Measles, Mumps, and Isolation Memories

While Boomers did not experience quarantines on this current worldwide scale, we endured the mini confinements of pre-vaccine times. Waves of measles, mumps, and chicken pox would spread through neighborhoods and keep us indoors. We had no online social networks, so any contact with friends was reduced to waving from behind doors or windows.

My bout with chicken pox was during a beautiful spring week, I think it was about 1961. I held handwritten notes pressed against the window for Linda and Ellen to read. Some days, I was permitted to sit on the front stoop to allow the sun to shine on my scabby chicken pox sores because sunlight and fresh air killed all sorts of germs. Watching Ellen and Linda ride their bikes up and down Lees Avenue on a warm spring afternoon was excruciating, but I didn’t dare break quarantine. 

Some people did, though. Once, a family friend brought her son to our house when my brother Jimmy had chicken pox. She figured that her son would be infected at some point, and I suppose she also figured that his getting the pox sooner than later was best.  

I was not scared of those childhood diseases. I thought the rashes and fevers were simply rites of childhood, with the added benefit that I would be immune forever. I thought my brother Jimmy looked hilarious with the puffy face and neck caused by mumps. I remember my days with measles because I was quarantined at my Aunt Katherine’s shore house in North Wildwood (remember, the sun and salt air killed all germs). I’m not sure that most people in the 1950’s and 1960’s understood the danger posed by measles, mumps, scarlet fever, and chicken pox–hearing loss, infertility, neurological and coronory damage, shingles–since much of their lasting damage was not apparent for years. 

We were all terrified of polio, however, no one opted for voluntary exposure to that disease. The Life Magazine photos of children inside those huge iron lungs made us eager to line up for the sugar-cube vaccine given out at Collingswood’s Zane-North School’s all-purpose room. The 1960’s brought us the miracle of vaccines. We expected that most viral diseases would soon be eradicated, eventually including the common cold, with cancer’s demise not too far in the vaccine-dominated future. 

 We were so hopeful that science and medicine would create a pandemic-free world for our children, perhaps that is why we find this current crisis to be so disheartening.***I hope and pray that my readers, friends, and family stay well through this current pandemic. Don’t take any chances with your exposure or health so that these times, too, become only tales of perseverance. ***

That’s what Deb said.

7 thoughts on “Measles, Mumps, and Isolation Memories

  1. Deb, our generation, mine & your parents, pretty much remember it in the same way (no vaccines at all then). Your memories are so clear. Great job! Stay we’ll & God Bless. Aunt jennie

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  2. Really great piece, Deb. You made me recall staying in a darkened bedroom wearing sunglasses while my brother and I suffered through the measles. He got the mumps. We both had chicken pox. That was a mini-hell on earth not to scratch. Thanks for sharing this blog. Good to hear from you. Take good care right now. And always. Keep sending your writings out to us.

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  3. Good to see someone writing of such things. With six kids, it was not unusual to have an official “Quarantine” notice posted on our front door. And the doc made regular visits. I also took them as simple rites of passage with no sense of their danger. My mother was terrified of scarlet fever for reasons I did not understand. All the doc had to say was “strep throat” and she went emotionally ballistic. Years later I learned she had a brother die from it. Thanks for the memories.

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