By Angie Georgeff
I am old enough to be in an age group endangered by COVID-19, but I’m not old enough to remember a situation like this. There were outbreaks of poliomyelitis in the United States when I was a toddler, but I was not old enough to understand. What I do remember are the shots by which the Salk vaccine was administered and later the pink dot on the sugar cube which carried the Sabin vaccine. I will take sugar over shots any day. Even more vividly I remember my cousin who contracted polio before the Salk vaccine was available. Even after enduring many surgeries, she wore a brace on her leg for the rest of her life. There is good news: Thanks to a decades-long effort, polio is nearing eradication.
In my reading and genealogical research, I frequently encounter plagues and epidemics, but they seem to be something that happened back then, not something happening now. I currently am reading Hilary Mantel’s long-awaited novel “The Mirror and the Light.” It is based on the true story of Thomas Cromwell, who was an advisor to King Henry VIII. In one passage, Cromwell goes to visit Henry’s illegitimate son the Duke of Richmond. The young duke is not well and he suspects he may have been given a slow-acting poison by Anne Boleyn, who has just been beheaded.
More thoughtful than Richmond, Cromwell and his companion consider other causes for Richmond’s illness. Richard Riche observes that it is not the sweating sickness, which is a disease that killed many Englishmen during the Middle Ages and then mysteriously disappeared. He adds that it is not the plague, since there is no plague within 50 miles. “At least, not yet.”
At that time and in that place, 50 miles was a barrier – even if the barrier was permeable. Today, 50 miles is no barrier at all. That is why the library is now closed. During the summer of 1935, this library was closed for two weeks during a quarantine that was imposed to prevent the spread of polio. I feel sure Mrs. Neas, who was the librarian then, was just as grieved as I am now.
In the interest of public health, we have closed for four weeks and that period may be extended, based on conditions at that time. No books, DVDs or audiobooks will be due until a week after we reopen, whenever that may be, so do not worry about fines. You may return borrowed items to the drop box located at the library in Erwin or you may keep them until the library reopens.
In the meantime, remember that Tennessee READS is always available as long as you have your library card and a compatible device. Simply visit https://reads.overdrive.com/ and click on “Help” at the bottom of the page to get started. Stay well. We miss seeing you.