Wreaths and the News

Lisa has been twisting some of our large supply of grapevine into wreaths during breaks in our yard work. These will join the wreaths she made some time ago from honeysuckle vines, one of which has graced our front door since we arrived in Clarksburg. So far I haven’t joined in on this project, even though there seems to be no end to the quantity and variety of vines we are removing from the yard.

One Christmas, when I was in high school, I made a wreath for our front door. I tied bundles of white pine boughs around an old hula hoop with wire and twine. The result was not particularly attractive, too skimpy and anaemic to be properly festive, but festooned with a bright red bow it passed marginally for a Christmas wreath. It was too large for the door, so we hung it on the side of the house instead.

That wreath was a rare thing for my family, never done before and, as far as I can remember, never repeated. My mother never liked to see Christmas wreaths on houses. To her the wreaths did not announce a season of merriment, calling out in good cheer. A row of houses decorated with Christmas wreaths brought back to her the vision of rows of houses with black wreaths, quarantined houses, places where people had died of an infectious disease.

I don’t know why the influenza pandemic of 1918, the “Spanish Flu”, and various other infectious diseases in the 1920s had so much greater effect on my mother than on my father. Born a year apart, they both were children in Chicago neighborhoods through those years, and they must have seen much the same things. I do know that some of my mother’s cousins died during this period, although I do not know the causes, and that her own house was quarantined for a time in the 1920s because of scarlet fever. Perhaps for her the image of houses of friends and relatives in sad and frightening times was too clear. Perhaps the threat of death during those years had been much more personal for her than it was for my father.

And now, some 90 years later, the world seems poised to repeat those times that so affected my mother’s reaction to the simple Christmas wreath. Lisa has been pointing out to me for several years that a world-wide pandemic is inevitable, and that its time has been rapidly approaching. The World Health Organization has been tracking the world-wide spread of Influenza A(H1N1), formerly known as “Swine Flu”, over the past month. This week it “raised the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5”, citing 257 officially reported cases in 11 countries. There could be cheerier news for “May Day Eve”.

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