No more will I poke fun at people who wear surgical masks on public transportation, or those who eschew the hug or handshake of peace at church, preferring the elbow bump, so popular a couple of years ago when flu was rampant.

Remember? Hand sanitizers appeared everywhere–at the public library, at a front pew at my Episcopal church, and in the hallways at the college where I teach. I kept a pump dispenser of Purel on the desk in my faculty office. I washed my hands  so any times a day that it called to mind Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, the one that my Hamilton Junior High eighth grade teacher, Miss Ruth Magill, made us memorize.

Looks like I fell down on the job this year. So, confined to quarters for the past four days (and it probably wasn’t a good idea  to teach that long late afternoon seminar class on Thursday), I’ve been reading about influenza, between naps, making myself cups of herbal tea, and watching reruns of Law and Order: SVU, which after a while lose their appeal, as the sameness becomes not addictive but, well boring, just like being home with the flu.

Influenza, from the Italian for “influence.”  The word, and the  concept, come  from astrology; the illness was believed to result from evil forces the planets exerted on our fragile earth.  It’s a wonder the infectious disease  establishment hasn’t bestowed a fancier name on it, divorced from the movements and magnetism of the planets. Europeans brought it to the Americas–another blot on the explorers we were taught to revere, back in elementary school. Thanks for nothing, Christopher Columbus, said the indigenous peoples of the Antilles.

Funny that nobody in my extended family, and especially not my maternal grandmother who loved to tell tales of woe with great dramatic flourish, every spoke of the great flu pandemic of 1918. My other was six years old that year and living with her father, her two older half-sisters,  and her paternal grandmother. I doubt they had good medical care, and my mother often remarked that healthful meals were a rarity  at  their Baltimore Avenue flat in Cumberland.

City flat in the 1910’s, possibly no “modern conveniences,”–back them,  the Cumberland Times For Rent ads used this delicate term to denote indoor plumbing– short supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. And bed bugs—my mother swore there were bedbugs. One would think influenza would  have cut a swath through the crowded flats. No family tales of pneumonia, either.

But it seemed no one in the Morris family, or the Deans, or the Spigelmires, died from influenza, or even got laid low by that virulent strain, or else I’d have heard about it.(If any cousins out there can enlighten me, please do!)

Hope I got some of those good genes.

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