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What would our ancestors say?

Covered wagon on display at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull © Cool Adventures

May 6 was our 56th day of isolation and, while most people’s quarantine time is slightly less, people have had it with isolating. Gone are the #stayathome pleas of the early weeks to stop the spread. At the same time, over 275,000 people have died worldwide from the pandemic, with over 68,000 in the U.S. alone.

People are moaning and groaning. Everyone wants to go to restaurants and bars and see families and friends. No one can get their hair and nails done or travel. Everyone wants to stop wearing masks; many never did or already have. We want our old normal life. Yep, we all do. But, over 275,000 people will never do any of those things again.

A look back

All but a couple of my ancestral lines came to the United States from Ireland, Scotland, and England in the 1600s and 1700s. The farmers, mostly on my mother’s side, settled in Pennsylvania, while the planters on my fathers’ side opted for Virginia.

An 1893 biographical sketch includes an account of the early settler lives of my 4th maternal great grandparents, Jacob Phillis and Elizabeth Little of Ireland:

“Before the first crops were raised, the family came near starving, and driven to desperation, they decided to watch a cow and see upon what kind of vegetation she subsisted. After observation, they made “greens” the food of the family, and so managed to exist until the grain was ripened to replenish the empty larder.”

Commemorative biographical record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago, Illinois: J. H. Beers and Co., 1893), p. 672-673.

Evidently, my ancestors were flexitarians 250 years before it was fashionable. 😃🥕

Following the settling of the immigrants, a pattern can be seen repeating in all of the farmer lines for at least several generations after. The first born son and, maybe the second, would inherit the farm. Most daughters would marry; a few became teachers. The rest of the sons would typically find a new land grant, load up the covered wagon, perhaps like the one in the header image, and head further west. It was a slow, uncomfortable and dangerous journey to their new land.

Once there, they started from the beginning, making a new home and farm. Some planted orchards, others corn or wheat or other crops. And, they obviously did all of this with no electricity, heating, air conditioning, running water, and indoor plumbing.

Over the years, they experienced famines, wars, epidemics, the deaths of countless babies and children, and near starvation in some years – and they kept going. Yet, we can’t sit on a couch in our climate-controlled homes with food delivery services, the internet, and Netflix.

So, what would our ancestors say about this?

Georgia reopened beauty salons, bowling alleys, and restaurants last week before other U.S. states and over 60,000 people a day from other states are traveling to visit those businesses. And, one of the most absurd stories – someone shot employees at a McDonald’s in Oklahoma City because the dining room was closed due to the pandemic.

I think our ancestors would be appalled at how whiny and needy we’ve collectively become and beyond amazed at the irresponsible, careless behavior that has become the norm with such a vast number of people. One thing we’d agree on, whether from the past or present, is that outrageous, bad behavior is not going to help the situation.

That said, our ancestors were hard workers and they took care of their families. Faced with a chance of illness and/or death versus not having a roof over their family’s heads and food in their stomachs, I believe most would have risked their health for the family’s safety and security. They would have taken care of their families while attempting to keep their communities safe.

But, they wouldn’t have gone to a bowling alley or nail salon.

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