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Did You Wear Green?


The Shawnee News-Star Weekender March 21 2020

St. Patrick's Day Feast

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The plant pathologist in me finds the coronavirus quitefascinating.  As with other pandemics,animals or birds are the usual reservoirs for the viruses.  Not plants. Plants are your real friends. They provide oxygen, medicines, flowers,roots to anchor soils and hold water, leafy canopies for animal and birdshelters, and food.  A tree is really yourbest friend.  A tree is patient anddetermined, a good playmate, nurtures you (the need is mutual), protects you,listens to you and can keep a secret. But your BF may need tender loving care and is ever changing.  Each tree is unique, just like you.  Never take a tree for granted.

Nor your health.  The coronavirus 2019, COVID-19 has everybody redesigning their daily lives.  Perfume factories and distilleries are now producing hand sanitizers.  Restaurants, bars, theaters and other places are temporarily being closed to combat this nightmarish virus war that may well destroy0 our economy. This microbe attack won't be the first or the last. 

Blarney Castle on Irish Table Cloth

The reservoir for SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 (thisvirus) are bats.  The bats were affectedby people cutting down way too many trees (your friends, remember) which drove thebats into villages. None of us are getting out of this life alive, but hope tostick around as long as possible.  Mightas well bone up on all precautions.

There have been nine flu pandemics the last 300 years and fourwithin the past 100 years.  This is thefirst novel coronavirus pandemic.  TheBlack Plague (mid 1300's) was carried by fleas on rodents in Asia.  The climate changed to much drier conditions whichdrove the parasite-ridden rodents into human populations and the rest ishistory. 

The deadly pandemic flu event of 1918 infected 500 million people worldwide, about a third of the population.  Fifty to 100 million people died (at least 10% of those infected).  Genes of avian origin were identified as the cause for this influenza type A subtype H1N1 virus.  The virulent strain cropped up simultaneously in France, Austria, China and even Ft. Riley, Kansas.  To keep up morale during World War I, reports of the flu were downplayed except in neutral Spain.  Here the flu was reported to be particularly vicious, the reason the flu was labeled 'Spanish flu.'

Bradford pear blossom snowfall

With large troop movements, sizeable numbers of soldiershoused together in camps, the fighting done from dirty wet trenches and malnutrition,the virus spread and mutated rapidly in three waves.  The target age was young adults between 20-40years.  The virus struck the immunesystem, which over-reacted by attacking the lungs and causing pneumonia.

The swine flu pandemic (2009-2010) was linked to swine andavian viruses that jumped into populations working closely with animals.  It spread rapidly, mainly infecting people under65, not above 65.  This flu pandemic killedabout 500 thousand the first year. The current annual flu shot has a swine flucomponent in its mixture.  Despite theavailability of the vaccine, 300,000-650,000 deaths each year occur fromseasonal flu.

My great uncle never made it overseas during World War I.  He was 18, in basic training, became sick, and died from pneumonia.  The family story says he came home, walked over to his mother who was sitting in a chair, crumpled to his knees, laid his head in her lap and died.

Mid-March Sky

The graveyard in southeast Oklahoma was visited on St. Pat'sDay.  Here my dad's grandparents and twoof their sons are buried. My uncle in town was treated to corned beef andgo-withs.  Afterward, a trip was made toEllis Chapel to find the tombstone of my unlucky soldier relative.  An old redcedar guarded the graves.  Looking closely at the inscription, it seemsmy great uncle, who supposedly died in 1918, actually died in 1891.  Unless he got sick during an Oklahoma landrun or fought in the Chilean War of 1891, the legend has a few holes in it.  The secret went with him to the grave. Greatstory though.

My mom's mother (of the Dempsey clan) was prone to slightexaggerations and wonderful tales of lore. Her stories were famous, especially about ghosts.  We were never sure where she was born sinceit kept changing.  I tracked our relative'Lord' Richard Cullen to the U.K.  Thelord was a greengrocer with several young children buried in Lynsgate Cemetery.The only inscriptions on the stone were a list of their names and anexplanation that the oldest, one10 year old, had been killed by a fallinggirder!   Other kids lived to adulthood,but my Cullen was the only one to emigrate to the United States.  I am still searching for that lost royalty! 

My Dempsey ancestor was an orphan.  He may have lost his family before or duringthe grueling trip.  The cramped andcrowded famine ships, often called coffin ships, carried the Irish to NorthAmerica during the late 1840s to 1860.  The mortality rate was very high.  Diseases were rampant. There was one singlefire pit on the top level where all jockeyed to cook meals. 

After arriving in Canada or the US, the Irish seem toseparate themselves into two classes: shanty and lace curtain.  Mygrandmother was proud she came from 'Lace Curtain Irish.'  Shanty were rough Irish with large familiesliving in one room cabins.  Lace curtainswere more refined and could afford something nicer to cover the windows.  They began to attend the better schools.Resentment built. Lace curtains were thought to curry the favor of the WhiteAnglo Saxon Protestants in the area. They worked hard to climb out of povertyas sure as tree branches reach up to the sky. 

We were very Irish this past week.   St. Pat's day was celebrated twice.   On Sunday corned beef simmered for hours in spicy water before the carrots and potatoes were added.   Last into the pot came the cabbage.   Soda bread had been baked and was eagerly waiting for butter.   Friend and Rocco dog arrived in an SUV.   My son chose to ride his bicycle along old Route 66 from Tulsa to Chandler and continue on to our house.   Along the way he explored Sapulpa, bumped on bricks in Davenport and rolled past the Chandler armory.   We soon gathered around the loaded table and ate to Celtic tunes playing in the background.

Old Armory on Route 66 in Chandler (Courtesy c. Carlberg)

Tuesday evening, while leftovers warmed in the oven andIrish music played, lightening flashed and thunder added extra beats and basenotes that shook the windows.  Thebirdfeeder was taken down in the rain. My husband returned to the house, passing the plastic greenhouse nestledunder the elm and redcedars.  The frontdoor was slightly open.  He glanced inside.  There sat two dry raccoons looking back athim.  Should have offered them somecorned beef and cabbage!