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.

tip of the iceberg

“A Late Riser’s Miserable Breakfast” by Carl Larsson

This is one of my favorite Carl Larsson paintings. I think it’s a combination of the appealing colors and the gentle reminder that some days just seem to start off on the wrong foot. For kids and adults!

There are 68 detected cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut now, all of them west of the Connecticut River in the western four counties, bordering New York. So far the eastern four counties, including our New London County, have no detected cases. But our state epidemiologist estimates there are 100 undetected cases for every detected case, so we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. The suspense is getting to me. How bad will it get?

It was different in the last pandemic. The Spanish flu of 1918 entered Connecticut through New London.

In Connecticut, the state’s busy ports, and particularly New London’s Navy base, provided an easy point of entry for the disease. The state’s first recorded case of influenza appeared among Navy personnel in New London on September 11, 1918. By October 25, the State Public Health Service reported 180,000 cases. It appears the outbreak, after originating in New London County, moved to Windham and Tolland Counties and then continued on south and west to New Haven, Hartford, Fairfield, and Litchfield Counties. Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury recorded the most flu fatalities in the state, but smaller towns like Derby and Windham were also hard hit by the disease, with even higher death rates per thousand than in the larger cities. The war ended in November 1918, but the flu epidemic raged on.

By February 1919, the flu had finally subsided, leaving 8,500 dead in Connecticut.

~ Tasha Caswell
(Eighty-Five Hundred Souls: the 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic in Connecticut ~ ConnecticutHistory.org)

Reading used to be my favorite occupation but in recent years I haven’t been able to do much of it because it would put me to sleep, even in the daytime. It’s been very puzzling to me why this would be so. But I think I might have finally figured it out. I keep losing my place when I finish one line of text and try to move down to the next. It was exhausting trying to focus and find the next line. Yesterday I tried holding a bookmark under the line I was reading and then moving it down to the next one. It worked! I read a whole chapter with ease! Looks like I can add reading back to my list of self-quarantine activities.

So now I am reading These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson by Martha Ackmann. It’s nice to escape from today’s reality, even if for a few hours at a time.