Good morning. You probably don’t remember the infamous “Black Plague”(or bubonic plague) that devastated Europe between 1348 and 1350. I doubt that even your grandparents remember that. They say that it most likely spread via fleas on black rats, and then soon spread through the Mediterranean and into Europe.

Yeah, that’s what THEY say, and haven’t we learned through the endless impeachment hearings that we can’t trust THEM? Any of THEM?

I’ve learned from some of my old friends from Hollywood in the ’60s who have studied such catastrophes, that it began much earlier in China and traveled along the old Silk Road to Europe.

Now, I know that some of these old buddies of mine from the ’60s were given to smoke-filled exaggerations, but they had credible evidence that it probably all started in China at a Silk Road Inc. office party that was given for best employee of the month. Well, of course, haven’t you ever been to a Walmart Christmas party? Especially in aisle 5?

Newly discovered documents show that there was a lot of handshaking and hugging at such parties. There it is. Shake your head in doubt, but there it is.

And listen to this. I’ll bet your great-grandparents shared their stories about the deadly “Spanish Flu” epidemic, that spread worldwide during the 1918-1919 period. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It wasn’t really “Spanish,” as in Antonio Banderas or Santana.

I can personally add to those stories. True story. My father, who was a naval officer at the time, came down with this flu, and was miraculously cured by prescribed doses of a medication known then as as “Lightning Jack.” “Lightning Jack” was made available at the time, at emergency medical centers like Skeeter O’Neal’s saloon and other refreshment centers. Make of that what you will.

It’s been estimated that 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. And that probably included Hallowell and China Lake.

It was said at the time that the outbreak could have started at Fort Riley in Kansas, where the first American cases of this new strain of flu were recorded in March 1918.

Some brighter heads have suggested that the Spanish flu originated somewhere in northern China in late 1917. Why then blame the Spanish? That’s a bummer.

And why is it that we always blame poor China for starting these epidemics? Is this about the trade feud?

I, for one, as household owner of dozens of Chinese-manufactured products including my beloved Apple items, will not be part of such talk.

I go along with the Kansas-Fort Riley story. That makes much more sense. My Uncle Pete, who served in the army in the Great War, often spoke of the famous Christmas parties held at such barracks, where fraternization among soldiers and local women was common.

At his barrack parties, Uncle Pete remarked, a lot of “hugging” and other “intimate” “merrymaking” went on. “Lightning Jack” was mentioned there as well. Which brings it all down to the approaching season of “merrymaking” and the inevitable coming of church Christmas parties, where much hugging and “merrymaking” go on.

It is this kind of random touching and sharing of bodily fluids that caused all of the great international health panics.

It’s personal now. She, who long ago agreed to join me in abstaining from hugging and merrymaking during flu season, has backtracked since she retired. I’ve been to a few teacher’s retirement parties and it seems to be confined to partial hugging, nodding, smiling and mostly chair-napping.

Flu experts tell us that this will be the worst flu season of all time. So if we meet in the market or the line at Starbucks, please don’t extend your hand or try to hug me. Keep your hands in you pockets, stand back six paces and wave.

And by all means, don’t wake me if I’m chair-napping.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

filed under: