My sisters and I worry that our 83-year-old mother and 86-year-old father aren’t nearly as worried about COVID-19 as we are.
Though this pandemic is as unique as it is unnerving, they tell us they’ve experienced plenty of unnerving events.
Born in 1933, in the thick of the Great Depression, my father was lucky – because his father had a good job as a bookkeeper and manager for the Mellon family.
But in 1937, his 34-year-old father died from strep. Penicillin could have saved him, but wouldn’t be available until 1942.
That simple bacterial infection drastically changed the course of my father’s life.
Born in 1937, my mother experienced polio scares every summer throughout her childhood, with more than 35,000 stricken annually. Her everyday world then had many similarities to ours today.
“Parents were frightened to let their children go outside, especially in the summer when the virus seemed to peak,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Travel and commerce between affected cities were sometimes restricted. Public health officials imposed quarantines … .”
When her sister, Cecilia, became infected, the health department nailed a quarantine notice on their front door – a regrettable fact of life for many families in those years.
When the country went to war in 1941, the impact on my parents and millions of others was profound.
At its World War II peak, American military spending was 42 percent of gross domestic product. Everyone – those who served and those who stayed home – made sacrifices.
Gasoline, meat, sugar and hundreds of other items were rationed.
Everyone lost friends or family members in battle.
With Pittsburgh’s steel mills being desirable targets, my mother’s father was an air raid warden. She recalls sirens going off and her father rushing outside to ensure all neighborhood lights were off.
Two terrifying nuclear blasts ended World War II. The Cold War began in 1947. Americans built bomb shelters. Uneasiness over nuclear annihilation anywhere, anytime, filled everyday life.
Despite the Cold War, America was full of hope, its future bright in the 1950s. My parents met in high school in 1951, fell in love and set their wedding for Sept. 8, 1956.
Six weeks before their wedding, my mother’s father came home from work with a high fever. Two days after he’d brought home two rabbits that scratched his hand, he was dead – only 46.
My mother was devasted. She wanted to delay her wedding to help care for her five younger siblings, but her mother wouldn’t have it.
My parents remember the awfulness of JFK’s assassination – their sadness when Martin Luther King was killed and riots broke out in Pittsburgh’s streets.
They went through 9/11 together, affected as we all were. They survived, but barely remember, the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
My five sisters and I worry about them getting infected by COVID-19 – we plead with them to let us to get their prescriptions and food, as they’re at higher risk – but they’re not terribly worried about that.
They have experienced so many unpleasant events – and have seen so many amazing strides in science and medicine – that they’re quietly confident we’ll overcome the challenges we face.
Their calmness inspires and comforts me.
But still, Mom and Dad, if you need medicine or food, for God’s sakes call us and let us get it for you!
Copyright 2020 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. For info on using this column in your publication or website, contact [email protected] or call (805) 969-2829. Send comments to Tom at [email protected]