Paul Reyes Molino: Falicitas and Vern — Two brave women who would have taken vaccine
My mother and my grandmother were stricken by crippling viruses. The two woman never met although they shared an affliction that forever changed their lives. They also shared a pioneering spirit and love of family.
Falicitas and Vern would have given anything for a vaccine. They would have taken the shot in the arm and worn a mask, but none existed. Although they came from different cultures, their internal compass brought them together spiritually and our family was forever blessed.
Mother’s name was Vern and she spelled it without the feminine “e.” She felt that it was not necessary to add the “e” to make herself more feminine. Her legacy was that of pioneering Pennsylvania Dutch women and men in covered wagons who crossed over Donner Summit just a few months ahead of the ill fated 1846 Donner Party. The pioneers settled in Booneville, Mendocino County.
Mi abuela’s name was Falicitas, who fled Zacatecas and the coming Mexican civil war in 1900 with my grandfather, Vicente. My father, Paulino, was born that year somewhere on the long trail north to Hamilton City, a few miles west of Chico. The family became very successful in the Sacramento Valley as farmers, business and crafts people and educators.
As John Barry noted in his book, “The Great Influenza,” the Spanish flu most likely originated in Kansas, not Spain, and was spread across the United States and Europe primarily by U.S. service members fighting in World War I.
Barry writes that President Woodrow Wilson did not take the flu seriously enough to mobilize needed resources to stem the tide of the virus. Sound familiar?
Falicitas contracted the flu and died in 1918 and is buried in the cemetery in Willows with a beautiful blue headstone of an opened Bible. This month we have surpassed the death rate of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Over 1,500 Americans died yesterday from the COVID-19 virus and variant.
Mother contracted the polio virus in 1929, when she was 12 years old. She loved to dance and would have worn a simple mask and taken a vaccine shot had there been one. Doctors said she would always wear leg braces, but she tossed them aside and learned to walk with much effort and determination.
Mother loved to dance and father was a good dancer. Vern was a tall, big-boned woman with long blonde hair and pretty blue eyes. Paulino was lithe and trim with beautiful dark hair and eyes. They made a beautiful couple on the dance floor, with mother in a long black dress and rhinestones, and father in a neatly pressed suit.
Sister Dolores and I knew that mother was experiencing major pain while dancing, but nothing could hold her back. The post-polio pain would continue for over 60 years.
Mother would have taken a vaccine shot in the arm had one been available. She was always thankful that Dolores and I had the Sabin vaccine that would keep us from polio and the pain that she experienced.
Mother is buried with father in the cemetery here in Grass Valley under the pink dogwood trees she had planted before she died in 2000.
Falicitas and Vern were two courageous women who brought together and nurtured a large and very loving multicultural family. Both would have profited from what we now call American exceptionalism: That rare quality of American ingenuity that discovers things like vaccines that protect us and help us grow into healthy communities.
For those in our neighborhoods who have not been vaccinated, please get the shot. You have been blessed with this remedy, and it is there waiting. You are lucky to have the choice that Falicitas and Vern never had. So get the shot, wear the mask and celebrate your good fortune.
Paul Reyes Molino lives in Grass Valley.
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