Carolyn and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving—just the two of us. Carolyn prepared a terrific turkey—meals for a week. We were thankful. We’ll remain so. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 horror, history gives us good reason.
In 1918, the Spanish flu broke out. San Francisco required facemasks and imposed a $5 fine on violators. The Anti-Mask League of San Francisco sprang up, and the ordinance lasted only a month. The virus took its toll then, in 1920, disappeared. It caused 20–50 million or more deaths worldwide, 675,000 in the United States. American victims included Carolyn’s grandfather Earl Power and his parents.
In the United States as elsewhere, psyches and the economy took a beating. And yet—
On New Year’s Day 1921, Cal beat Ohio State 28–0 in the Rose Bowl. January 2, San Francisco’s de Young Museum opened in Golden Gate Park. August 5, the first baseball game was broadcast on radio. September 7, the first Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City. And on September 13, the first White Castle hamburger restaurant opened in Wichita, Kansas, leading to what became the world’s first fast food chain.
As always, bad things also happened. May 31/June 1 saw mobs of white racists attack the black Tulsa, Oklahoma, neighborhood of Greenwood. They murdered as many as 300 innocent African Americans and destroying 1,250 homes and many thriving businesses. July 14, Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were found guilty of murder during a robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts. They were executed in 1927. They’d been framed.
The past century makes clear that human beings are imperfect but resilient. America survived the Depression, World War Two, the Cold War, Jim Crow (more accurately, inched forward), Vietnam, 9/11 and its aftermath, and the Great Recession along with natural disasters. We always paid a price. That comes with being human. The Bible offers the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden for a reason.
Recently, we’ve suffered Donald Trump’s dismal response to, among many things, the COVID pandemic. This, as opposed to the Herculean efforts of the nation’s public health professionals. Vaccines nearing FDA approval promise a light at the end of a long tunnel. No matter how dim that light seems now, each day brings us closer to emerging from the darkness.
The downtowns of our great cities will again fill with people. While many restaurants, bars and shops have closed, some will come back. Many entrepreneurs will see opportunity ahead and open new businesses. Our digital society has learned through deprivation that although technology can be helpful, in-the-flesh human contact still matters.
San Francisco saw a lot of people move out, particularly renters. They’re slowly returning, securing rents substantially lower that what they previously paid. More people will follow.
Will the pandemic change some things permanently? Change is a constant. Cities are akin to living organisms. San Francisco has seen great changes since Carolyn and I moved here almost 47 years ago. It certainly was different 47 years before that, which happened to be only seven years after the Spanish flu disappeared.
This Thanksgiving, in spite of tragedy, we were grateful for all we have, including memories. History tells us that many more of us will feel grateful and make new memories in the future.
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