Your Mustache Will Not Protect You! Or, Swine Flu and My Dead Norwegian Relatives
by Lindy West
on Tue, Apr 28, 2009 at 3:38 PM
This morning, I received an e-mail from my mother, Ingrid (a nurse and a wonderfully level-headed person), entitled "GERMS!" The e-mail reads:
Hey, this is getting worse. My rules are: Wash your hands as soon as you get home. Then go around with a clorox wipe and clean the door knobs, light switches, and faucets. Of course, wash before you eat and keep your hands away from your mucous membranes, including eyes. I wish I could quarantine you until this thing settles down, but I will trust you to keep yourself safe. If everybody in your house does the same, then you can feel safe at home...unless you accidently let a sick person inside.
Love you. Mom.
I love you too, mom! And thank you for recognizing that motherly quarantine is not an option (who would go to the Angels & Demons press screening, I ask you?).
My mother, like a lot of people and their mothers, is somewhat concerned about this swine flu situation, and would prefer that her daughter not die of it.
Her concern, it turns out, is for distantly personal reasons: My great-grandfather (her father's father), like a lot of people's great-grandfathers, died in the flu pandemic of 1918, in Norway:
Grandpa Ole's father, Anton Mattiassen Skaugerud, was born in 1881 on the farm "Gunnersveen" in Søndre Land near Hov. He and your great-grandmother Anne married in April 1908 and lived on the little farm "Skaugerud" where cousin Mikk lives today. Grandpa Ole was born in October 1909 and his brother Arne in 1914, I think. Their father died in 1918 when Dad was nine and his brother was five. Grandma took in washing and worked on surrounding farms to support the family. Life was hard, but the community did what they could to help the young widow. The boys didn't have much of a childhood. I don't know how that pesky virus found its way to such a remote place, but it did.
That's great-grandpa Anton in the picture above, behind the giant mustache.
Preparing to write this post, I Googled "søndre land," and arrived at its Wikipedia page, where I discovered this photo:
"That looks like the Odnes Hotel," I thought. Then I noticed the caption, which reads, "Odnes Hotel (c.1880-1890)." Then I freaked out a little bit. The white building on the left is the Odnes Hotel. The brown building next to it is my great-aunt Eleanor's house. She owned the little old hotel until a few years ago, when it became too much to keep up with.
This photograph was taken around the time when great-grandfather Anton was born. A few decades later, he would marry and have a son, Ole, and then he would die. Ole Skaugerud would, in turn, grow up and marry Clara Odnes, the eldest of nine daughters (Clara, Eleanor, Borghild, Signe, Ingeborg, Ruth, Margaret, and three I can't remember right now—forgive me, great-aunties!) from the tiny village with the little hotel at the north end of the lake. And eventually, of course, Grandpa Ole, who lost his father to the flu when he was only nine, moved to Seattle where he raised seven children, smoked a pipe, ate licorice, didn't talk much, built things, and never stopped feeling homesick.
And THAT is why I have washed my hands twelve times today. Bring it, swine flu.