During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, I found many letters written how people felt. I decided to write one for posterity.
To my sweet angels,
The only thing I can remember similar to this at your age was living in “a polio world” in the 1950s. Birthday parties and friends were shunned less the “polio germ” lived within them or their homes. Today, you my Grandchildren are living in a different world, yet it feels like the same world. I wonder if you will remember it like I remember the years of polio.
Each day your Grandmother wakes up during this pandemic confused as to what day it is, yet somehow, none of this is a dream. Empty silent streets affirm the daily unimaginable reality show that we are all living through.
I don’t think I have felt melancholy until today, and after reading through some Facebook posts I see others are feeling the same way. I have made a great effort to think positive, even though I worry if any traces of COVID-19 have wandered into this house. Some nights I pull the sheet over my head in case the virus mysteriously hangs in the air. What if it suddenly infiltrates me making me feel like someone pulled a corset too tight? What if I never see you again? I keep forgetting I am one of those that are in the high risk group and I must be careful.
I lay my head down on top of my laptop genuinely tired. Sleep is lacking greatly at night combined with the wildest dreams I have ever had. Last night I was running an auction in some stairwell and all I could see was rows of faces sitting in old wooden Sunday School chairs on each level. Faces were glued to what I was saying– but were they listening? It reminded me of a story your Great Grandmother used to tell me.
In the 1940s a Tetanus vaccination was introduced in Canada and many parents didn’t want to have their children vaccinated. Your Great Grandmother told me that she had heard stories that a child in Dunham, Quebec had gotten the inoculation and “ended up on all fours”. There is no proof regarding that statement of hers – but I know she went down to the High School daily pleading in front of a group of seated teachers and school elders. For a month she begged them to spare her children from being vaccinated, but in the end both your Grandfather Arthur and your great Uncle Fred Jr. were inoculated.
After the inoculation Fred Jr. got sick and died 5 months later. Each day when the doctor would come down those orange stairs from the second floor he would tell your Great Grandmother that he had no clue how to help her eldest child. In 1941 Frederick Alexander Knight died at the age of 19, and the only memory that was left of him was a photo of him on the wall beside the verandah door. I have no idea what happened to that photo, and the only proof that Fred Jr. was born, lived, and died in Cowansville, Quebec is on the family gravestone that sits in the Emmanuel United Church Cemetery on Main Street in Cowansville.
There were also the occasional bats that used to fly out of hidden corners in the dead of the night in the old house. The discovery that bats caused rabies in the 1950s had increased public fear. The radio and newspapers drove your Great Grandmother to full tilt. The very transient sighting of a bat caused her to scream to keep my head down. Apparently one had gotten caught in her hair once and she didn’t want anyone to catch rabies.
Of course just like now there were conspiracy stories galore and I began to think this was one of hers. In reality, bats are not interested in flying into your hair, but they may fly close to you in search of insects. Remember that if I ever tell you that story.
Great Grammy Knight would spray her floorboards in the 50s trying to keep away any bugs that might form disease in her home. I realize today that was DDT and wonder how that generation and myself lived so long.
A hundred years ago there was something called The Spanish Flu and all your ancestors lived through it. Some survived, and some did not. But unlike your ancestors a vaccine for COVID-19 will hopefully soon be developed. Maybe our social interaction will be delayed for a while and we will have to find other ways to be together without risk.
Please remember that Facebook and Instagram can never replace the human spirit and Facetime is no substitute for being in the same room with family and friends. So all we can do now is take one hour or one day at a time and get through it smiling. Why? Because your ancestors made it through and we will too. As your Great Grandmother Mary Louise Deller Knight used to tell me:
Don’t worry my birdie, just do what you’re told and keep to the rules and you will be fine.”
She is right we will be fine– this too shall pass. I promise.
Love from your Gammy who loves you so much.
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 4b – Innisville — Coopers and “Whipping the Cat” 1860-1870
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 4e – Innisville — ‘Neighbours Furnished one Another with Fire’
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 5- Code Family– “Hawthorn Mill was a Failure, and the Same Bad Luck has Followed for at Least 50 Years”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 6- Code Family– “Almost everything of an industry trial character had vanished in Innisville in 1882”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 7- Code Family–“Thank God, no member of my family has disgraced me or the name!
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 8- Code Family– “We got a wool sack and put him inside and took him to the bridge”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 9- Code Family –“I had much trouble in saving myself from becoming a first class liar”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 10- Code Family – I conjured to myself: “You will know me later!” And Peter McLaren did.
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 11- Code Family –“I continued with bull dog tenacity for 12 years without salary”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 12- Code Family–“Had I the course to go over again I would evade outside responsibilities beyond my share, even if it cost more”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 16- Code Family-“The fish would shoot back and forth and at time hit their legs causing them to fall”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 17- Code Family–“A reaper with the sickle and danced all night”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 19- Code Family–“Michell was never known to have any money, excepting at or after tax sales”
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 20- Code Family–“Whither Are We Drifting?”– The Perth Public School
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 21- Code Family–Franktown Past and Present Reverend John May
The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 22- Code Family–Field Day at “The Hill” (McDonald’s Corners)