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Don't sneeze at germ warfare

Tyrants of the world, take heed. America's answer to bioterrorism is sure, swift and omnipresent in any school or day care center in this country.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 28, 2002

Bioterrorism is a topic much in the news these days. Particular countries have been named as potential perpetrators of germ warfare. I think our government is missing a good bet if we, as a people, decide to threaten others with retaliation for dabbling in germs.

All of my children and grandchildren live in the forbidden North, where the air is cold and apt to be damp at least seven months a year. All of my grandchildren are in school or day care; there is no better Petrie dish than your average northern school or day care center for cultivating truly sinister germs.

Over the years my children, brothers and others who have children have invited me, and more recently us, to spend various midwinter holidays with family and friends. I have come to view these invitations as more of a threat than a beneficent offer.

Without exception, every time I've given in and gone north for a visit in cold or chilly weather, one or more of the darling kiddy-winks has been enjoying some dreaded communicable disease, everything from fierce colds to what certainly sounds like whooping cough. Their parents, being relatively young, are more or less immune to these ailments. (Either that or they're used to sharing the misery with their children.)

Grandparents, particularly ones who live in warm climates and who seldom interact with anyone under 50, are not immune. The inevitable result is that I return home from these northern festivities already sick or in the process of becoming so. I go off knowing that this will happen. I hope it won't. I take tons of vitamin C trying to stave off the disease du jour. It never works.

When I turned 50 my whole family insisted that I come back to Indiana for Christmas and my birthday, which is two days after Christmas. I gave in. My mother and I shared a hotel room for the occasion, there not being room in anyone's house, what with all the kids and grandkids camping out for the event. My mother was 82.

When we arrived we learned that about half the clan had the debilitating flu, so all the plans were changed and half the family was unable to appear at all. Yup! My mother caught it. The matriarch of the family was laid low, unable to rise from her hotel bed, unable to attend the various festivities, unable to do much but groan and suck down liquids to chase her favorite over-the-counter remedies. The matriarch was my roommate. Of course I caught it just in time to go home to Florida, give it to my late husband and a few friends.

I recently gave in again, but it wasn't in midwinter. It was spring. I had forgotten that there are parts of Montana that don't see spring until early August. (Fall arrives in late August.) There was a blizzard. My grandson was coming down with a cold. My daughter had it by the next day. My husband came down the day after that. As I write this, my pockets are filled with soggy tissues, I have faucet nose, I'm full of over-the-counter remedies, and I, the current matriarch, am not in a very good mood.

I should have learned by now. It makes much more sense for the family to visit us. (However, there is no guarantee that they won't bring it with them.) But at least, if they come here, I have a fighting chance. Being on one's own turf is a distinct advantage.

I think we should invite world leaders to visit. I mean the old guys who have been fighting for decades, the ones who are willing to kill lots of people to advance their agendas. We should invite them to visit my children and grandchildren in Montana and Minnesota. Maybe a side trip to northern Indiana.

Then, when they're brought low by the infectious nature of the environment, we can talk some sense into them. We could threaten to withhold Kleenex, vitamin C and Sudafed. We could threaten to send our grandchildren to visit their families and make their own grandchildren instruments of their own misery. It's so much easier than sending stuff through the mail.

I speak from experience when I say one will agree to almost anything when suffering from a grandchild-vectored, miserable, sniffling, coughing cold. Why spend millions on counter-bioterrorism efforts? We have the answer: Free-range infected kiddy-winks!

Write to Sheila Stoll c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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