It was February in the Tennessee mountains when cold air seeped under windows while children buried themselves deep beneath quilts to find warmth. The trees were bare against a gray winter sky as death loomed around every corner.
It was 1920, and World War I was finally over but not the killing. The Spanish Flu traveled home with weary soldiers and targeted the most vulnerable. Within two years, 500 million people worldwide were infected, and 50 million of those died. In the existing 48 United States alone, over 678,000 succumbed to the illness.
Rose rolled scatter rugs in front of her doors to stop the drafts and stoked the fire while she watched flames leap up the chimney. Her husband was deathly pale and shaking with fever when she heard her smallest child, Bertha Nell, cry out for her mother. Rose ran to her toddlers’ bed to find her daughter hot to the touch as fear gripped her soul.
Before that February’s end, both Rose’s husband and daughter lay beneath the earth in the old cemetery in Monterey, Tennessee.
My father was a small boy at the time his family endured such pain. He and his three other siblings survived, but until the day Dad left this earth, he cried each time he visited Bertha Nell’s little lamb-topped tombstone in that old cemetery.
It is the year 2020, 100 years later, and a pandemic is again invading our lives. We are scared, and we should be. There is no such thing as being too overprotective or over-cautious. Just as with the cases of flu between 1918 and 1920, when there were no drugs or vaccines to protect those who contracted the new disease. The H1N1 variant of 1918 was highly contagious as it drove small children, young adults, and folks over 65 to graves across the world.
The COVID-19 of 2020 also is new, virulent, with no drugs or vaccines to combat the spread of its killing tentacles. What is different is information and how it is spread through the media.
We are informed, and we must listen. We have the NIH, the CDC, the Public Health Service, and large companies joining our government to declare war on a vicious foreign enemy we cannot see. We know what we must do to not allow it to kill 50 million people, but only if we follow the guidelines.
We must put aside our politics or blame. Some folks will point fingers and stir emotional pots, but what use is it to do so? It seems the evil new coronavirus does not care about such trivialities. Its aim is to destroy life.
Every human being on earth needs to understand we all need to pick up our collective swords to fight and keep our eyes on the real enemy.
If you are a parent of a Millennial and they are not following guidelines to avoid the spread, put them in a corner. My friend’s son, John, is the father of two young children who live close to their grandparents.
“John, when are you all coming to visit this week and have dinner?” she asked her son.
“Mom, as much as all of us wish to see you as we usually do, I cannot expose you to a virus our family might unknowingly carry. It’s too big of a risk. Even though we might want your help, you and Dad’s health are more important than our desires.”
With both John and his wife working from home with small kids in tow, they could use the aid, but what is more important?
When we think of others before our wants or inconveniences, we become the bearers of unselfish love. And that, my friends, is how we survive.
We, like Rose, will survive the harsh sting of disease and the grief it causes. We will work again, restore our lives, and find the strength to do so. Rose continued to raise four children after death seeped into her home that February in 1920. She never remarried, worked a myriad of jobs across Tennessee, moving her growing brood with her.
She would face the Great Depression, another World War, and live on to tell us tales of survival and genuine, unselfish love. She would play old hymns on her pump organ and laugh with her friends and family. I was only 10 when my grandmother’s heart finally had given all it could.
In those 10 short years, I learned through those countless stories, and incredibly strong people, to love with unselfish devotion.
I return to the mountains yearly, and as I pass by the little lamb-topped tombstone in the old cemetery, a tear always falls to the earth below.