Growing up in Louisa – A Dreaded Word!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
When I was growing up in Louisa my whole life was about play. At night, after reluctantly going to bed, usually at the threat of a grownup, I laid me down thinking of the exciting things that might happen tomorrow. When I was very young those things were simple, such as building a block fort, a highway through the dust for my tin cars, or a bridge over a make-believe river or steam. The play that really counted most was the play with others. With friends, imaginations would soar as we interacted with fresh ideas or different toys. That’s the power of diversity and friendship.
Back in those days, the war was too fresh a memory, and the inventory of toys were still often made of metal. There was some plastic, to be sure, and they melted well over a match or candle. Still the ones that became closest to us were steel. We had toy planes, dump trucks, ambulances, fire trucks, sedans and pieces of heavy equipment like bulldozers or steam shovels. Some kids had sand boxes, but most of us dug out our dramas in the loose, sandy soil around our homes. I’d venture to guess my county friends played in the little steams that would grew to finally feed into the might Big Sandy.
As we got a little older our toys were bigger, and inclined toward the tools of war, including toy guns, grenades, or cannon. Large crates or boxes would become tanks and airplanes. We would claw through the bushes and thickets, always sneaking up on the enemy. This usually was the last to play on the big matinée screen at the Garden Theater. They might have been German, Japanese, or a set of cowboys with black hats. I played some of these games until I was up in high school, running along river banks and up town hill, but sports were busy taking over my playtime and the toys were now footballs, baseballs and basketballs.
What I’m leading up to is that special time that would suddenly come along and spoil our plans. It would divert our play or make it totally impossible. The real rub was that it was often an intentional thing brought on us by adults. Grownups could be mean, you know. To give them a little credit, I know that back in those days’ adults knew the potential risks that could face a family in the form of illnesses. It seemed to me that we had a lot of ‘childhood diseases’ back then and some of them could be life threatening. Some parents actually exposed us little kids to other infected kids so we’d get the bugs early in life and not have to face a rougher time as an adult. Apparently getting sick as an older kids or grownups was more dangerous. At least that what they said. I figured as a younger kid they weren’t quite as attached to us since we were newer in the family, so in case something went wrong we weren’t to be missed so much. Maybe it was simply that I wasn’t yet an equal and one of them. We look out after our own kind, you know.
Whether it was mumps, measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, diphtheria, croup, or whatever, it was the time that the most horrible word in the world was uttered. QUARANTINE! That word meant no play, no friends, and no visitors even for the adults, except if another family wanted to have their kids get sick. My, how cruel. In the first place we were sick. Having those germs running amok in your body takes a toll, but when you had little spurts of ‘normal’ you couldn’t do anything. In fact, in those days, when you or anyone in the family got sick a sign would go up on the front door and everyone knew to stay away. The milkman would leave the bottle close to the door, but he’d slink away quickly before anyone could open it and expose him to a dread disease that was bound to cause certain death.
I remember almost losing Cousin George once when he got so sick. The bad thing is he stayed in his room for what seemed like weeks, and I was left to play by myself. It was a dull time, but before it was over it was my turn. Yuk! Now I was sick. I laid in bed feeling perfectly awful with the only redeeming element was that I knew he couldn’t go out until I got well. Well, it was only fair!
All of this has come to mind because some of my children and grandchildren are going through a ‘self-quarantine’ right now. It seemed that each in turn have a bout of digestive illness that prevented the normal intake of good food. This was not the happy days of good eating. The parents had to clean us up and give whatever comfort they might. The rest of us that had gotten over the illness or never had the malady, were penalized and imprisoned in a house that grew smaller every day. Even now, because of the latest bug, we’ve missed enjoying some Sunday get-togethers and birthday celebrations to the point that I’ve almost lost weight.
While medicine has gained some success in doing away with some of the old childhood diseases, we are now subject to an endless list of serious infections caused by bacteria or viruses. We used to hear the term epidemic, but now it’s pandemic. That’s the result of a cosmopolitan world with people going to and fro around the world. New ‘black plagues’ are popping up all around and some of these new illnesses are taking lives. Even care-givers are at serious risk, and whole nations are wearing surgical masks in a vain attempt to protect.
I now hear the word quarantine being applied to whole counties, or even continents. Amazing. So sickness isn’t always a ‘kid’s thing.’ It is a real threat to us all. I think quarantining is wise, but at the same time hiding under the bed is rarely called for except when under an immediate and real threat. I remember being locked up in the Louisa Inn for a couple of weeks, and perhaps again somewhere else, but back then it was a horrible word because of both illnesses and restrictions. It might be wise to start posting signs on doors again, and teach the next generation the joys of quarantine. I’m wondering if we shouldn’t do more of it. I know when I’m sick, or my wife is sick, we move to other rooms for a night or two to protect the other. The fact my grandkids are doing the same touches my heart, but gives me pride that they are thinking of others. As an adult now, I understand. I wonder if it shouldn’t be a continued and widespread practice.
That might also help us enjoy those times when play is allowed. Mountain top experiences are most enjoyable when we understand the depths of the valley below.
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