In this age of hysteria and hoopla every sneeze rocks the country with portents of pandemic. Because we are currently so inclined to live in the world of orange alerts, it's easy to forget the true meaning of danger and the true causes of alarm.
In 1918 the Spanish flu killed an estimated one hundred million people. It spread to nearly every part of the world from the Arctic to remote Pacific Islands. Five per cent of the human population at that time died of the flu.
I have lived my life in the wake of that pandemic.
In 1918 my paternal grandmother was twenty-six years old. Just before her death from the Spanish flu she gave birth to a daughter -- her sixth child. The infant died moments after my grandmother. My Aunt Cassie was nine years old at the time. My father was six. His other three sisters were all younger. Cassie cleared off the kitchen table and washed the bodies of her mother and her new born sister and prepared them for burial. At age nine, Cassie had been so busy tending to the dying and the dead that she had not yet fed her younger siblings. There were no neighbors or other family members to help. Too many people were sick and dying.
My father once commented that he spent his life hungry. Any armchair psychologist can easily figure out the root of his hunger.
When I look at the few photographs of my grandmother I consider the notion that this woman is a number in the greatest pandemic to sweep the planet. She is a number among millions of other numbers. She is also the gaping hole that left my father hungry his entire life. And she is the face in the faded photograph always on my wall and in my soul.