None of my five children live within 1,000 miles of me, so they have been better than usual in calling me during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Mother is, after all, old and vulnerable.
Son Brad asked if there was anything like this in my memory, and two unrelated periods came to mind: World War II in the early 1940s, and the polio epidemics in the early 1950s.
World War II, of course, was before there was a TV in every room and iPads and iPhones in every purse and backpack, so we relied on newspapers and weekly films at the Athens Theatre to learn what was happening and what we should do.
At night, we would hunker down by the radio if President Franklin Roosevelt was going to talk to the nation.
We were going to war, and there were going to be shortages — that was for certain.
If you were lucky enough to have a decent car, it was going to have to last until the war was over, because auto production was halted.
Rationing of food and supplies was almost instantaneous. Some food supplies, like butter, disappeared completely, because what dairy farmers produced went directly to the military.
Silk stockings, too. First silk, and then nylon went into parachutes. It was a time of self-sacrifice for a greater cause. Much has been written about this.
This memory was shockingly brought back to me when there was not a chicken to be found at my local market. What? The aisles were also empty of paper products and disinfectants.
When had I seen this before? Ah, yes. The days of World War II.
The difference, however, was that no one left the store back then with a cart piled high with chickens, toilet paper, or anything else. That is what rationing was all about. Short supply meant short supply for everyone.
It mattered little if you were cash-heavy or cash-poor — you got only one pound of sugar, so there would be enough to go around. Rationing in a national emergency has its merits.
Today, we are currently and prudently self-isolating, not eating out, and avoiding large gatherings. That is more reminiscent of the dreaded polio epidemics of the early 1950s.
Like the COVID-19 virus, polio was a mysterious virus that struck without warning, and there was nothing we could do about it. One of the many reasons polio was such a feared disease is that no one knew how it was spread.
Doctors and laboratory researchers worked tirelessly trying to find answers to a disease that crippled thousands. Today you can see one of the “iron lungs” at the Memorial Hospital and Veterans Museum at Bill Dreggors Park.
The machine saved thousands of lives, but meant a dreaded life inside a tube that breathed for you.
In 1952, there were 58,000 reported cases of polio. It struck my sister Margaret in 1954, but fortunately, it was the lesser non-paralytic strain. It, nevertheless, was highly contagious, and it sent shock waves through our family.
It is said the only thing Americans were more afraid of than the atomic bomb was being struck with polio.
For me, there is a common thread running between the current pandemic, World War II, and the polio epidemics.
It is the pervasive apprehension engendered by a national emergency; the unknown; the need to pull together just to get through it in one piece. It’s the fear — the not knowing for sure where the enemy is lurking.
Here in the little town of DeLand, back then, we pulled our blackout curtains across our windows at night in case — just in case the enemy might fly across the Atlantic and bomb us to smithereens.
The prevailing thread, then and now, is the uncertainty.
One thing I do know: It will end. The war came to an end in 1945 and, 10 years later, in 1955 — thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk — the Salk vaccine put an end to the polio epidemics.
It’s really tough right now being in the middle of it. But this COVID-19 pandemic, too, will end.
— Bohon’s grandfather Cary D. Landis, who came from Indiana to DeLand to start a law school for Stetson University, was among the founders of the Landis Graham French law firm that still serves Volusia County today. Her father, Erskine Landis, also was a lawyer with the firm.