ON MY MIND: An Anniversary and the Virus
Becoming More Emotional in Old Age

A TGB READER STORY: A Pandemic in the Time of Pay Phones

By Trudi Kappel

In the fall of 1957, my senior year in high school, the Hong Kong flu became pandemic. At the small boarding school I attended, the infirmary was overwhelmed with sick students. Satellite infirmary rooms were set up in the dorms.

Healthy students ferried supplies between buildings. Nobody used masks or any other protective gear. More students got sick.

Then the school was quarantined - on MY BIRTHDAY!!! Bummer! In previous years, my parents would visit and take me out for a celebratory restaurant meal. This year, I was not allowed to leave campus.

As consolation, Mom baked me a big double-decker birthday cake and they delivered it in the afternoon. We lived 30 country road miles away from the school. My parents decided to take advantage of the trip so before returning home they went out for dinner (boo-hoo, without me) and then saw a movie.

At dinner that evening, school officials announced a meeting of all healthy students at 7PM. School would close for two weeks and everybody should go home as quickly as possible. Do-at-home assignments were handed out.

I raced to the pay phone hoping to locate my parents before they left the area. No luck. There was a long line behind me at the phone so I went to share out my cake.

The theater had paged my parents but mangled the pronunciation of our name so badly that they didn't respond. After the movie, Dad asked at the box office if anybody had responded to that page. No. And the girl who was calling seemed anxious.

Dad thought, could it be? With difficulty he managed to get a call through to that very busy pay phone, and said he would pick me up in an hour.

It was a very busy hour. I distributed the cake and packed books and clothes for two weeks and left. I spent those two weeks at home without so much as a sniffle.

One of my assignments was to read the Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov. I put it off and put it off. Long Russian novels were and are not my thing.

The day before we were to return, I skimmed the first 50 pages. I figured when my English teacher started discussing the book, I would be able to keep ahead of her.

Ahem. I never read another page. She didn't mentioned it when classes resumed. I didn't ask.

Life returned to normal as I hope that it will soon for us now. Current status: I am not so bored to resume reading the Brothers but it could happen.


Ha ha ... I'm with you. Life is too short for Russian novels.

Trudi I was pregnant with my oldest son and due at the end of November in 1957. I caught that flu and my fever broke three hours before I went into labor. I lived in NYC at the time and delivered in Beth Israel Hospital. My only sight of him initially was in the elevator that took us from the delivery room. They kept him away from me for three long days. But on the evening I finally held him in my arms it was snowing and I stood with him at the window watching the snow fall on the park across from the hospital and I remember thinking, "Someday this little person will hold his own child in his arms like this." And he did.

It's good to be reminded of other pandemics; thank you.

Yours seems to be an earlier pandemic than the Hong Kong flu outbreak I lived thorough in mid-'68 to early '69. When I returned to my large US university after summer vacation, we had lectures on infection control, but he university didn't send us home. Some of my friends fell ill and did not return after the Thanksgiving break, until the new year.

One vote here for Russian novels, though Tolstoy is my favorite. There's nothing like getting caught up in another world during long days at home.

My experience also was catching the Hong Kong flu in either '68 or '69 . I was enrolled in the
last few classes to receive my B.A. At that time my children were ages 8, 5 and 4 and we were all on the winter break from school.

My husband and I were both sick, splitting headaches and body aches, and could barely get out of bed to throw a meal together. Of course I remember it so well because the children were playing outside in the cold weather but they weren't sick and we all survived. Thank God we lived in warm weather California. No flu epidemic was ever like this pandemic !

Thanks for the reminder of a kinder, much less toxic flu era.

Still grinning over the novel.

What a lovely piece of writing, and so appropriate to the times, thank you so much. Loved the bit about Tolstoy. Now, I am rereading Amor Towles' (New Yorker)novel, "A Gentleman in Moscow," and finding a whole new level to it. That is, being confined to a very finite location for a long period of time. This gentleman takes it on with panache and aplomb, it's very heartening. As is your pandemic remembering.

Thank you Trudi for an interesting trip down memory lane today! To paraphrase  William Shakespeare in his play "Romeo and Juliet', "A flu or virus by any other name would smell as... bad,  difficult ,or ?-? !!  Nearly anyone  our 'vintage' of 70-80+ years  old  can fill in the ?blank?." 

I remember the "Asian Flu" as another world wide pandemic in 1957.  I was a Senior at Sacred Heart School of Nursing in Spokane,WA. At one point a midnight call from the  administrator over the intercom to our rooms was begging for anyone available to come to work.

I had a minor heart defect and had not been approved  to work extra for pay. ($1.08 and hour !)  I answered telling her I had not been approved yet, and the quick response was a hearty "You are NOW Miss. Report to 6West as soon as possible."  I was delighted....now I could earn a wee bit of spending money. 

Good can come from unexpected places, it seems to me. Hopefully that will happen now during our current world wide situation filling so many folks with fear.

Judging from how each new pronouncement from our "leaders" extends the time this pandemic may last, picking up a copy of "War and Peace" may be a good idea. Tackling that one might last until we're back to normal.

I remember when Polio was rampant. My Mom, always rebellious, finally got us an inhalant
vaccine. Thank God we got something! It's too bad my Grandmother, Mimi, is gone. She
would have remembered the Spanish Flu pandemic. She passed in 1990 at 87 (drinking too
much). The current virus concerns me, but then a century ago I would not have had a
chance. Now I'm almost 72. Today's reader story sure brings back a lot of memories. At
least now we are "aware" and stand a chance! B

Terrific story! My only similar experience was getting the measles over Halloween.

Re: Russian Novels... a new one that I ended up loving after I got a ways into it was “A Gentleman in Moscow.” Anyone else read it? It IS long.

I read Brothers K when I was in high school in mid-60s, because my brother, in college, recommended it. It was not in the English syllabus, but my teacher reluctantly allowed me to read it instead of the required reading -- My Antonia, which I read recently and loved.
I've read Brothers K twice, and listened to it once. Well worth giving it another try!

Haven't read Brothers K but just after college read Crime and Punishment, taking a community course in it and enjoyed it.

The Hong Kong flu I remember was in 1968. I had just had my first child. I got sick with the flu and my husband would get up in the middle of the night to fetch the baby for me to nurse as I felt too weak to get up. I do remember being pretty sick and the baby being quite well. Spouse did catch it but not as badly as did I.

This is my first (and hope last) real pandemic.

Really appreciate the cooments.

A very memorable experience for you. My Mom talked of the Spanish flu and how it decimated her rural community.

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