Alice slumped into her rocker. She was exhausted. How was she supposed to maintain a semblance of normalcy in a world turned upside down? She had no answer. The best she could do was to carry on, trudge forward, and accept the reality of this new world.
She worked another 10-hour shift. She had worked six days in a row. Her body ached, her hands cramped, and she was mentally fatigued.
None of that mattered. Alice knew she needed to be here for her three children. She was all they had.
On her way home from work, she stopped at a local grocer and purchased potatoes, bread, and cheese. She would reheat the leftover cabbage from yesterday.
She went to her room and changed from her work clothes. Alice was covered head to toe, including a cloth mask she had made. She had made masks for her children as well.
The first wave of the pandemic had been bad, but nothing like it would become. At first, the virus targeted babies, the elderly, the sick, and infirm. Those who were most susceptible.
When the first wave passed, Alice thought the worst was over. Little did she know. It would get worse. By the time the third wave hit, almost 18 months later, the virus had changed. It was more virulent. It resisted the vaccines and serums developed for the first wave.
In the first wave, she lost her mother. Her father had passed several years earlier. Her mother was 63-years old and not in the best shape. It should’ve come as no surprise. Regardless — it hurt.
The second wave took her husband. It was unexpected. He was strong as an ox, healthy, and only 42-years old. It still hurt.
The third wave was sinister. It targeted young people. People in their twenties would show signs of the disease in the morning and be gone by nightfall. They died because of their healthy immune system. Their immune systems worked so well that their lungs filled with white blood cells. They drowned in their immune response. She lost her eldest son. He was 22. He was in college, the first in the family. It would always hurt.
There was not time to feel sorry for herself. She had a job to do. She had three children to protect. Three children to save. She went to the kitchen to cook.
“No, Robert, we have discussed this, you are not going out to play with friends. It is too dangerous. If you cannot get this straight in your mind for me, then do it in the memory of your older brother. Tell me — if William were alive, what would he tell you to do?”
Looking down , Robert answered, “He would say stay in.”
Alice looked at Robert with understanding. She tried to take his mind away from the conversation. “Robert gather up your little brother and sister and then fetch the Rook deck. We will play a game or two while I cook. Did you see I got your favorite cheese?”
They played cards, ate, and then she sat in her chair to read the evening news. It puzzled her how the president of the United States seemed to be unaware of the reality of the virus. She wished she had a moment of his time. He had not lost a mother, a husband, and a son.
There was an article on the front page about the big event planned for next month. They expected more than 200,000 people. John Hopkins University tried to convince the mayor it was dangerous to hold the event. He was not listening. He denied that the virus was a threat. He stated that illness was not any more dangerous than “old-fashioned influenza.” He was wrong.
She called Robert to put another log on the fire. It was cold for late September. She folded the newspaper and placed it on the table next to her. This had been the worst year of her life. She hoped next year would be better. A new beginning. Maybe 1919 would be a happier year.
I based this story on the Spanish Flu of 1918. The third wave targeted young, healthy people. 20 to 30-year old were the hardest hit.
President Wilson seemed unconcerned about the pandemic and time after time putting civilians and troops in harm’s way. He was focused on WWI even though the flu incapacitated more than one million American soldiers, and killed more than 30,000 American troops.
The event I mentioned was a parade held in Philadelphia on September 28, 1918. It was a bond drive soliciting contributions for WWI. More than 200,000 people attended. John Phillip Sousa was the headline performer. “Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled. In the week ending October 5, some 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died from the flu or its complications. A week later, that number rose to more than 4,500.” — Smithsonian — Philadelphia Threw a WWI Parade That Gave Thousands of Onlookers the Flu.
You’d think we’d learn.