When the novel coronavirus invaded the world with its highly contagious nature, I was reminded of a story my mother told me. Born in Bangor in 1906, she was 12 years old when the Spanish Flu started its deadly march across the world. At this time, they did not know it was a virus, and of course had no antivirals or antibiotics.

My mother’s father, an immigrant from Canada with a third-grade education and French as his first language, sensed the seriousness of this flu and decided to isolate his family of five. They were lucky enough to have a camp on Hermon Pond that could only be reached by boat. With a trunk full of food and clothes they rowed their wooden boat across the pond and began their quarantine.

My mother, her sister and brother remembered this as an idyllic time. When my mother told me of this time of separation from the outside world, she relates it as a joyous, happy time. In those stories, she seems so free, swimming in the pristine lake, fishing, rowing the boat. With no radio and no communication with the outside world they were completely sheltered from the catastrophe of the Spanish Flu as it spread across the world killing millions. This plague victimized the young – those between 20 and 40 – unlike other flus that usually affected the older population. Possibly the older people had developed some immunity because of exposure to the Russian flu in 1898 and 1890.

Because of her mother’s and father’s survival skills – her mother knew which berries and wild plants were edible – the family thrived.
Her father hunted in the nearby woods for game. They feasted on venison, rabbit stew and pheasant. My mother remembers being sent out in the boat to catch some fish for dinner. She loved to fish, but never told me who cleaned them. For fresh vegetables they had a garden. I do not know how long they remained in isolation, or what was done about their schooling. I wish she were here so I could ask her. My mother at 12 had more formal education than her parents, so probably no home schooling during this refuge.

What a blessing my mother and her siblings had at their cabin by the pond, a childhood free of fear that they or their family might die of the horrible plague.

The whole family survived because my grandfather, although uneducated, had the native intelligence and common sense to isolate his family.

This could be a lesson for these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and avoiding large groups of people does help to stop the spread. It is because of the wisdom of my ancestors that I am here today to tell this story.
Footnote: Ironically my mother died of influenza B at the age of 101.

— Special to the Telegram

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