Forgive my long absence.
I was stricken with the latest influenza variant, presently sweeping across our nation.
I have to be careful about my lungs, on account of many years smoking, drinking, and drug participation has left them in somewhat weaken condition.
I still hawking up crud, but at least I back on my feet, after almost 2 weeks of the achy crappy.
My Old Da, which is how we referred to my mama’s daddy, died in the Great Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1919, a few years before I was brought to the world.
No one really knows where the first outbreak started.
Scientists think now it came from the WWI allied soldiers living too close to their chickens and pigs; (saw that on the PBS), but it quickly infected the whole world and 20 to 100 million folks died.
It was peculiar because it struck down young and hearty types, occurred in the summer, and lasted for years.
Old Da was an Irish immigrant, come over during the century’s turn, to strike it rich in the Land of Plenty.
His name was Rathlin Patrick Penny but everybody called him ‘Lucky’.
He was a sharper, con man, fraud artist, and pretty good at it. He used to boast he’d sold the Brooklyn Bridge a hundred times.
In fact, the most unfortunate thing he ever done was to die before the Prohibition. He would have cleaned up.
His last night was spent in drinking, with his buddy, Sorley Boy O’Donnel.
They had that day wound up a swindle which netted them a goodly haul. So they was celebrating.
Apparently he looked in fine form all the evening; drank everybody under the table and still able to stagger home after.
Early in the morning, Granma Pen found him in his chair, shivering cold and blue in the face.
She figured he was just hung over, so she piled on a blanket, leaving him to sleep it off.
He died within hours; first coughing up blood, then passing it out the other end.
Delirium took him.
He thought he was back in Ireland; calling out for his long lost mam and a sister he hadn’t seen in years.
With his final gurgling rasp, he cursed the Almighty, thus condemning his soul to Hell, according to Granma Pen.
I think he’d been planning that trip for a long time.
Had to leave him on the fire escape wrapped up in a sheet for two days, until the gravediggers came.
After Lucky was dead, Granma went through his pockets.
She boiled the coins and hot ironed the bills.
When the neighbors found out, none of our family was able to go into a store to buy groceries.
They shouted their needs to the clerk who then brought a bag to the entrance and pushed it out with a broom.
Everybody wore masks during the terrible years the influenza raged.
Folks who didn’t have one on were barred from the buses and kept out of schools and post offices.
Strangers didn’t kiss.
I was born a few years after all this occurred, but they was still talking about it when I was a kid.
To her dying day, every time anybody coughed around Granma Pen, she’d shudder and cross her-self.
I ruminated on all this, as I lay in congestion and fever these past weeks.
Thankful we in another time, when the medicine and knowledge is more advanced.
But we not out of the woods.
These plagues are culling mechanisms.
They forest fires.
When Mother Nature has had enough of us, She thins out the varmints.
Take care out there.
Always cover your face when you sneeze.
Then wash your hands.