Fifty years ago this month President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a remarkable piece of legislation. It came to be known as The War on Poverty.
Several posts on this blog have been commemorative. Certain events that happened twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred years ago should be remembered, noted, and honored. We ought to think about them and the impact these moments have had on our lives. For many of you these are history class assignments requiring you to research the Internet or in (sheesh) real books and magazines in order to get the facts, ma’am. In my case, I remember the incidents themselves and can track the new arc my life or other’s lives have taken because of such moments. Yes, it’s a comment on how old I am and how young you are, or maybe how sentimental I am and how incidental these events might appear to you.
To show how far I go into the way-back machine: I have a scar on my body that most of you don’t, that most of you have never seen, either mine or anyone else’s. It’s a quarter-sized, scraggly dent on my upper left arm from the smallpox vaccination I got when I was about three years old. My dad, a newly minted physician, had taken me to Jefferson Medical Hospital in Philadelphia and lined me up with the other lucky recipients. (And yes, we were damned lucky to have access to the vaccination.) A glass stall enclosed a huge flame, maybe to sterilize the instruments or to heat the vaccine. Or maybe I remember a fiery part of the process that didn’t actually happen, adding import to an event so large that only the adjunct of fire could capture its significance. Smallpox vaccination is given with a bifurcated needle, a thin steel tool that resembles a tiny pitchfork. I watched the needles being dipped into the serum and scratched into flesh, one swabbed arm after another. I was too terrified to cry or at least I think I was. More likely I screamed my head off. I was possibly, probably, the youngest person to be vaccinated that afternoon, but my father was not going to let me leave Philly without that armor. There might have been only a very few cases of smallpox in Philly to worry about, though they did frighteningly appear in the contiguous States. At that time, nearly everyone in any part of the U.S. was vaccinated as the illness was an equal opportunity invader and anyone could get it. (more…)