The Painful Story of Life and Death and the Role that We Play

Jeannette Holland Austin
3 min readNov 12, 2023

In earlier times, measles was an incurable disease without a vaccine. It was a severe illness for many generations and menaced the soldiers of General Washington. You can name just about any war where measles played its devastating role. The reason is a vaccine was not invented until 1963.

One afternoon, as I toured a certain cemetery searching for the tombstones of my relatives, I came across an oddity. It was the re-occurring death date of October 1941 prevalent in a large number of children’s graves. What a sadness, I thought, and what terrible disease cost so many little children their lives? Sadly, the second-born child was sometimes given the same family name as the first child who’d died. I glanced about. It was midday, and the sun was at its highest in the sky. Who could suppose that life was but a flash of light from a petal blue sky of summer dreams?

Some parts of one’s life are sometimes difficult to recall, especially from the younger years. That is unless something occurred that could not be forgotten. Ever.

Then I remembered.

It was 1941, and I was only five years of age when German Measles first attacked our family.

Our neighborhood was one of the two-story Victorian houses with pitched roofs, intricate railings, and columns around front and side porches where families sat on warm summer days.

One hot afternoon, my sisters and I sat on our old-fashioned front porch, observing a street car navigating tracks across a cobblestone street. The power cables had fallen, which the operator was re-installing to the overhead electric wires.

It was wartime, and I was afraid. Air Raid Wardens sometimes appeared during the blackout periods, reminding us that no light could be seen from the house. “Is it blackout time yet?” I asked.

But there was something else, more dangerous and threatening than the possibility of overhead enemy planes. What could be more sinister than bombing? My older sister pointed to a sign on the front door of the house next door. Quarantine. The children next door had measles!

It was an era when there was no cure for childhood diseases. High fevers, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes…

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