I squirmed for that too. He was not a nice pediatrician, but I guess was highly recommended. I can remember having a TB shot or test too – it was something pressed into your arm and was round with small needles in it. I lived in Canada until age 10, so that might have been in Canada.

        That’s interesting about needing to have an appointment – I am on Obamacare and I have to go to CVS for my flu shot but I never had to make an appointment before. That is annoying indeed that you have to return – I have heard, however, that it is better to wait until the end of September/first of October this year to ensure you are covered later in the Spring in the event a vaccine for COVID-19 is not perfected. I generally always went mid-September before. I go to the allergist once per month for allergy shots – I have been on immunotherapy for hay fever, dust, mold for years. He does offer the flu shot but it is not covered by my Obamacare to go there – to be honest, maybe I would check on the price to get it done there … one-stop shopping. I say that because, since the pandemic my allergist no longer has walk-in hours to get your shots. You don’t see the doctor –
        just the “shot girl” who gives you your shots. Now you must schedule an appointment to get the shots, and only one person in the waiting room at a time.
        I try to go on all errands in one day if at all possible. The least amount of time I am out with crowds the better to be honest.

        1. Interesting how different things can be in different places. I never got a flu shot until I was in my 50s. I remember another time three of the five of us had the flu in 1988, when I was 31 and the kids were small. I wound up with pneumonia.

          I remember those TB tests when I was a child, we got those at school.

          I never had to make an appointment at CVS before this year – this is new to keep the number of people inside the store at a minimum because of COVID-19. I suspect life will never be quite the same after this pandemic.

          1. Since I have been getting allergy shots since 1975, my allergist offered flu shots way back then, long before grocery stores and drugstores began doing that service. As long as you did not have an allergy to eggs, you could get the flu shot. I would not have thought to make an appointment first for a flu shot at CVS as it has always been walk-in only. I’ve never had a severe flu to put the vaccine to the test, but my late mom got a bad cold when I brought a cold home from work and it turned into a mild case of pneumonia. I suspect you are correct – even with a vaccine,, things will not be the same going forward.

  6. There was flu pandemic in 1968? News to me. Next week we’re going to do the same as you about the flu shots. I figure it’s wise to get one before there’s a resurgence in Covid-19 now that the schools are in session around here. Still…

    1. 🙂 You were blissfully unaware and unaffected, Ally. Take care when you leave your bubble next week ~ I hope your quest will prove to be more successful than ours was! I’m nervous about the schools opening here, too. My sister teaches at the local college and has to get tested twice a week…

  7. Good morning, Barbara. The picture of you looks so thoughtful and inward. It’s interesting that you relate it to the angst you were feeling doing those years (which probably many of us were feeling during those teenage times). VERY interesting about those two pandemics. I didn’t know about them, either. It makes me wonder if perhaps this focus to the current pandemic is overdoing it (although most of me doesn’t think of it that way, as we will soon have 200,000 deaths in the US this month). I know if does have positive values, because it’s keeping us cautious, especially those who are compromised. Wondering if many of the people in those people died of the Hong Kong flu in the US. Will go look it up. It says 33,800. The 1957 flu it says 116,000 in 57 and 58. So VERY glad you and your family survived that flu in 1967! Have no idea if any of us had it…

    1. Hi Kathy! I suppose most teens do suffer from angst, even though it feels very unique to oneself at the time. I remember thinking, “why me?” when my teacher sat down across the table from me and started sketching. How did I get to be so interesting? The idea that she liked me, as Leelah and Melissa suggested, never crossed my mind.

      33,800 flu deaths in 1968 doesn’t seem as bad as the 188,000 COVID-19 deaths so far in 2020. Thanks for looking that up. Perspective. Now they’re predicting over 400,000 in the US by the end of the year. So far the models have wound up underestimating the numbers. It seems like the worst is yet to come. We’re definitely staying in our bubble until the coast is clear!!!

      1. Yes, isn’t it weird that the angst felt so unique to us, like we were the only ones feeling that way? I like what your commenters suggested. Obviously she was intrigued and interested by you. As for staying put, it does sound like a good idea. I am starting to ache to see the kids though…sigh….

        1. I know what you mean about missing the kids… And for me, the grandkids, too… Yesterday I was in the shower when my granddaughter, who will be 6 years old this month, called, and left a message saying she missed me. I was ready to drive to North Carolina right then and there, but common sense finally prevailed…

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