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  • Writer's pictureDoug Neckers

My Boy Bill

Back in the old, old days when I was in grade school -- the late 1940s and early 50s -- we were taken as a class to the doctor’s office where we got ‘shots.’ Everyone was vaccinated against smallpox, diphtheria, and typhoid. But when it came to the “big four” – measles, chicken pox, mumps and whooping cough -- we were on our own.

There were no vaccines against them, or against that dreaded disease, polio.

Diversity? This was in a small town in southwestern New York State. This was also before the Supreme Court ruled against religious instruction in public schools. We did have some Roman Catholic kids who had to leave the room when the Protestant Sunday school teachers came to the school for religious education.

And while though there was as yet no organized anti-vaxxer movement, there were, indeed. the “no shots for me, sir” folks. And there was “Bill.” Truth be told, he was probably a relative because everyone in my home town was related if one went back far enough.

Bill’s ‘ma’ said he “didn’t need no shots. God didn’t intend my kid to get shots from a doctor.” So Bill stayed in the room with the teacher while the rest of us got shots. There was also Gerald -- he fainted every time he saw a needle, so we could count on seeing him fall in the line ahead of us because he was a year older.

But mainly, the rest of us marched to the sound of the majority’s drummer, and the needle.

Bill’s ma was his disciple of wisdom. So, when he went out for the 8th grade baseball team Bill invoked her philosophy of life. “God meant for me to wear a mask, God would have made me with a mask.”

And he proceeded to play catcher without said encumbering paraphernalia.

Result” I can still hear the loud clunk, the “ooh, that hurt’ and see the blood on home plate. A foul ball hit Bill right square in the nose. Last time I saw Bill, his 8th grade nose was still pointed toward 3rd base.

As I listen to the nonsense today about why folks “don’t need no shots” against the corona-19 virus I’m reminded of Bill. The penalty now is a lot more than a broken nose. For the non-vaccinated it may well be death, a fate that has already claimed more than half a million Americans. For those around the non-vaccinated, it may mean the seemingly healthy and unvaccinated are asymptomatic carriers who indeed can expose others to it.

I do wonder if Donald Trump, the tough man in chief who got the virus in the White House, can taste his cheeseburgers yet. Taste and smell are the slowest senses to return after COVID. And while some who have had it seem to have recovered, we know they are far more inclined to have heart disease.

What I don’t understand is how, in 21st century America, so many people could think like Bill’s mother. At one point I blamed the scientists and public health officials for not being more forceful about telling people why they should get vaccinated Get the shots and stay alive; don’t get the shots and get what a catcher without a mask gets – or worse. True, the scientists could have been more forceful. But I realized that one can lead horses to water but can’t make them drink. So I then blamed the persons responsible.

I remembered that H. L. Mencken said in 1920 that “as democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the soul of the people …. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Hopefully, we are done forever with having an incompetent ignoramus as our President. But as Mencken knew, idiocy has long appealed to millions.

My classmate Bill, for example, who bought into his ma’s idea about no mask. Bill was a ‘tough guy’—until he was hit on the snoot with a foul ball, at which point he hollered and bled just as much as the sissies – and there wasn’t a thing his ma could do to make it better.

Both Bill and his ma are long gone now, but their spirit is still dismayingly abroad in our land. Want proof”? One recent NPR/Marist poll found 41 percent of Republicans saying they will never get vaccinated.

Well, guess what: Not wearing a catcher’s mask may get you a shattered nose. Refusing a vaccine that even Donald Trump has called safe and effective may mean a horrible, lonely death. Know how many people have been made sick or killed by the vaccine? To the best of my knowledge --- zero.

Common sense needs to be a far more common thing.


Douglas Neckers is an organic chemist, McMaster distinguished research professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University, and a former chair of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

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