By Martha Wilson Rowe
The suggestion for these life stories came from a question my friend’s granddaughter asked of her: What events took place in your life that caused as much difficulty as the Coronavirus? Of the events described here, some did not cause as much difficulty as they did anxiety.
1941+: World War II. My childhood was relatively happy and carefree, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor had little, if any, impact on a little girl who had just turned five years old. It was what took place in the following years that caused me to be most frightened, the searchlights at Smith Reynolds Airport. They were extremely powerful, sweeping the night skies as they searched for any German aircraft. I was afraid of them and wanted to hide.
1948: The Polio Epidemic. The swimming pool at Reynolds Park was closed. The movie theatres were closed. I was not allowed to go to the playground or play with other children. Pictures of children in iron lungs shocked and terrified me.
1951: The Korean War. Airplanes flying overhead alarmed me. It was unreasonable to suspect that they were Korean planes coming to drop bombs on us, but it was my fear nevertheless. At the theatre, I had to sit through the newsreels that were shown before the movie started. They always gave me the shivers.
1960: First Airplane Flight. I was seven months pregnant and flying alone from El Paso to Winston-Salem for the birth of our first child, as my husband did not want the baby to be born in an Army hospital. He remained at Fort Bliss with plans to join me after the baby was born. Apparently, air traffic over Atlanta was stacked, and my plane kept circling around instead of landing. I was very nervous, almost on the verge of tears, and did not know what was happening. A kindly passenger took notice of my distress and offered comfort and assurance that we would be landing soon.
1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis. The news on the television was frightening. Besides being concerned that we were on the very verge of war, I was also afraid that my husbandwould be called back into service in the Armed Forces.
1963: Threat of Atomic Bomb. At the height of the Cold War, all over town fall-out shelters were being built and stocked with necessary supplies in case of a nuclear attack. There were official yellow and black signs directing people where to go to one of these public shelters. It was believed that Winston-Salem would be a Soviet target due to the location of a Western Electric plant here. Should this actually come to pass, I worried that my family would become separated, ending up in different shelters, and survival of any of us seemed highly unlikely.
1963: Kennedy Assassination. I was a member of the library staff at Salem College, and when we heard about this, Anna Cooper, the librarian, closed down the library. We walked across the street to the closest dormitory where there was a television set and we could watch the news. It was so unexpected, so devastating. I remember driving home in tears.
1972: The Vietnam War. The blood and guts of the fighting seemed endless. Some of my friends and relatives were being injured or killed in battle after battle. The iconic photograph of the little naked girl screaming and running down the road after a napalm attack haunts me yet.
1983: The Day After. This television film about a nuclear attack was so realistic and disturbing, that my son, who was a student at Furman University, got in his car and immediately drove home. He just wanted to be at home. My brother-in-law and his wife were camping in their RV, and it was so upsetting to them that they turned around and returned home. To all of us, home is our refuge, our safety.
9/11/2001: Terrorist Attack. Watching this live on TV was unreal and unthinkable. Never before had our country been under attack. I was at work, and my co-workers and Igathered around one of our computers to watch, as first oneof the Twin Towers and then the other tower collapsed, right before our very eyes. We were horror-stricken, and felt apprehensive, vulnerable, angry. Those graphic scenes will never be erased from my memory.
2020: Coronavirus Pandemic. Who could have imagined there would be a pandemic in my lifetime? It is out ofcontrol, and my age has placed me in the at-risk category. My life, as I knew it, abruptly changed. There would be no in-house church services, no going to the movie theatres, no eating out in restaurants, no group meetings. Ending my daily hour-long work-outs every week at the Jerry Long Family YMCA has been detrimental to my physical health. I have gained a few pounds. Easter came, and no Holy Week Readings at church, no walk to God’s Acre for the Sunrise Service. The annual Father’s Day event hosted by one of my sons and his wife at Lake Norman was cancelled. It was deemed too risky for me to attend their usual Fourth of July party at the lake. The family will not gather around my table for the traditional Thanksgiving meal this year. There will be no Christmas Eve Lovefeast and Candlelight Service at church. Christmas with the whole family will have to be adjusted. I feel I have aged during these months of quarantine. Home alone has become my status. Staying safehas become my goal. I miss my children, my grandchildren, my friends. I miss hugs.
I have survived in the past. I will survive again.
photo by Gustavo Fring