The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.
Before the advent of antibiotics and vaccines, lots of people died from diseases like smallpox and the flu. Jessie Corona de Montoya discusses a smallpox epidemic in Fullerton around 1918.
“We were quarantined,” she recalls, “Nobody could go in and all the ones that were in the house could not leave” (13). Jessie and two of her brothers survived smallpox.
Because I live at a time and place where smallpox has been completely eradicated, I have no idea what it was like. Was it like smaller chicken pox? Montoya paints a disturbing picture: “They’re red. It’s a little bump, and it’s red on the surface and then they are full of some ugly matter that turns a deep grey, ugly when they burst…and the smell. This rotten smell. I can’t describe it” (13). That sounds considerably worse than chicken pox—more like the Bubonic plague.
A few years later, an influenza epidemic afflicted six members of Montoya’s family. “A lot of people died,” she recalls, “There were lots and lots of deaths from that” (14).