Saturday, 28 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Saving Lives in the Spanish Flu Pandemic

Because life right now can be pretty scary, I wrote the following for my grandkids this week.  You might find it interesting too.

A Story about How Your Great-Great Grandfather Saved Lives in the Great Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918

Once upon a time there were two little girls named Ella and Norma who lived with their mother and father in a little house on the prairie.

This is the house, and that's their mother--and your great-great grandmother Mary--leaning against the fence. Notice the sleigh: in the winter it must have been hard to get around.


Later a brother named Jack joined the girls, but in the fall of 1918--that's more than 100 years ago--there were just the two of them.




Their farm was near a town called Opheim in Montana, not far from the border with Canada. (You can see it up in the right corner of the state, just below Saskatchewan.)



Ella, who was 8, was starting her second year of school. She hadn't started school when she was six because they'd lived too far in the country for her to go to school every day. Norma, who was 4, stayed home with their mother who was named Mary. Their father, who was named John but whom everyone called Mac because his last name was MacDonald, was trying to farm the plot of land they had. But it was hard, dry country, and the farm wasn't doing well

He'd worked on the railroad until they came to Montana a year or so before.
That's him the middle next to the locomotive


But by 1918 Mac had acquired an Overland touring car and was operating a delivery and transport service all over Valley County. It was a very useful service because very few people had automobiles back then. (That's him driving it with his your great-great grandmother Mary sitting next to him, with Ella and Norma in back with a family friend.)






During the summer he carried people coming to settle in this corner of Montana from the railroad to their new homes. He also delivered supplies and building materials, and sometimes acted as a driver for doctors and people who were enforcing the law. It was hard work, and he often was away from the girls and their mother. He was always glad to come back to little house, and they were very, very glad to see him.

It wasn't an easy life for any of them, but they'd made it through the summer of 1918 and there was a certain optimism in the air. World War I had been raging in Europe, but signs pointed to a victory for the Allies.

Yet with the cooler weather came another threat: a very, very bad influenza. It had briefly sickened people in Montana the previous spring, but suddenly it was back and much more dangerous than ever. Schools were closed, people were told to stay at home, travel was restricted, businesses shut down. The two girls and Mary were more or less confined to their little house and the land surrounding it.

Mac, however, saw that many of their neighbors were very isolated, with no way to get supplies or medical help because they were living so far in the country. So he stepped up, and offered his automobile to check up on people and bring food to those who were running out. He also ferried doctors to many sick families (back in those days people were usually treated in their homes, not in hospitals). And for several weeks during the worst of the epidemic he did not get back very often to the little house on the prairie, both because he was so busy and because he didn't want to bring disease back to Norma, Ella and Mary.

By Christmas time the worst was over, Mac's girls were healthy and he was too despite the risks he took. When he was an old man he sometimes told a story or two about that time, but he played down the important role he played in keeping his neighbors going.

As for Ella and Norma, and Jack when he came along, they lived long and prospered. Here they are in the 1990s when Ella and Norma were in their 80s, and Jack was in his late 60s.








Saturday, 21 March 2020

Saturday Photo: The Winter of Our Discontent...

The photo was taken 10 days ago when we were enjoying our escapade in Quebec City, on Wednesday, March 11 just after the sun came out to shine splendidly after a freezing rain storm.

I liked it a lot when I looked at it on Thursday, March 12, but I had no idea then how prescient it might be. 

Schools closed in Quebec the next day, and ever since things have been becoming more and more restrictive--thank goodness.

When out this morning for a walk (okay if you stay 2 metres from anyone, and at 8 a.m. there were few people out), I saw notices on every place of worship I passed, announcing closures until further notice.  That was only most recent of the measures that have been put into effect.  Physical distance and social solidarity is the order of the day.

Perhaps a few months from now we'll look back and sigh: yes, it was necessary, and yes, we have a lot of work to do to bring things  back to life.  But, hopefully, we will still be here...

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Ice, Snow and Coronavirus

We spent a wonderful few days in Quebec City this week.  The trip had been planned some time in advance, but I think we lucked out since Covid-19 was weighing much more heavily by the time we got home.

Our plan had been to go see the Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera show at the Musée de beaux arts du Québec. 
(For the moment it's open as usual, although the principle show has too much Frido and not enough Diego for our taste.  The  museum itself is really terrific though: definitely worth a trip.)

Tuesday there was freezing rain all day: at the end of the day I had icicles hanging from the brim of my hat by the time we walked from to the museum to our B&B.  But on Wednesday, the sun was out and the landscape was absolutely transformed.  A real winter wonderland...

Of course, viruses in principle don't die in the cold, but apparently being outside isn't forbidden during this difficult time.  An epidemiologist noted yesterday that when you're outside skiiing, skating or just playing in the snow you're well covered and should present no danger  to yourself or others--only just stay out of ski chalets etc...

Given that the schools and daycares around here are closed for at least the next two weeks, I expect we'll be lending a hand with the grandkids, including doing some outside activities: the idea of spending two weeks inside with them is a little daunting!


Saturday, 7 March 2020

Saturday Photo: Heading for a Little Escapade Closer to Home

This photo was taken a couple of years ago when we made a quick trip to Quebec City.  The tourists were having a great time posing in the snow.

We're thinking of doing something similar.  Even though you don't get to some place warmer, it's a pleasure to see some new scenery. 

So we're not going to let the coronavirus business scare us.  Will wash our hands a lot and, besides, we won't be going anywhere that has seen new cases yet!

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Saturday Photo: The Cover...

So this is the cover for my next book.  Pretty nifty, I think.

And also here's a cartoon from the March 2, 2020 New Yorker.   The caption is: "You might have time left for one more book, but only if it doesn't require a lot of research.

 It's more or less the story of my life... and, yes, I've got  an idea for another book!

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Saturday Photo: Concrete Getting Nearer

Next week I should get suggested revisions to my next book Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future. The University of Regina Press has set the publication date  for October 10, 2020, and now it seems that the book will actually soon be concrete (a sort of a bad pun.)

Concrete is an amazing material that has built the world as we know it.  Things built with  concrete vary from the Gothic-inspired church of Notre Dame de Raincy in France to freeways like the one pictured below in Montreal that had to be torn down after 60 years because it was falling apart.

Working on this book has been a pleasure, and now, as I continue to talk about Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States, I'm looking forward to switching gears next fall and talking about this amazing stuff.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Saturday Photo: Valentine a Little Late

Busy, complicated week, so I'm offering this Valentine a day late.  It was made a couple of years ago when I was looking for something clever to send to my Sweeties.  Don't know if it's clever but it lifted my spirits when I came across it this week.

Remember: the flowers will come, sooner or later1