In 1958, I was a fourteen-year-old girl in North Little Rock.
As I think about that city, it seems like every day was hot. I know that can’t be true. I recall the downtown traffic, one car always smashed up against another. (I had no idea at the time that I had a depth perception issue!)
I walked along watching sky, trees, houses, and people.
Like me, the people touched Coca Colas, books, bus tokens, dimes, the bus, benches. No one thought much about germs. Let me rephrase that: I didn’t think about germs. Either it was out of my awareness or it was not being brought to my attention.
When I had a token or a dime, I’d take the bus. I’d hold on to a bar and bounce along. Usually I’d wind up sitting in the middle of the bus if a seat was vacant, sitting where ten others had sat before me. I’m sure I handled the cushions, the rail, the backs of seats as I moved up and down the aisle. The germ thing was a non-issue.
We’d never heard of clean-wipes or antiseptic soap at home or at school. I usually had a pocket hanky but rarely used it. I carried books. Books were important.
When on the bus, I faced forward, to catch the first view of the huge, red, three-story brick building, my Fourth Street Junior High School. I paid little or no attention to others getting on or off the bus. I was waiting to see 7th, 8th, and 9th graders primping and talking in groups, waiting for the bell to ring.
It was real. As real as the Blue Waltz Perfume my mama wore some nights, as real as the stoplight, as real as the two deaf women talking with their hands across the aisle.
Seems like I was always hot, and it wasn’t even May yet. And did I smell other sweaty armpits?
No. I only remember the smell of the hot bus and asphalt.
When I stepped off the bus, I headed for friends, locker, then touched a banister as I headed upstairs to a class. Did I think about how many sick people had touched the banister? Certainly not. I was busy thinking about getting to my class on time, the teacher, whether I had my homework, pencil, paper.
In those days, I sort of rolled with whatever came down the hallway. What was I thinking? Really, I don’t know. The undercurrent was probably that I hoped to not embarrass myself. I can’t recall or figure out what I was thinking as I went up and down those stairs or through the hallways.
What I am clear about is that I was not thinking about getting germs from anyone.
If someone offered me a stick of gum, I’m sure I took it. I sometimes used a friend’s pencil or she used mine. None of my friends were hung up on cleanliness. Nor was I.
Amazingly, we got by without being hospitalized.
We are surrounded by schools shutting down for a few days because so many children are sick with flu symptoms.
My non-clinical conclusion: something new is going on. I don’t know if it’s our weakened immune systems, if we have new germs, or if the germs are bigger than what we knew in the Fifties or all the above.
But it has my attention in a big way.
On Wednesday nights, I work with children. Half my class was absent this week. They were sick. Those present seemed worried about classmates and teachers who have the flu. And they were worried about catching the flu.
Worry. Mothers and fathers worry. Sad to hear it from children.
Several schools in North Arkansas are temporarily closed for several days. Not for snow, but for a flu epidemic. I keep seeing posts on Facebook where friends are urging others to wash hands, wash hands, wash hands.
Grandchildren stayed with us this weekend. Before I turned the kitchen over to them to create a meal, I asked if they’d washed their hands. They had.
They are schooled in this soap-thing, this don’t-contaminate-the-food-with-a-“used”-spoon-thing, this germ-thing.
Where is this going? Our world is changing.
The comfort I find is that God is unchanging. With His love, we can face whatever comes our way.
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