This, the plague of the 21st century, seems to me in many ways an endless case of deja vu. Some of the challenges that we faced in the past year and a half I can remember being warned about in my childhood. These things aren’t new, they are merely forgotten, and it would have been helpful to have taken a few of these experiences along with us to the future just in case.
As a youngster, I clearly remember a family in our neighborhood having a bomb shelter behind their house. It was fascinating. In 1955, such things were all the rage among folks who feared attacks upon our homeland. Our neighbors planned to be among the survivors when the dust and fallout settled.
It was an interesting bunker, with shelves of canned goods and dried foods, boxes of Kool-Aid powders in a variety of flavors (think ancestor of Gatorade but with lots more sugar), stacks of rolls of toilet paper (more on this one later), cases of Sterno, sanitary and cleaning provisions, first-aid kits filled with the essentials for medical emergencies, like aspirin, Merthiolate, mercurochrome, a tourniquet, assorted sizes of Band-Aids, adhesive tape, rusty scissors and other important lifesaving items, such as paregoric, Butch wax and a ukulele.
In television Westerns and movies of the day, there was sometimes a scene in which a traveling frontier doctor arrived at a remote cabin in the nick of time to attend the birth of a pioneer woman’s child. As he climbed down from his buggy with his physician’s bag and stumbled into the cabin, he might holler, “Somebody boil some water and get me some clean sheets!” Perhaps that’s why, in the bomb shelter, a stack of old sheets and bedding was stationed by the first-aid supplies. I thought they might be for boiling in the event of an unexpected birth. Water was available in the bunker from several filled drums lined up along a wall. I don’t recall the method of heating it. It’s not likely that cans of Sterno would be sufficient, but maybe sheets soaked in lukewarm water were considered sufficient tackle for obstetric use.
In the beginning of our most recent pandemic, there were unexpected shortages of essential goods, not because the supply chain was inept, but because demand went overnight from normal to stupid. If we all had well-provisioned bomb shelters, we wouldn’t have been using that ridiculously inadequate, single-ply, see-through bum blotter that is more suited for lampshades or craft projects than it is for any use involving the delicate parts under your fig leaf. That stuff is what you save for the privy if your guests have stayed longer than a week and you don’t have extra sheets of 120 grit in the garage. It’s not for daily use. Or even once. It ought to have a warning label reading, “For delicate craft projects only. NOT INTENDED FOR NOR SUITABLE FOR PERSONAL HYGIENE USE.”
Ordinarily, I place germs and cooties in the “useful” column, right up there with Wonder bread, helping to build strong antibodies 12 ways. So in spite of my inventory of Gojo hand cleaner and shop towels, I was unprepared for the enforced hand-sanitizing and masking exercises we enjoyed. Not counting tequila that time in Malta in ’68, I have never been made sick by something I ate or drank. I wore a paper mask once when I was helping to replace the asbestos liners in some heat-treating furnaces, but in all my days, I never had used hand sanitizer before it became a “thing” last year. Now, of course, I have more of the stuff under the kitchen sink than I could use in a dozen lifetimes. Bring on the apocalypse. I have hand sanitizer and masks up the wazoo.
But wait. On second thought, I have a bomb shelter to dig.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.