In the Bleak Mid-Winter (Part 2)

The Hanna family at Christmas. Back: Bert, Edith; Front: Addie, Garnet (my father), Abe

There’s no date on this photograph but if I’m right in estimating my father’s age as 6 or 7, then it was taken in either 1930 or 1931. In other words, two or three years into the Dirty Thirties, known elsewhere as the Great Depression.

Two years with little rain. Two years with barely any crop. Two years of rock bottom grain prices. Two years of working on relief projects. Two years of accepting relief. Two years of making do when there was precious little to make do with.

Two years of hoping after hope that “Next Year” the rains would come. That “Next Year” there would be bumper crops. That “Next Year” grain prices would go up. That “Next Year” relief would not be necessary.

Little did my grandparents know that “Next Year” would not come until 1938. That they had yet to endure the worst year of all – 1937, the year of no rain, the year of no crop, the year of the army worm invasion.

But that Christmas of 1930 or 1931, they found the will to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. They decorated a spindly spruce tree, hung a very thin Santa Claus from the curtain rod, and invited the Robinsons to join them for turkey dinner. They still lived in hope, in spite of the dire circumstances that surrounded them and everyone else.

Much as we do now. As we should do now. Like my grandparents enduring the drought, we do not know when this pandemic will end. We can only hope that it will end sooner rather than later.

Unlike my grandparents who could do nothing to alleviate the drought, we can do some things to alleviate the pandemic. Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Take reasonable precautions. Be kind.

And continue to believe in “Next Year.”

(P.S. Four chapters in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead recount the dire effects of the Dirty Thirties on everyone, be they city folk or farmers.)

#DirtyThirties #GreatDepression #HannaHistory #COVID #Pandemic #Hope #OurBullsLooseInTown #MargaretGHanna

Free? Or merely out on parole?

Many years ago, at the end of a two-day blizzard, my brother and I exploded out of the house. We had been trapped inside all that time, driving each other (and our parents) crazy. I can’t recall if we left of our own volition or if our parents kicked us out, glad for the reprieve from our bickering. The temperature was way below zero. The air was brittle-cold; our eyelashes froze up; our lungs balked at breathing the frigid air. We didn’t care. We ran around the yard. We had a snowball fight. We made snow angels. We stomped on every drift in the trees to see which were hard enough to dig tunnels and caves. Two hours later, we staggered into the house, our energy all run off, much to our parents’ relief.

I felt like that again last month after my husband and I got our second COVID vaccine. We didn’t exactly explode out – we’re too old for that, – but perhaps now we could go grocery shopping at a reasonable hour rather than at “seniors’ hours” of 7:00 am. Perhaps we could expand our bubble to visit some of our relatives and friends – outside, of course. Perhaps life could start its slow return to life-after-COVID.

Or perhaps not.

Our premier declared Alberta “Open for Summer” as of July 1 and removed all restrictions. And I do mean ALL. No masks (except on public transit, including taxis). No limits on indoor or outdoor gatherings. No limits on numbers in mall or gyms or restaurants or bars or casinos. Social distancing – out the window. And people exploded out, glad to be out of months-long lockdown, glad to expand their bubble to whomever they wanted to include, glad to go where they wanted when they wanted.

Alberta is not the only place removing restrictions. Other Canadian provinces are relaxing theirs. Most American states have completely removed their restrictions, as have other countries. Their reasoning? Infection rates are declining. The numbers of people in hospitals and ICUs are declining.

Wait! Didn’t this happen last year this time? Case numbers fall? The number of people in hospitals and ICUs decline? Yes, there were still restrictions, and some cities had imposed mandatory mask bylaws when indoors or on public transit. Major events – the Calgary Stampede, music festivals, theatrical productions, even the 2020 Summer Olympics – were cancelled but otherwise, people gathered outdoors, they partied, they met at bars, they celebrated their freedom. Some went so far as to protest (and some still do) these restrictions as impingements on their rights and freedoms, apparently oblivious to the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that these rights are not absolute, that the Government can limit them if the limit is reasonable, legal and justifiable. Can you think of anything more reasonable or justifiable than a pandemic?

Then came autumn. Numbers went up, and up, and up, and, well, you know the rest.

And so, I wonder: are we headed for the same fate come this autumn? Yes, we now have vaccines, and large percentages have been vaccinated – in Canada, 79% of those 12 years and older have one shot; 56% are double-vaccinated. As with most averages, those numbers are misleading – vaccination rates vary among provinces, and some areas are dangerously under-vaccinated. Moreover, the rate of vaccination has slowed, slowing our progress to “herd immunity” which may require as much as 90% of the population to be vaccinated, as recommended in an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

More frightening, the Delta variant has raised its ugly head and is becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC. That is already happening in the USA, in England and elsewhere. These places are experiencing Delta-fueled infection rates equal to this past winter, and not just among the unvaccinated. So-called “breakthrough” cases among fully vaccinated people are increasing, too. Here in Alberta, case numbers are showing a slight “uptick,” and we have yet to see what will happen two weeks after the end of Stampede. Another surge, perhaps?

On top of that, large portions of the world have received no or very little vaccine, creating a primordial stew in which more (and more lethal? more contagious?) variants can develop – we’re already up to Lambda.

Fortunately, not everyone is throwing caution to the wind. Festival organizers are limiting attendance, requiring (or encouraging) mask-wearing, imposing assigned seating and social distancing, or even requiring proof of vaccination for entry. Staff in many businesses still wear masks. Many people (including us) continue to wear masks in indoor locations. Some of us still practice social distancing and limit our bubbles and excursions. Will that be enough?

So I ask: Are we really free of COVID, or merely out on parole? Our behaviour over these next few months will tell.

#COVID #Pandemic #NotesFromIsolationWard #Vaccines #OpenForSummer #DeltaVariant #CanadianCharterRightsFreedoms #MargaretGHanna

Good-bye 2020

This has been one @#$%^ of a year. SARS-CoV-2 came storming in and stomped on, shattered, crumpled and otherwise destroyed and threw out the window every dream and plan we had for 2020. It trashed weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings, trips to the mall, meeting up with buddies at the local watering hole, graduations, school, playtime, and then, to add insult to injury, prevented us from gathering to mourn the loved ones it snatched from us.

It made us stand apart, stop hugging, stop holding hands, fear the very air we breathe. It divided us into tribes: pro-maskers vs. anti-maskers, the virus is real vs. the virus is fake, the stay-at-homers vs. the go-out-and-partyers.

People lost jobs and businesses and homes; people cued for hours for a bag of groceries or a COVID test. Parents working from home had to juggle work with home-schooling their children.

It’s been a year of seemingly unprecedented racial violence, of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, tyrants clinging to power, wars, mass murders, mass kidnappings, famines, etc. etc.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’ve been pummeled with one disaster after another. Wild fires that threaten to devour the whole world, and hurricanes and tornadoes and plow winds and hail storms that demolish everything in their wake. We’ve been left homeless, bereft, bruised and battered.

But not without hope.

Hope is the one thing that has carried us through this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year. This isn’t an airy-fairy, pie-in-the-sky kind of hope. It is hope borne of a million random acts of kindness and generosity by neighbours, and even strangers, who look out for one another. It is hope borne of the knowledge that we have fallen on our face before and, like the words in Frank Sinatra’s song, picked ourselves us, brushed ourselves off and started all over again. We know, in our heart of hearts, that we can survive now because we have survived before.

It is hope borne of the courage of so many people who have continued to serve in the face of this scourge, people who have put their lives on the line for us and, alas, have often lost them. People, such as those who work in hospitals and clinics – nurses, doctors, cleaners, cooks, EMT personnel, maintenance personnel and suppliers. Civic workers who pick up the garbage, drive transit, keep the heat and power and water flowing, clean the streets, patrol the neighbourhoods and fight fires. People who work in grocery stores and pharmacies and department stores and gas stations, and the truck drivers who bring the stock to those stores. Business owners who care enough to make their premises safe for those who venture in.

It is also the hope borne of promised salvation. Two vaccines have been approved, others are coming. This does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 will be immediately or even permanently vanquished. We’ve fought that long-term fight before, too: smallpox was eradicated only after a long, concerted, multi-nation battle; tuberculosis and polio have been beaten back but not banished and we’ve learned to live with them. What the vaccines mean is that we can now breathe more easily, we can hope more strongly.

It is fitting, if entirely coincidental, that vaccines are being approved in December – the darkest time of the year when it seems night has won over day, and darkness over light. Since time immemorial, societies in northern latitudes have gathered during these darkest days to conduct ceremonies to lure the sun back and to ensure that Earth’s wintery death is only temporary. These festivals of lights beat back darkness and death just a little bit and remind us that, yes indeed, light and life will return. Now, the promise of light has come to us in the form of a tiny bottle of serum.

We’ve even invented a new “ceremony of life” surrounding the first recipient of the vaccine. It’s the same everywhere, no matter who the first recipient is or where it occurs. The TV cameras are there to record it, the person is surrounded by nurses and co-workers, the inoculation is given, everyone bursts into applause and cheers, and the recipient gives a little speech. Each time we witness this, we affirm that COVID is being beaten back, even if only just a tiny bit, and that light is returning.

We’re not there yet. Darkness still surrounds us. We’ve a long path ahead but we know the light is returning. As long as we have hope and courage and stamina, as long as we continue to support each other, the light will return.

Hold the faith, dear readers.

#Hope #Sacrifice #HelpingFriends #HelpingNeighbours #Caring #Future #2020 #COVID #SARS-CoV-2 #WinterSolstice #Pandemic #MargaretGHanna

Family Gatherings in the Time of COVID

ClaytonCouleeView7My husband’s family still owns the quarter-section (160 acres, about 80 hectares) that their grandfather homesteaded over 100 years ago. It is mostly farmland with some pasture and, in prairie parlance, a “coulee” that cuts across the southern part of the quarter-section.

About 50 years ago, my husband’s father decided to build a family campground in the coulee. Over the next 10 years or so, they built a cook-out shelter for the barbeques, a camp kitchen, a couple of tiny sleeping huts (one recently restored, the other still derelict), and – wonder of wonders – a shower room and a flush toilet (Ooooh! Aaaaw!) Yes, they had piped water down from the farmstead up on the prairie level, but it is non-drinkable, good only for washing and flushing the aforesaid toilet. There used to be electricity until a Richardson’s Ground Squirrel thought the buried cable might be a tasty snack and got fried in the process. At least, we think that’s what happened.


Over the years, the campground has been the venue for impromptu wiener roasts, family gatherings, weddings, birthday parties, and what have you. We’ve shared laughter, stories, jokes, debates and an awful lot of food. It’s been a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the frenetic city and working life.

It hasn’t been a refuge from COVID.

05_GatheringForPatWe had a small family gathering of 20 people this past weekend. COVID changed the dynamics. We couldn’t hug each other as we arrived and, later, when we left (air hugs just don’t cut it). We couldn’t mingle or stand elbow-to-elbow to regale each other with the latest goings-on. We couldn’t share snacks or sample someone’s craft beer. We couldn’t sit with whomever we wanted to eat supper. We couldn’t crowd around the campfire as the night air cooled. 

And try as we might, even with only 20 people in a large open space, it was really difficult to maintain our one caribou/one hockey stick/ two meters/six feet distancing. We continually migrated towards each other, pulled together by some unseen yet irresistible gravitation force, ruptured only when someone woke up and yelled, “Distance!”

Thankfully, COVID, try as it might, could not fracture the comradery, the sense of belonging and the joy of gathering with family. We could still share stories and laugh and debate. We could still reminisce about the past and hope for better times to come.

In that regard, we conquered COVID.

Next year, we’ll hug and mingle and share food and . . .

#COVID #Pandemic #FamilyGatherings #SocialDistancing #MargaretGHanna

Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 3

Who are these wackos (Part 1)?

Did you hear the one about the guy who thinks the 5G network is the source of coronavirus?

I’m not making this up!  Dr. Thomas Cowan (a “holistic” doctor who, by the way, is on disciplinary probation) posted a video claiming that viruses are merely the waste from cells that have been poisoned. Are you surprised to learn he lives in California? Continue reading “Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 3”